Worship Services At Temple Shalom
Whether you are a familiar face in our congregation, or are worshipping with us for the first time, our goal as a spiritual community is the same: to create a place of warmth and friendship, to balance comfort and challenge, to touch your heart, to make you think – and to foster a loving sense of connection to our Jewish tradition and the Jewish people. These words of welcome are meant to help you become more comfortable with our service and more familiar with our congregation.
There are a number of customs and traditions of both Jewish services in general, and our congregation in particular, that it might be helpful to share.
Most of our services use both a siddur (a prayerbook) and a TaNaKh (a Bible, the Hebrew Scriptures). The prayerbooks are passed out by ushers at the beginning of the service, and the Bibles are found under some seats – usually under every other seat. It is customary to allow neither a prayerbook nor a Bible to touch the ground; should it happen that either one does fall on the floor it is customary to kiss the book as a sign of respect.
Language and Participation
Hebrew is read from right to left. Because of this, Hebrew Bibles, and most of our prayerbooks, open in the Hebrew direction. If you are used to only English-opening books, it will therefore seem like the table of contents are in the back of the book, instead of the front. If you have a Hebrew-opening prayerbook and a page number is called out, it might take an extra moment to turn to the correct page.
The Jewish service was always meant to be participatory and inclusive. The whole idea of a rabbi or cantor “leading” the service is a fairly new development in Jewish history. Therefore if you know Hebrew, please join in with the reading, chanting or singing of all prayers.
Other customs and courtesies
Please turn off all cell phones (or set them to vibrate if they must be on) before you enter the Sanctuary.
Pictures are not permitted during a service. In a Reform synagogue such as Temple Shalom, pictures might be permitted before the the beginning of a service by prior arrangement. Also with advanced permission videotaping a service may be allowed, but using only natural light, and from a stationary and fixed position in the rear of the Sanctuary.
Ritual Attire: The Kippah and Tallit
Customary Jewish ritual garb is available for those who enter our Sanctuary. Traditionally, the head is covered as a sign of respect, and awareness that God is always above us. The head covering is called a kippah in Hebrew, or a yarmulke in Yiddish. A kippah may be worn by anyone, and at any service.
There are also prayer shawls available. This garment is called a tallit (sometimes also pronounced as tallis. The plural is tallitot ortalleisim.) The tallit goes back to a Biblical mandate and is meant as a symbolic reminder of one’s commitment to the commandments of Jewish life. Tallitot are worn by Jewish worshippers during morning services. (The leader of the service will wear a prayershawl during an evening service, but customarily congregants do not.)
Once reserved only for men, the kippah and tallit are today available to men and women equally. As a Reform synagogue, Temple Shalom views the wearing of these traditional ritual items as optional.
Introduction to the Siddur (prayerbook)
On most Friday nights, Saturday mornings, and most holidays other than Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, our synagogue uses the new Reform movement siddur, Mishkan T'filah, which loosely translates as “Sanctuary of the Spirit” or “Tabernacle of Prayer.” There are two versions of Mishkan T'filah: most of the copies we provide are dark blue, and have full transliteration (transcription into English characters) of all of the Hebrew prayers. Those who are comfortable reading Hebrew – and our students, who are learning the language – should take the light blue edition, which contains no transliteration.
Mishkan T'filah is a new tool, and represents a new “concept” in prayer services. Its format expects – almost demands – increased involvement on the part of the worshipper. There are two main important things to know about this prayerbook. The first is that all English is an open invitation for full participation, unless otherwise indicated or requested by the leader of the service.
The second innovative feature of Mishkan T'filah is that much of the liturgy is laid out in the format of a two-page spread, with the same prayer presented in four different formulations. The top of the even-numbered page is the traditional Hebrew of the prayer (with side-by-side transliteration in the dark blue edition.) Below that is a reasonably accurate translation of the prayer, ending in the exact same Hebrew sentence as the prayer above it. This blessing at the end of a prayer is called a chatimah (plural: chatimot) or “seal,” as it “seals” the theme and allows us to move on.
