Archive for May, 2010

So, What About the Torah?

When I was little, we read Torah every Friday evening at my Reform congregation.  I believe that they read it on Saturday mornings regardless of whether there was a Bar/Bat Mitzvah as well.  The Torah was removed from the ark, the Rabbi recited its words in Hebrew and English and then delivered a sermon (usually on some issue of current events.)

I learned when I was in college that the Friday evening service was meant to be a short one: songs and prayers to introduce Shabbat followed by the same at home.  I loved this version of Shabbat.  Torah should be read on Shabbat morning, they said.  Sounds good to me!  More time for singing with friends!  More time for good food and wine!  Study in the morning when I am fresh and eager to learn.   Count me in!

One problem.  The Temple is not exactly full on non-B’nei Mitzvah Shabbat mornings!  TBT holds Shabbat morning services regardless of whether there is a Bar Mitzvah and we ALWAYS have at least a minyan.  Those 10-20 people are a dedicated core and they hear Torah chanted every week.  But as for the heart of our community, the Friday evening worshipers, they only hear Torah’s voice two or three times a year.  It doesn’t seem right.  So, maybe we should chant Torah on Friday nights.

Well, that doesn’t work either.  It elongates the service, making it more difficult to make family time of Friday evening worship and dinner.  The religious practices committee has asked us to make a compromise and to make Friday evening Torah readings a sometimes thing.  But, a “sometimes thing” is unpredictable, and habits and routines are good for worship.

I can’t help but feel that the Reform Jewish community is really missing out on the best of Shabbat.  With a short, early Friday service followed by a family dinner, you get the perfect combination of family and community, of worship and song.  Return on Saturday morning for Torah study and worship, which includes the majesty and beauty of Torah reading regardless of whether there is a young man or woman coming of age on that particular day.  It’s an ideal, but not a paradigm in which most of our members would care to participate.

So, what about the Torah?

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What Am I… Chopped Liver?

Photographer: Underwood & Underwood; Institution: U.S. Library of Congress

Last evening, I lead a shivah minyan for a wonderful family of mixed Jewish identities. Because there was an Orthodox branch among the immediate mourners, our Rabbi had checked with the family to make sure that it was okay for a female cantor to lead them in worship. Apparently, they were very liberal Orthodox and were okay with it.

I lead a Reform service because some of the family members are congregants at our Reform synagogue, but at the same time I wanted to respect the traditions of the Orthodox element of their family. Before we began, therefore, I asked them if they were counting women in their minyan (quorum of 10 people – men in Orthodox Judaism – required for prayer). The answer, of course, was no. Fortunately, there were enough men present to continue.

As the service went on, I thought about how strange it was to be the shaliach tzibbur, the prayer leader, for a congregation that did not count me in its minyan. They were wonderfully respectful of me and prayed with me as their leader, but their tradition mandated that I did not count. Since I did not number in the minyan, I could not fulfill the obligation of prayer for any of those Orthodox (or maybe Conservadox would be a better description) men present, but they fulfilled their own obligation and so it was okay.

I lead the Barechu, the call to worship, and they responded together to that call – Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. We sang together, we prayed together, the tempos of our prayers ebbed and flowed with ease. I slowed down the group as we recited the Mourner’s Kaddish to allow those mourners less comfortable with the words to pronounce each one. I was so glad that in this time of grief everyone was able to come together in this way.

It was a lovely service that really embodied for me an ideal of what Judaism should be. We will all have our different beliefs, but that we can pray together despite them was so beautiful. Let this be the way of our future. Kein Y’hi Ratzon!