What You Need to Know About Navigating a Synagogue

From: My Jewish Learning <community>
Date: Wed, Sep 4, 2019 at 8:17 PM
Subject: What You Need to Know About Navigating a Synagogue
To: <lednichenkoolga>

Plus the ritual objects in the space.
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Getting Comfortable in Synagogue
My Jewish Learning

Synagogue

How to Navigate a Synagogue

Jewish prayer can take place anywhere, at any time. The Torah relates that Isaac went out to pray in a field, inspiring generations of Jews to seek the solace of nature when speaking to God. Some prayers, like the bedtime Shema and the prayers associated with the Sabbath meal, are meant to be said at home.

But there is a special quality to praying in community, in the presence of a prayer quorum of ten or more people (known as a minyan). This is one of the reasons that public Jewish worship today most often takes place in a synagogue.

This email will guide you through the physical space and objects that surround you when you enter a synagogue.

Torah in Synagogue
Entering a Synagogue: What to Do

Grab a Head Covering

In many congregations, wearing a yarmulke (kippah) is obligatory for men, and many women choose to wear them as well. A basket of them is often found at the sanctuary entrance, but you may want to bring your own just to be sure.

Many women wear head coverings in synagogue as well. In liberal synagogues, women might wear a yarmulke or lace net. In Orthodox synagogues, married women typically cover their hair with a hat or scarf.

Consider a Tallit

During Shabbat morning services, it’s also common for many synagogue-goers to wear a tallit, or prayer shawl. In some Ashkenazic Orthodox synagogues, only married men wear them, while among Sephardic Jews, all men over bar-mitzvah age wear them. In non-Orthodox synagogues, some women also wear a tallit during services.

Choose Your Seat

In many synagogues, you can sit wherever you like. But in some congregations, regular members have customary seats, so it’s wise to tread carefully before choosing one. Also, be aware that in Orthodox synagogues men and women sit in separate sections of the sanctuary.

Take Your Cues

Synagogue services are typically presided over by a rabbi. There may also be a cantor who chants the prayers and/or the Torah service. Congregants might also help lead parts of the service.

The prayer leader will sometimes provide cues to the congregation about when to sit and stand, and he or she may call out page numbers in the prayer book to help keep everyone together. Take your cues from what other people do.

Torah in Synagogue
How to Recognize Ritual Objects in the Synagogue

Ark: Known in Hebrew as Aron Kodesh, or the “holy ark,” this is the container for housing the synagogue’s Torah scrolls and is normally situated at the front of the sanctuary on the wall facing Jerusalem. Prayer is oriented in that direction.

Ner Tamid: The ner tamid, or eternal light, is a light that rests or hangs above the ark. This light recalls the constantly-burning lamp in the Tabernacle, described in Exodus.

Torah scrolls: The scrolls themselves are kept in the ark when not in use. Typically they are sheathed in ornate velvet and sometimes topped with a silver “crown,” known as a keter or an atarah. Some Torah scrolls may instead have silver ornaments, known as rimonim, atop the wooden rollers. In some Sephardic synagogues, Torah scrolls are kept in beautifully-decorated hard cases.

Bimah: This is a raised platform, either in the center of the sanctuary or at the front, where the prayer leader stands and where the Torah is read.

Check out a more detailed guide to navigating a synagogue sanctuary here.

GET THE GUIDE
Thanks again for joining My Jewish Learning on this journey to Getting Comfortable in Synagogue. Now that you’re familiar with the structure of the synagogue itself, your next email will focus on the structure of the prayer service. Stay tuned!

Your next email in My Jewish Learning’s Getting Comfortable in Synagogue series will arrive in a few days. Did someone forward this email to you? Sign up for your own copy of the email series here.

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In many synagogues, you can sit wherever you like. But in some congregations, regular members have customary seats, so it’s wise to tread carefully before choosing one. Also, be aware that in Orthodox synagogues men and women sit in separate sections of the sanctuary.

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Jewish Prayer: Shema’s Powerful Call

From: My Jewish Learning <community>
Date: Wed, Sep 4, 2019 at 7:01 PM
Subject: Jewish Prayer: Shema’s Powerful Call
To: <lednichenkoolga>

How listening leads to oneness.
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Jewish Prayer

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by My Jewish Learning

Shema

Woman covering her eyes while saying the Shema (Brian Negin/Flickr)

Understanding the Shema: How Listening Leads to Oneness

By Rabbi Adina Allen

Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.

These words, commonly known as the Shema, are traditionally recited by Jews as we begin and conclude each day. Bookending not just our days but our lives, the Shema is also commonly the first prayer we are taught as children and is the final prayer we utter on our deathbed as we pass from this world. The Shema is the mantra of Judaism.

The Shema begins with an imperative: Listen! Just that word alone is a powerful call. Listening is not an easy thing to do. True listening requires us to open ourselves up to another’s experience so that heart touches heart and we are changed.

CONTINUE EXPLORING SHEMA

Say a Prayer

How to Say It
Your complete guide to reciting the Shema, including translations and transliterations for all three blessings.

LEARN HOW

Prayer Answers

Your Prayer Questions Answered
Why do we cover our eyes while we say Shema?

FIND OUT WHY

Source Material

Source Material

Where does the text of the Shema prayer come from? Read the Torah portion, Vaetchanan, with the original text.

READ THE SOURCE

Video: Explore the Shema

Image

Learn more about the deeper meaning of the Shema in this beautiful video.

WATCH THE VIDEO

Prayer has been the foundation of Jewish ritual and practice for thousands of years, but you may still wonder how and why to say the prayers in the canon. At My Jewish Learning, we invite you to explore the deeper side of prayer. Each week we’ll share a unique exploration of a particular Jewish prayer, plus offer background materials and more to enhance your understanding. In the meantime, you can explore all of MJL’s prayer resources here.

EXPLORE MORE PRAYER

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