On the odd-numbered side of the page are two alternative translations, inspired by the theme of the prayer but often quite poetic or representing different theological ideas inspired by the original Hebrew. Both of these alternative versions also end with the same chatimah, the same “seal.” It is almost always the case that only one of these four versions of the prayer will be read, and then the service will continue – perhaps even without a page number being announced – on the next two page spread. But the other goal in this prayerbook is to allow worshippers to “explore,” on their own. So if the leader and most of the congregation are reading one version of the prayer, any individual may, at the same time, “take in” a different approach, or glance at the commentary at the bottom or on the side. The “signal” to turn the page, to come together again, is the fact that the chatimah is the same, in each of the four versions. Join in with everyone else, or “wander off” on your own, and come together again with the conclusion held in common with each rendition of the prayer.
This prayerbook does take some getting used to, but seems to make an excellent “second impression,” and is having a real impact in increased congregational participation throughout the entire service.
On certain family-oriented services we use a colorful siddur called Gates of Prayer for Young People. In that prayerbook, italics in English indicate the place for congregational reading. And there are occasions when we use different books, or creative services compiled for particular occasions.
Our intent, always, is to balance the authentic experience of a living liturgical tradition with a sense of welcome and warmth in every worship experience, which will embrace and include those less familiar with these customs and prayers.
Outline of a typical service
The Jewish prayerbook, as indicated above, is called a “siddur.” The word siddur (related to the more familiar term for the Passover meal, the “seder”) means “order.” Our services contain patterns of units of prayers, combining a fixed liturgy with spontaneous teaching and learning and interaction.
At an Erev Shabbat (Friday night) service, we either enter or begin with singing, followed by the kindling of candles to mark the beginning of Shabbat. We greet one another and may share some of the joys or challenges of the week that was.
The opening setting of the service is followed by a unit of prayers referred to as Kabbalat Shabbat (welcoming the Sabbath). This is a series of Psalms (from the Hebrew Bible) and medieval liturgical compositions. A very high percentage of this part of the service is sung, and is in Hebrew. It is meant to set the tone, and mood, of the service, and convey the joyous celebration of Shabbat.
Beginning with a “call to worship” knows as the Bar’chu, the next section of the service, the Shema and its blessings, we rehearse through our prayers the basic Jewish view of history: Creation, Revelation (for Jews this means the giving of the Torah) and Redemption (achieving freedom, and shaping the world the way it is meant to be). This unit contains the Shema, the central declaration of the Jewish faith: “Hear, O Israel, the Eternal is our God, the Eternal God is One.” Of interest to many is the idea that the “law” of Israel (the Torah) is given by God as an act of love – and is followed as an act of love on our part.
The next major section of the service is called either the Amida (the Standing Prayers), the Tefilah (“the Prayer”) or the Shemonah Esrei (the Eighteen Benedictions – even though there are 19 on weekdays, and only seven on Shabbat). These prayers connect us with the merit of our ancestors (Avot v’Imahot), the power and holiness of God (Gevurot and Kedusha), a reference to the specific aspects of the day we are celebrating (including the song Yis’mechu on Shabbat), and a concluding section dealing with Prayer, Thanksgiving and Peace. This section ends with the familiar song Oseh Shalom.
In many Reform congregations – including ours – we often read the Torah on Friday nights. The liturgy surrounding the reading, the processional with the scroll, the explanation of the portion and the reading from the scroll itself are all referred to as Seder Keriyat HaTorah, the Service for the Reading of Torah.
Often a formal sermon or an interactive discussion follows the Torah service.
The Concluding Section of the service includes the Aleinu prayer (our vision of the world the way it can be), and the Mourner’s Kaddish. In our congregation we ask mourner’s to rise (if they are comfortable doing so) as we call the name of a loved one; then, in keeping with general Reform Jewish tradition, the congregation as a whole rises for the Mourner’s Kaddish itself.
We begin the transition from the service to the celebration of the service with the recitation of a blessing through the wine (Kiddush) and the blessing through the bread (Motzi). We then come together for an Oneg Shabbat (a “celebration” of Shabbat), in the form of dessert and interaction in the Social Hall.
Shacharit L’Shabbat (Saturday morning)
The Saturday morning service opens with words from the Torah: “Mah Tovu, How goodly are your tents, O Israel,” traditionally considered a reference to the synagogue itself. At a Bar or Bat Mitzvah we might continue with the presentation of the tallit (prayershawl), worn by a young person for the first time upon becoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah.
