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Site Visit Essay - Temple Beth El

7 pages
1766 words
Boston College
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As my athletic schedule has me traveling on weekends, combined with the lack of a vehicle, I could not physically attend a service at a temple, as they hold services on Friday night. A Jewish friend of mine, Abbie Wasserman, took me to her Temple during the week to show me around. We then streamed live a video of the previous weeks service together, and she explained it all to me. There were many Christian churches near campus attend service on a Sunday morning, but since I am Catholic and have also attended Baptist and Protestant churches in the past, I wanted to experience something different. I did not want to choose an Orthodox or Muslim service, as I did not think I would understand anything, as most of them use Arabic or Hebrew and it would not have been productive. The concepts of human beings congregating together as social beings were learned in chapter seven. People fellowship together in Religious gatherings that are bound together by a common belief, perform particular functions or holy powers that are beyond human reason and understanding. These religious groupings profess a common faith and are guided by some traditions that are observed at all times. These concepts apply when I attend a service at the Orthodox temple.

Temple Beth El is a reformed Jewish Synagogue in Boca Raton. Abbie explained to me the differences between the different forms of Judaism. Orthodox Jews believe that the Torah was written by God, whereas Reformed Jews believe that the Torah is Gods inspired writings. Most Reformed Jews do not follow the dietary restrictions of eating Kosher and do not dress like the Orthodox Jews. They believe in the basic fundamental views of all Judaism They also believe in incorporating being a Jew into everyday life, rather than taking the literal meaning from the Torah.

The facility was extensive and in no way did it resemble the Catholic Church I was used to. To me, it appeared more of a convention center. The area that the service was held resembled an auditorium; with chairs rather than benches. The walls were stark white with Hebrew symbols on the wall.The carpet was royal blue. There were several steps up the platform with a large podium and a large wooden structure behind it. This long wooden modern looking structure is called an Ark or Aron ha-kodeshand which holds the Torah scrolls. There is a light over it called a nertamid, which means ever-lasting light. It is to remind people that God is always near. The Ark is always supposed to face the direction of Jerusalem, so you are always looking toward Jerusalem during Prayer. In class, the concept of symbolism was widely covered. There are Representational symbols that bind together distinct things even in situations where there is no direct connection between the symbol and what it represents. The meaning of a symbol is determined by its cultural setting and its use. Symbols communicate specific meanings which are based on what the user has learned before, i.e., the nertamid in the Torah scrolls which symbolizes Gods presence at all times. The symbols always take the form of images and are universally and conventionally alike to the thing they symbolize.

The service is called a Shabbat or Sabbath and was held on a Friday night. Shabbat is held from Friday at Sundown to Saturday at Sundown. If you are Orthodox or Conservative, you are most likely not supposed to engage in any activity during that time, as it is a time of rest. If you are reformed, you will continue with your daily activities. Many people were dressed casually. There were several families dressed formally. These families had children that were making their Bat or Bar Mitzvah that weekend. Many of the men wore a Yarmulke or Kippah on the top of their head. The women do not wear any head coverings. If you are Orthodox, all men and women will cover their hair. For women, all real hair should not be seen during prayer. The service was run by a Rabbi and a Cantor. The Rabbi performs the function while the Cantor sings. The Rabbi was wearing a suit with a Tallit over his shoulder referred to as a prayer shawl. The Cantor was wearing a dress, and she had a smaller wrap that looked more like a scarf draped over her shoulders.

The service started off with the cantor singing in Hebrew. At this time several families started coming on stage from behind the Ark. I believe they called it in an Arbor. The rabbi greeted each family. The three families went to sit towards the right of the ark, while the people who ran the service would sit to the left. Once the families were seated, the Rabbi joined in with the Cantor. This song was both in Hebrew and English. The families that were on the stage were the families of a child that was ready to make their bar or bat mitzvah that weekend. In Chapter 5, we read about social puberty rites. This rite is performed when boys turn 13 and when girls turn 12 and are ready to commit to faith. The concepts in chapter five come to play demonstrating the importance and significance of rituals in psychological and social functions. The Jewish bar mitzvah is an important initiation ritual. From class discussions, it was identified that rituals help in resolving social tensions that come into play as a result of lack of or unequal distribution of material goods in life and injustice in the distribution of positions in social groupings.

