Essay: Global Learning Site Visit

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¶ … Religious Worship -- Visit to a Synagogue

Observations in Alternate Religious Worship

My visit to another religious service consisted of attending synagogue services on the Jewish Sabbath or "Shabbat" at the Bet Briera Or Olom synagogue. The name of the synagogue means "House of Choice Light of the World." My girlfriend and I attended a Conservative service at the synagogue that caters to both Conservative Jews and Reform Jews, largely a reference to their relative degree of adherence to Jewish religious law. Among Jews, there are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform sects that vary in their practice from the extremely strict adherence of the Orthodox to the minimally or "ceremonially" observant Reform Jews. Generally, Orthodox Jews do not worship at synagogues that also hold services for Conservative or Reform Jews.

Just as in the case of the Catholic services with which I am familiar, there appeared to be a significant social component of the services. There were many greetings and conversations between people who have apparently known one another or been members of the same congregation for a long time. Once the services started, my girlfriend and I were separated because men and women occupy separate sides of the synagogue during services. Their respective sections are also shielded from one another's view by a curtain.

One of the first things I noticed about the ceremony itself is that it focused substantially on the actual Torah (Jewish Bible). In Catholic worship, the priest reads from the New Testament, but there is no direct attention to the physical embodiment of the Bible itself. In the Jewish services, the entire Torah is actually paraded out with considerable reverence and ritual. The scrolls were approximately four feet long and wrapped in felt covers and topped with very ornate silver caps. A rabbi carried the scrolls through the isles to give the worshippers the chance to reach out and touch it gently with their fingers, after which they kissed their fingers that had touched the sacred scrolls. When the scrolls reached the pulpit, they were carefully uncovered, blessed, and unrolled by several helpers.

It was explained to me that all of the individual chapters in the Five Books of Moses are read in chronological order, one chapter every week during the Sabbath services. During the Bar Mitzvah ceremony marking the thirteenth birthday of males, the Bar Mitzvah service consists of that individual taking the podium and reading the chapter for that week's service instead of by the rabbi. The Torah is not so much read as it is sung; apparently, this is a practiced skill involving reading the coded symbols printed among the passages. During the reading, various members of the congregation were permitted to come up to read portions of the service. Nobody actually touched the pages; instead, they used a long thin apparatus called the yad (Hebrew for "hand") that had a small metallic hand with a pointed finger at the end to track their place. The pages are advanced by carefully rolling the two rolls each of which is controlled by a long wooden handle protruding from the Torah scroll.

The Torah represents the Old Testament which corresponds to the New Testament used in Catholic religious services. Christians recognize the Old Testament as being part of the Holy Bible but that is not reciprocal; was told that Jews generally do not recognize the New Testament as the word of God at all. According to Jewish beliefs, the entire Torah consists of the Five Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), together with the Book of Prophets and the Talmud. According to Jewish tradition, the Torah represents the word of God as communicated through Moses by divine inspiration 1,300 years before the birth of Christ. The Jews believe that Jesus… [END OF PREVIEW]

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