The service itself opens with a section called Birkhot HaShachar (Morning Blessings), and P’sukei D’zimra (Poems of Praise). The latter includes Psalm 145, known as Ashrei, chanted in Hebrew and written out as an alphabetical acrostic.
We continue with sections of the service very nearly identical to prayers recited the night before: the Shema and its blessings (still on the themes of Creation, Revelation, and Redemption), and the Amidah (see page 8 above). Family members often help lead the concluding blessings of the Amidah.
We then reach Seder Keriyat HaTorah, the Service for the Reading of the Torah. The Torah is read serially, from one weekly portion through the next, beginning in Genesis, working all the way to the end of Deuteronomy, and beginning again the next year. Essentially all Jews all over the world read the same portion each week. At a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, our young people have worked for months not only on the Hebrew they are about to chant, but also on understanding the meaning and the message of the Scriptural selections of that week, and what lessons these portions might have in our lives.
Often, at a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, we invite the friends of the thirteen year old to stand behind him or her for the final chanting of the Torah, and then give those friends a chance to ask any questions they might have about the service, or the scroll, or what their friend has just accomplished.
After the reading of the weekly portion from the Torah scroll, the young person then continues with the introduction, personal interpretation, and chanting of the Haftarah. The Haftarah is a reading from the second section of the Hebrew Bible, the books of the Prophets. As the Bar/Bat Mitzvah will explain, there is always some kind of connection between the Torah portion of the week and the reading from the Prophets.
After parents have a chance to offer private words of blessing over the Bar/Bat Mitzvah in front of the ark, the Saturday morning liturgy enters the Concluding Section of the service: the Aleinu, the presentation of gifts from the congregation to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and the Mourner’s Kaddish. We conclude with a blessing over wine (Kiddush) and bread (motzi) as we move from service to celebration.
A “Family Friendly” Congregation: Children Always Welcome
Temple Shalom is a “family-friendly” congregation. Children are welcome in our Sanctuary at all times, and for all services. We believe that children feeling wanted and welcome increases their sense of connection to our tradition and their feeling of comfort with Jewish identity.
We also recognize that the fact that many of our services take place late in an evening poses challenges for younger children. For that reason, we have included a Quiet Room in our newly renovated Sanctuary, as a place where children can go (accompanied by adults, see “Guidelines for the Use of the Quiet Room,” below) when they develop shpilkes (a Yiddish term covering the sense of being highly fidgety, very restless, or with particularly high energy). It is always a judgment call and balancing act between the needs of our children and the comfort and concentration of those around us; we hope that the Quiet Room helps facilitate the right mixture of participation and appropriateness in a way which works for everyone. (Of course, we do also ask parents to monitor their children’s behavior before and after services; swinging from railings, climbing on the new glass windows and playing with microphones were not part of the planned usage of the new Sanctuary.)
To promote the participation and inclusion of our youngest worshippers, we have gone to some effort to provide a range of options for all ages: Family Services on the First Friday of the month, Shabbat Morning Family Service and Primary Age Shabbat on (usually) the Second Saturday morning of the month, Tot Shabbat (usually) on the Third Friday night, and a new camp-style early Kabbalat Shabbat service on the Fourth Friday. Check the full calendar for complete details on any given month.
Guidelines for Use of the Quiet Room
Temple Shalom has recently added a Quiet Room for the comfort and convenience of families with young children in attendance at services. This is in no way meant as “banishment” from the main Sanctuary, but should be used as needed as children grow restless or particularly energetic.
A parent should accompany his/her children in the Quiet Room. It is not meant as an unsupervised play area.
Books and some toys are provided; please feel free to use what is in the room, but also please try to straighten it up again after usage.
Please avoid standing on and/or jumping from the chairs. We have already had someone get hurt by doing this.
Under no circumstances should children be allowed to press hands or faces on the glass leading into the Sanctuary, or flip the lights in the Quiet Room on and off for fun during a service. Both acts are clearly visible from outside the Quiet Room, and may be dangerous as well.
We appreciate the common sense, camaraderie and cooperation that those using the Quiet Room display, and are glad to have a way of enhancing the ability of parents and children to participate in our service while remaining together.