The Rabbi started his sermon on being a good Jew and learning from the Jews of the past. How if they continue in their path, then the Jews will be the light of the nation. It was an excellent sermon. Being Catholic, I am used to hearing sermons that I cant connect with. When he was through with the sermon, he asked the congregation to turn to each other and greet each other with Shabbat Shalom. This is a greeting of Good Sabbath which is very similar to the Peace be with you ritual in my Catholic Church. Next, they perform a ritual called kindling of the Shabbat candles. This is a ritual where they light candles, then wave their hands covering their eyes, then say a prayer. This is a symbol of light, hope, and joy. The candles should remain lit until the following day. One of the children who are about to confirm his faith the following day joins in the ritual with his family.

Another family comes up and performs the celebration of the Kiddush. This celebration involves the blessing of wine. The Rabbi starts to read in both Hebrew and English and then asks everyone to stand. Another family joins in for another ritual followed by more singing from the Cantor. At this point, they open the large doors of the Ark to display the Torah Scrolls. From a distance, they look like large tapestries.

The Rabbi speaks about Genesis25:29-34the story of Jacob, Esau, Isaac, and Rebecca. This reading is about how Jacob, Isaac and Rebeccas younger child are making stew and his brother Esau comes in demanding for food as he is hungry. Jacob tells Esau that he would give him food if Esau gives up his birthright. Esau responds well what is my birthright good for if I starve to death, so he gives up his heritage for the food. A birthright is the inheritance of a family as well as the spiritual inheritance of the father. It was said that God leads through that person. Later that day, Isaac calls for Esau and says he is dying and wants Esau to go hunt and find his food and when he returns, Isaac will give Esau the blessing of his birthright as head of the family. The mother Rebecca wants Jacob to get this blessing and wants him to deceive his father, as she sees him as something more than anyone else. Rebecca knows that Isaac only sees what is on the outside of Esau and not what is on the inside. This reading turns to current day and speaks about objectifying people, and when this happens, life turns terrible. You must see people for who they are inside. You cant objectify people for your gain. It was a compelling message.

When the Rabbi is through, he calls a few members of the congregation one by one to discuss things such as upcoming events, community participation and birthdays. They sing Happy Birthday in Hebrew to one man who is turning 80.

The service then turns back to the Ark where prayer is read; there is a lot of bending and bowing in front of this, which I was told is a sign of respect. Most people did not do this. In an Orthodox synagogue, most men would do this. This is called Shokeling. The Ark is then closed, and they proceed to go into another reading in Hebrew. They end the service with the blessing of the bread. This is called Ha Motzi. This bread is called Challah. They invite all the children up during the blessing. This is a blessing a parent performs on their child by placing their hand on their head and saying a blessing. They sing in Hebrew and then end In English. After approximately 75 minutes, the Rabbi leaves the stage areas and walks down to shake hands with people in the congregation.

Having been brought up in a community with few Jewish families, I wasnt sure what to expect when my friend offered to take me to her Temple. In comparing my Catholic Church to this synagogue, I didnt feel the comfort of God with me. My Catholic church is filled with statues, stained glass, and other items I associate with religion and looking towards to God. However, with that said, I was able to connect with the Rabbi on a much deeper level as I understood the stories he was sharing. He took a reading from the Torah and made it current. Our religion shared many similarities such as the blessing of the bread, wine and greeting those around you. It would be my pleasure to attend service in the Temple with my friend once again one evening when the season is over to have that experience once more; not only watching the service but also being part of the service.



Livingston, James C. Anatomy of the Sacred: An introduction to Religion. Prentice Hall, 2001.


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