Austin I observed took place in a synagogue

Austin
Rabinovitz

Rituals

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Hebrew
is a language that defines what is in the Torah which was written 2000 years
ago by Moses. The religion of Judaism was the very first religion in the World.
The traditions of Jewish prayer and customs that were celebrated when the
religion was created are still followed in modern times. Hebrew is a very
sacred language that is looked upon as the basis of religion and respected by
most. Having Jewish rituals in a synagogue is the most sacred because that is
where the Tanakh is, the Hebrew scriptures including the Torah.

The
ritual I observed took place in a synagogue called Beth Israel. It is located
off Crondall Lane near the 7-11. The day was Monday, December 4th.
The time was 5:40PM-6:40PM. I selected this ritual of a Minyan service because
I wanted to know what the order of this service represents and why they must
follow a certain order. I hoped to learn the details of each blessing in the
service along with why everything happens from what I see.

The
neighborhood around the synagogue is a quiet one and very safe. There is a
school right across the street from it (Stevenson University) which makes
things safer. There are office buildings which is also quiet. There are woods
behind the synagogue and a radio tower about a few hundred feet from it. On the
property is a beautiful building which serves as a synagogue as well as a
Hebrew school with a daycare. There are stained-glass windows right when you
pull up and the name Beth Israel in Hebrew printed on it. The structure of the
building is well kept and looks clean and tidy. The organization is well as
there are signs guiding you wherever you need to enter the building. When you
enter, you see plaques on the wall to the right with all the people who have
donated to the congregation and people who mean a lot to the congregation. Right
after that wall is a room which is oval shaped that has plaques memorializing
all those who have died who belonged to the synagogue or are family members of
people who belong to the synagogue. When people go in there, tears can flow out
for all the emotions that run through your mind. The chapel is after that when
you walk through a gathering area. In the chapel is rows of seats that are all
connected but separated by arm rests. Most of the seats are comfortable with
cushions. On the back of each seat are two books. One is the Siddur. This has
most of the prayers which we say in shul. There is Hebrew on the right side and
English on the other. The pages start from the back of a normal book and finish
on the cover. The Hebrew text is also written from right to left. The
morphology of the text comes from the Proto-Canaanite alphabet. This alphabet
was written from right to left. The other book is called the Tanakh. This book
has the whole Torah written in it and some of it is said in shul while other
parts of it is said during silent prayer. There are also stained-glass windows
in the shul. They surround the bema and they also have Hebrew language
inscribed on them. The windows are a combination of colors making a bright
shine in the shul. Most synagogues have a Bema, which is a platform in the
middle of the sanctuary from which the Torah and Prophets are read. The Bema
has a podium. The podium in a synagogue outside of Israel is supposed to face
Israel to pray toward Israel. Synagogues in Israel have the podium facing
toward Jerusalem, which is the capital of Israel. The most important feature of
the sanctuary is the Ark. The Ark is a cabinet in the wall that holds the Torah
scrolls. The Ark is called the Aron Kodesh (the holy cabinet).

            During prayer, there is a Rabbi facing the congregation.
Usually, the Rabbi is a Man, but in certain circumstances the Rabbi can be a
Woman. Over 50 years ago, it was extremely rare that you could find a woman
rabbi. They would not exist or barely exist. Nowadays, women rabbis are
accepted at times. The rabbi faces the congregation. He leads the prayers and
is in charge of the service. He usually has a deep, echoing voice that you can
hear from far away. The Rabbi is the most valuable person in the Shul. He
provides leadership, guidance, and education. The congregation, the people in
the audience follow along as the Rabbi guides us through the prayers. Some
people know the prayers very well while others either don’t say the prayers or
try to say as much as they know. The Rabbi reads from the scripts and the Torah
that are placed on the podium while the audience reads from copies of the
scripts called Siddurs. The Rabbi uses a tool called a Yad to read from the
Torah. This is needed because the Torah is written on parchment and if human
skin touches the ink, it can smear. The Scripts that the Rabbi reads from are
all in Hebrew. The Siddur contains the Hebrew text as well as the English
translation. I was lucky to lead a short interview with the Rabbi. I asked him
what the meaning of a Minyan was to him. He told me that the meaning of this
ritual reminds us of our religion. We have a daily tradition which we have
followed every day for thousands of years of which we are supposed to pray
three times a day. The frequency of these prayer sessions remind us of our
pride for Judaism that we value very much. My role as an outsider was a person
sitting in the back with a notebook who might be Jewish or might not because I
was not singing along with the prayers. I was wearing a yarmulke though. People
occasionally looked at me to see what I was doing. They saw that I was taking
notes and didn’t suspect anything else. The only effect I had on the other
people in the room was that they diverted some of their attention being
interested in what I was doing. The service we were in was called a Minyan. A Minyan
in contemporary Judaism refers to a prayer service. There is a specific order
of which everything is performed in a Minyan service. Before we even show up to
the service, we are supposed to put on our clothes. There is a dress code in a
synagogue. The men are supposed to wear black pants with a belt. As well as
black socks and dress shoes. Men are also supposed to wear a dress shirt with a
jacket. Every man in the shul is supposed to wear a yarmulke or a black hat.
The men who are over 13 or have had a Bar Mitzvah, are supposed to wear a
Tallit. This has a prayer on it telling everybody that you are a man. The women
in the shul are supposed to wear a dress at least covering their knees. Any
clothing above the knees is forbidden. The women have the choice to wear a head
covering as this is said in Jewish law. The price of clothing for both men and
women in shul should be non-expensive. It can be expensive if you so choose but
it is very acceptable to wear non-expensive clothing. The goal is to be modest
for what you are wearing. When entering the shul, you are supposed to come in
reasonable quiet and file in to your seats. The seating is not assigned except
on the high holidays which include Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. There is no
standing for the Rabbi coming in. The service just begins when the Rabbi starts
talking at the podium on the bema. The service starts with Barechu which is a
call to prayer. The cantor, a Jewish musician or
precentor trained in the vocal arts who helps lead the congregation in songful
prayer, calls out “Bless the Lord, The Blessed One”, then the congregation
responds with “Blessed is the Lord, the Blessed One forever and ever”. After
that, the Cantor repeats the congregations’ response. Then there is a
blessing prior to the Shema. This blessing is called Revelation. It goes as “Deep
is Your love for us, Lord our G-d, boundless Your tender compassion. You taught
our ancestors life-giving laws. They trusted in You, our Father and King. For
their sake graciously teach us, Father, merciful Father, show us mercy; grant
us discernment and understanding. Then will we study Your Torah, heed its
words, teach its precepts and follow its instruction, lovingly fulfilling all
its teachings. Open our eyes to Your Torah, help our hearts cleave to Your
mitzvot. Unite all our thoughts to love and revere You. Then shall we never be
brought to shame. Trusting in Your awesome holiness, we will delight in Your
deliverance. Bring us safely from the ends of the earth, and lead us in dignity
to our holy land. You are the Source of deliverance. You have called us from
all peoples and tongues, constantly drawing us nearer to You, that we may
lovingly offer You praise, proclaiming Your Oneness. Praised are You, Lord who
loves His people Israel.” Then they have the Shema. The Shema goes as “Hear O
Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One”. Then there is a separation
between sections called the Chatzi Kaddish (Half Kaddish). This is as follows,
“Exalted and hallowed be G-d’s great name, in the world which G-d created,
according to plan. May G-d’s majesty be revealed in the days of our lifetime and
the life of all Israel – speedily, imminently.

