Ahavah Rabbah (Heb. אַהֲבָה רַב
AHAVAH RABBAH (Heb. אַהֲבָה רַבָּה; "With great love"); AHAVAT OLAM
AHAVAH RABBAH (Heb. אַהֲבָה רַבָּה; "With great love"); AHAVAT OLAM (Heb. אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם; "Everlasting love"), two versions of the second of the two benedictions preceding the recitation of the Shema in the morning and evening services. In the Talmud there is a difference of opinion as to which is the correct version (Ber. 11b) and a baraita is quoted which definitely favors Ahavah Rabbah. This controversy continued even into medieval times (see Levin, Oẓar, vol. 1, p. 29; et, vol. 4, p. 391). As a compromise decision Ahavah Rabbah was adopted for the morning service and the other for the evening (Tos., mg Ber.). The Sephardi and Italian rites, however, only have Ahavat Olam. It is not clear whether the difference between the two versions was limited to the opening formula or whether it extended to the content. From the prayer book of *Saadiah Gaon it would appear that the former is the case. In their present form the two prayers have the same basic theme, but they differ considerably in presentation, and Ahavah Rabbah is much the longer and the more complex of the two. Both benedictions tell of God's love as the explanation for Israel's receiving the Torah. The prayers introduce the Shema which is basically a Torah reading – and promise, in consequence, continual preoccupation with its study and observance. In both, God is besought to continue bestowing His love on His people, but in Ahavah Rabbah the idea of the election of Israel is stressed. Ahavat Olam ends, "Blessed art Thou, O Lord, Who lovest His people Israel," whereas Ahavah Rabbah closes with "Who has chosen His people Israel in love." The Mishnah (Tam. 5:1), as interpreted in the Gemara (Ber. 11b–12a), records that Ahavah Rabbah was the benediction with which the priestly prayer service in the Temple commenced. According to the halakhah (Sh. Ar., oḤ 47:7) either of the two can serve as a substitute for the *Birkat ha-Torah, the blessing to be recited before study.
In the Middle Ages various piyyutim were composed for insertion into Ahavah Rabbah and Ahavat Olam on festivals. Those for the latter are still recited in some synagogues. Both benedictions appear with minor textual variations in the different rites; Ahavat Olam much less, however, than Ahavah Rabbah. The Reform ritual has retained the traditional text of the former but has abbreviated the latter considerably, omitting the messianic passages. Ahavat Olam has been set to music by Mombach and others, and forms part of the repertoire of most synagogue choirs.
Elbogen, Gottesdienst, 20–21, 25, 100–1; Abrahams, Companion, xlviiiff., cx; J. Heinemann, Ha-Te'fillah bi-Tekufat ha-Tanna'im ve ha-Amora'im (1964), 43, n. 34; 106; E. Munk, World of Prayer (1954), 107.