Ahavat Olam (אהבת עולם, Eternal love) is the second prayer that is recited during Maariv. It is the parallel blessing to Ahava Rabbah that is recited during Shacharit, and likewise, is an expression to God for the gift of the Torah.
Ahava Rabbah is recited in the morning and Ahavat Olam is recited in the evening as a compromise. Ahava Rabbah is the Ashkenazi prayer, and Ahavat Olam is the Sephardi prayer. Sephardim recite Ahavat Olam at both Shacharit and Maariv. The debate over this recitation occurred between the Geonim. Saadia Gaon had made a ruling that followed that of his predecessor Amran. The last two Geonim, Sherira Gaon and Hai Gaon, made the final ruling which stands to this day.
The theme of Ahavat Olam is that God provides love in good times and in bad. Nighttime, when there is darkness, is a time associated with danger. Nevertheless, God provides protection at night, and the sun always rises in the morning.
Ahavat Olam is also seen as the blessing over the mitzvah of the recitation of the Shema.
- Śiaḥ śarfe ḳodesh By Richard N. Levy, Hillel, the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, page 62
- The JPS guide to Jewish traditions By Ronald L. Eisenberg, Jewish Publication Society, page 412-13
- My People's Prayer Book: Welcoming the night: Minchah and Ma'ariv By Lawrence A. Hoffman, Marc Brettler, page 63
- The Shema: Spirituality and Law in Judaism By Norman Lamm, page 103
- Jewish values in a changing world By Yehuda Amital, Yehudah ʻAmiṭal, page 136