INSIDE THE SYNAGOGUE
At the front of the synagogue is
a raised platform which we call the bimah
Here the ark is kept which contains our Torah scrolls. The Torah consists
of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. When the ark is not in use the
scrolls are concealed by gates and a curtain. Above the bimah is the
everlasting light (the ner tamid) which is always kept burning, representing
the presence of God among us. The two menorahs (candelabra) on either
side of the bimah are well-known symbols of Judaism. The gallery above
you was originally built to seat the ladies of the congregation but now, in
line with all other Reform congregations, women and men sit together in all
parts of the synagogue.
THE PRAYER BOOK
The Hebrew name for our prayer book
is the Siddur, which means ‘order’.
Since Hebrew reads from right to left, the sequence of pages is reversed
from the English. This means you open the siddur at the back. You can
find English translations to all our prayers on the opposite page.
You will see that all men cover their
heads with a skull cap (a kippah or
yarmulke). This symbolises respect. Adult Jewish men (that is, after Bar
Mitzvah or confirmation at the age of 13) and those adult Jewish women
(after Bat Mitzvah) who wish to do so, wear a tallit, a prayer shawl, which
reminds us of and expresses our love for the commandments of the Torah.
There are two focal points in our Shabbat (sabbath) morning service,
These are the Amidah (the
Standing Prayer) and the Torah Service, when
we read this week's Torah portion. In Orthodox communities all of the
Torah is read over one year's services, in our Reform community, we read
one-third of the Torah over one year, so it takes us three years to complete
a cycle. It is the reading of the Torah portion that a child is called to do on
the occasion of his or her Bar or Bat Mitzvah. It could be said that during
the Amidah we talk to God; during the Torah reading God speaks to us.
In our synagogue the Rabbi leads
the majority of the services, but
frequently lay readers assist. Often Bar and Bat Mitzvahs lead the service,
and sometimes the younger members of our community read the
introductory prayers. Such family services are a regular feature at
Jackson's Row, as we like to involve young people in an active way in our
We are also proud to have an experienced
and tuneful choir, who assist in
leading the singing, as well as an organist who plays for us every Shabbat.
b. The Service.
We have six alternative sets of opening
prayers in our siddur, and we
choose one as appropriate on each Shabbat This helps to ease us into the
correct degree of absorption and solemnity for the Amidah. This section
ends with the Shema. one of the most fundamental statements of faith in the
Jewish liturgy. It is customary to stand for the Shema.
After the Shema, the Rabbi
will resume leading the service, taking the
congregation into the Amidah. Some of this is read silently. Notice how
some congregants bow each time the Hebrew words Baruch ata adonai are
said (Blessed are you, Eternal). On the words Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh
(Holy, holy, holy) congregants rise slightly on their feet three times, to
signify a desire for holiness.
Now there is a brief transition to
the Torah service. The scroll from which
today's reading is taken is removed from the ark and carried around the
synagogue in a procession. The procession is joined by those members of
the congregation who will have some part to play in the forthcoming
readings. It is customary to turn and follow the scrolls as they are carried
around the synagogue. Back on the bimah the parchment is uncovered, the
scroll is partly unrolled and lifted to be shown to all parts of the synagogue.
This ceremony is known as Hagba. Now the reading can commence.
Reading from the torah is very difficult.
The hand-written Hebrew has no
vowels, and it takes much learning and practice to become an experienced
Torah reader. Our portion of the torah is divided into sections, and each
section is given to various members of our community, perhaps those who
are celebrating a happy event such as a wedding or anniversary, or perhaps
to commemorate the death of a family member. Rather than read these
sections, the person who is called up recites blessings, one just before their
portion is react out, and one just afterwards. Usually the Rabbi reads the
Immediately following the Torah
readings a member of the congregation
reads from the Haftarah, the Books of the Prophets. The Haftarah for any
week usually reflects the content of the Torah reading and can be followed
in the large blue book we call the Chumash, which contains both the Torah
and Haftarah, with a commentary in English. There is a blessing before
and after the Haftarah. After the reading, members of the congregation
call out "Sh’koyach!" which means ‘strength to you!’
Next the Rabbi reads prayers in English
for the wider community. The
Torah scrolls are covered again and are taken hack round the synagogue to
be replaced in the ark.
Now it is time for the concluding
prayers, such as the Aleinu which focuses
on the future, and the mourners' Kaddish, a prayer sanctifying God which
is customarily said at funerals and by the bereaved. This is why it is
preceded by the reading out of the names of those who have died in
previous years in this week. Then the Rabbi gives the notices for the week
and we sing our closing hymn, Adon Olam which moves from a vision of
the grandeur of God to the intimate, personal God who is with us at all
times. The Rabbi then blesses the congregation and the service is over.
After the service you are warmly
invited downstairs to the Alexander Levy
Hall, to share some food and wine with us. This is known as Kiddush
(dedication). We do not start eating or drinking until the Rabbi has led a
few short blessings. Do make sure you sample some challah, the plaited
bread that we eat every Shabbat.
Shabbat Shalom! (a peaceful
Sabbath) to you all.