To which we say: Amen.

Blessed be G-d’s great
name to all eternity.

Blessed, praised,
honored, exalted,
extolled, glorified, adored, and lauded
be the name of the Holy Blessed One,
beyond all earthly words and songs of blessing, praise, and comfort.
To which we say: Amen.

Then they have the
Amidah. The Amidah is recited while standing and with the feet together. The
literal meaning of Amidah is “standing”. The Amidah contains 19 blessings. The
blessing are as follows. Avot (“Ancestors”), Gevurot (“powers”),
Kedushat ha-Shem (“the sanctification of the Name”),
Binah (“understanding”), Teshuvah (“return”,
“repentance”), Selichah, Geulah (“redemption”),
Refuah (“healing”), Birkat HaShanim (“blessing for
years of good”), Galuyot (“diasporas”), Birkat
HaDin (“Justice”), Birkat HaMinim (“the
sectarians, heretics”), Tzadikim (“righteous”), Bo’ne
Yerushalayim (“Builder of Jerusalem”), Birkat
David (“Blessing of David”), Tefillah (“prayer”),
Avodah (“service”), Hoda’ah (“thanksgiving”), Sim Shalom (“Grant
Peace”); After that is the full Kaddish. It is the Chatzi Kaddish but with
the addition of “May the prayers and supplications of all Israel be accepted by
their Father who is in Heaven; And say, Amen.  Then there are memorial prayers. After that is
the Aleinu (It is our duty to praise G-d). The Aleinu is “It is our duty to
praise the Master of all, to ascribe greatness to the Author of creation, who
has not made us like the nations of the land nor placed us like the families of
the earth; who has not made our portion like theirs, nor our destiny like all
their multitudes. But we bow in worship and thank the Supreme King of kings,
the Holy One, Blessed be He, who extends the heavens and establishes the earth,
whose throne of glory is in the heavens above, and whose power’s Presence is in
the highest of heights. He is our G-d; there is no other. Truly He is our King,
there is none else, as it is written in His Torah: “You shall know and
take to heart this day that the Lord is G-d, in the heavens above and on earth
below. There is no other.” And the service ends with the Mourner’s
Kaddish. The Mourner’s Kaddish is recited following the death of a parent,
child, spouse, or sibling. It is customary to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish in
the presence of a congregation. This is added to the Full Kaddish. The addition
is “In the world which will be renewed and where He will give life to the dead
and raise them to eternal life and rebuild the city of Jerusalem and complete
His temple there and uproot foreign worship from the earth and restore Heavenly
worship to its position and may the Holy One, blessed is He, reign in His
sovereign splendour”. The order of this service was created by Talmudic
Rabbis in the year 200. The Talmud is the basis for everything that has to do
with Jewish Law. It is widely quoted in rabbinic literature.

            I have learned everything that I wanted to know about
this ritual and about the experience I wanted to have observing this ritual. I
learned the specific order of the prayers during a Minyan service and why they
have to be in this order. I learned what these prayers mean and what function
they have in the Jewish religion. My ideas changed a little bit from my initial
assumptions. The set-up of the chapel was a little bit different from what I
expected. I originally expected the bema and the podium to be in the back of
the chapel closer to the Torah, but the podium was right in the center of the
chapel. My research was very effective as I have gained every aspect of the
meaning of a Minyan ritual and the sights and sounds of the building and the
synagogue.