I attended a Jewish service with one of my close friends in his home town over Thanksgiving break. The service was on a Saturday morning Shabbat service at Temple Beth El Zedeck. My friend said that this was the temple that had known growing up, it is also where he had his Bar Mitzvah. Before we went to the service, he had told me that this temple is considered as Reconstructionist synagogue. He told me that it is similar to the conservative movement in such a way that it is more laid back and does not always follow the traditional rules of an orthodox synagogue. To give an example of this, he told me that in orthodox synagogues the men and women are not allowed to sit with one another. At this service and synagogue, the men and women could sit with one another. Also it was not required for the men to wear kippas, which was surprising to me.
Basing these two facts off of Jenning’s model, the kippa and the sense of community are two things that I find important for this service. The wearing of the kippa has been a traditional symbol for Jewish males, and for the men to not have to be required to wear them is something that I found interesting. Straying away from the orthodox idea of a typical Jewish male, this allows for the men to appear more like normal males when they enter the synagogue. The men are allowed to wear them if they wish, but are not required to. To me, this promotes a sense of normality within the synagogue. It also shows that it is acceptable to express yourself how you wish, while still worshiping and participating in the service.
The service and the synagogue were very nice. Most of the service was in English, which I was told that it was not normal for orthodox synagogues to have the service in English, most of it would be spoken in Hebrew. The synagogue was similar in design to churches that I have been to in the past. There were rows of pews and aisles, as well as prayer and song books on the back of the pews. There was a male rabbi and a female rabbi that lead the service.
My friend said that it was unusual to have a female rabbi but it is allowed in this synagogue. He also mentioned that the two rabbis were husband and wife, so I believe this is what helps their cause. A song begins and the people around me reach for the song books and start singing along. There is a lot of open space in the synagogue and I turned to my friend and asked “is it always this empty,” and he then told me that it is normal for people to show up late to service and he was not sure why. The service consisted of a lot or readings from the Torah, most of it was in English so it was easy to understand.
The Torah consists of five books and has always held a place of preeminence over the other divisions as the most direct revelation of God (Bush 265). The Torah has been one of the strongest unifying factors in the history of Judaism (Bush 265). People would also say, “Shalom,” to one another. I have heard the phrase before, and it essentially is a greeting to other Jewish folk. In a literal translation, shalom, means “peace.” This would allow for a development of community. This exchange of words is sacred to the community and allow for a greeting to start the service off with a positive note. There are some readings from the Torah that take place, a sacred text ritual. The rabbis walked around the service and had the people kiss it. This is a certain specific ritual in which these people truly show their respect for their sacred text and want to have a connection with their religion.
The male rabbi then gives a sermon to the people and talks about the teachings from the Torah. I could sense that the service was coming to a close, and then the children in the service were called up to say a prayer, and then a closing song was sang by the people. My friend said that this song was called “Adon Olam,” and it is sung at the end of every service. A final closing ritual in which all of the people come together and sing in unison. This shows a sense of community and bonding. This ritual allows for an expressing love for their faith as well as a love for one another. Then there was a final word from the rabbis and the people were asked to join for wine, cookies, coffee, and other morning treats.
There are many things that could be symbolized throughout this entire service, but I am choosing to talk about the kissing of the Torah, men and women sitting together, as well as the men not being required to wear a kippa. I will be using Tillich’s model to analyze these symbols. According to Paul Tillich, the first characteristic of a symbol is the fact that it reaches to something beyond itself. It is easy to see that in any religion, whatever/whomever the people are worshiping is something larger than themselves. The kissing of the Torah represents this well in such a way that the people are paying their respects to the most sacred text according to Judaism.
The word of their religion. This sacred text has been rooted in the Jewish history since it all began. It is so important that these texts are taught each week by the rabbis, so that the religion keeps surviving. As for the kippa, this can lean toward the second point of Tillich’s characteristics, representing how the symbol “participates in that to which it points” (Symbols 1). A kippa is a symbol of Judaism, and if someone saw a man wearing it out in public, that person could easily tell that the man is Jewish (assuming they know what a kippa is). This is an easy symbol because it relates to what the natural dress of a Jewish man would wear. In this case, one could argue that the representation characteristic of Jenning’s model and this phase of Tillich’s model are similar.
The allowance of men and women sitting together is something that I find very interesting. Instead of segregating by gender, this service allows men and women to sit with one another and share their passion of faith. I find this to be very moving in a sense that it is important for men and women alike to share their views and passions with one another. This can also allow for a different perspective of the religion itself. For Tillich, this can help disclose something about what goes on outside the self. This promotes a sense of community and allows for men and women to be one under God.
They break the traditional rules and can now congregate as one to share their ideas of worship. This can relate to Tillich’s third characteristic, “it opens up levels of reality which otherwise are closed for us” (Symbols 1). This breaks the orthodox way of how Jewish services are usually done, and now can allow for men and women to share their faith, expanding a new passion for the religion and allowing relationships to form. This is a wonderful thing that the service does and I think it allows for a stronger connection to the religion.