The Jewish Orthodox as a Preservation of Ancient Judaism
Before I begin with the narration of my experiences in the synagogue [insert name of synagogue here], I shall first mention some preliminary facts about Judaism in general. At the onset, I found out that the Jews are the most ancient peoples in the history which is traceable to the Hellenistic times. As a group of people, they have experienced freedom and slavery. They have become rulers of kingdoms and homeless refugees. It is also a fact that .27 percent of the world’s population is Jews. As a matter of fact, many of the world’s accomplished and prominent people such as writers, musicians, scientist, and politicians are or have been Jewish at some point of their lives. Even Christianity and Islam have been its daughter religions and most of their religious beliefs and moral values have their origins in the Jewish teachings. But Judaism is more than being a Jew and more than just being a religion, it is a way of life (Forta, 1995). However, despite being the mother religion of Christianity and Islam, the three religions differ significantly. The Jewish mystics formulated three concepts that are important in the Judaism faith: God, the Torah, and Israel. Just like any religion or school of thought, Judaism has also undergone several changes and modifications. For instance, there was a movement in the early 18th century that does not necessarily disavow the traditions of Judaism but aimed to encourage science, learning, and openness to western ideals and norms. There is also Reform movement in the 19th century that posed a threat to the traditional practices of the Jews. They introduced a number of modifications in the liturgy. For instance, they removed some of the prayers from the Prayer Book, introduced some new hymns in German, and incorporated the decorum of the Western style. They abolish the prayers for the restoration of the sacrificial system and disregarded Messianism and the traditional faith. They believe that the liberal ideals should triumph over the traditional ones for them to attain a better life and a better world. These movements have been constantly opposed by the traditional ones, also known as the “Maskilims” or in the modern term “The Orthodox”, who practiced the traditional path of Judaism which is rooted on the Talmud and the Codes of Jewish law. They advocated the teachings of the plain meaning of the bible more than any western teachings or influences. They treated the Reformist practices as something that would lead them away from Judaism (Jacobs, 1995). In general, Orthodox Judaism emphasizes separatism and minimum contact with the non-Jewish world. They also practice the strict separation of men and women in the synagogues and schools. The more traditional Judaism practice would also have a separate curriculum for girls and boys in schools (Cookson, 2003). Despite the several movements to instill modifications in the traditional practices of one of the oldest religion in the world, there remains a group of practitioners, even in the United States, that observes the traditional way of worships and services in Judaism. As a matter of fact, the Orthodox Judaism practitioners maintained the tradition that they have known since the beginning of the religion.
At the outset, the synagogue is made of red bricks. For me, they looked like that of other religious worship places such as the Catholic Church. However, you will notice inscriptions in Hebrew almost everywhere. In particular, the door is carved with several symbols. All I recognized was a book like that of Moses The Ten Commandments and a scroll which I found out were their scared books. Furthermore, it is said that there is no specifications or regulations as to how synagogues should be made. However, it is emphasized that the Jewish teaching would always favor the sound building techniques over aesthetic (Jacobs, 1995). That explains the minimalist design of synagogues. Furthermore, the explanation of the carved scroll in the entrance door of the synagogue is that on the creation of synagogues, the Torah of the Bible is treated as the architect’s blue-print. “The idea here is that the world was created to be in harmony with the teachings of the Torah (Jacob, 1995).”
I was told that a synagogue can be just anything as long as it contains these three important things in the Jewish tradition. First is the holy arc where the scrolls of the Torah are placed. The arc in particular enshrines the scrolls. Depending on the synagogue, there are different numbers of scrolls. The one I went had four. These scrolls are one of the most sacred things in the Jewish tradition so they see to it that it is protected. I saw that each of them was covered with white cloths with a phrase that says “Lift up your eyes to the mountain.” Second is the Eternal Flame of the Sanctuary Lamp or Altar Lamp which is a light that burns continually. This refers to the throne of God that is described as “His throne was tongues of flame; its wheels were blazing fire (Jacob, 1995).” Third is the Menorah or the Seven- Branched Candelarum. This was the old symbol for the Torah which means “the symbol of spiritual light”. This is because the Jews believe that light should be kindled in every household so that each member of the family has its own. Therefore, it would be very important for the synagogue to have it (Jacob, 1995).
The second thing that I observed when I saw the synagogue is that there are two separate entrances for the male and the female practitioners. This is to emphasize the practice that women and men sit separately inside the synagogue. As I’ve noticed it, men and women should remain seated separately so long as the service runs. This goes back to the early Jewish teaching curriculum that boys and girls should learn different things. This is as I was told the difference between other schools of thought of Judaism such as Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism. In their synagogues, they don’t have separate places for men and women, not separate entrances. They can mix altogether in their prayers, songs, and praises.
Furthermore, inside the synagogue, the first thing that you would notice is the sanctuary, the same as that of the catholic churches, where the place is align with wooden seats and an altar. They also give a prominent importance to the Ten Commandments Moses is one of the most revered person in Judaism. Inside the synagogue, there is also a Shofar also known as the Ram’s horn. During New Year, they used this to awaken the new year. In the middle of the altar is the scroll cabinet where the scrolls are kept. Unlike the Catholic bible, the scroll or the Torah is divided into 52 parts. Jewish read them in cycles.
The Torah is also one of the things that is most revered in Judaism. This is because the Jewish has a view that the it comes from heaven and that it has grandeur and power. In this book, God has revealed to the Israelites and to all mankind, how life should be lived. The also think that the Torah is the very words of God which encompasses the teachings, laws, doctrines, and the rules of conduct of everyday life. According to the Jewish beliefs, to practice the Torah is to obey the very will of God. The Torah that the Jewish knew is also the same Torah that Moses or Joshua knew. This is because the torah has not been changed; it was preserved as it has been passed from one generation to another (Jabobs, 1995). This explains why in Torah reading, the torah or the scrolls are respected by any reader. I noticed that they do not touch its pages but they used an instrument called the Yad to guide them through the reading. This is because they believe that the Torah is so scared that it should not be used by the hands.
Furthermore, I was told that there is no specific dress code in the synagogue. However, when I arrived there, the men have a specific cap in their heads. I found out that the covering in the head is a mark of respect to God. Also, the wearing of kippah is a recognition that there is far higher being in the world that His intelligence is higher than any other human being. For married women, they are expected to put something in their head though it should not be the kippah. Wearing a cap is a symbol for modesty. The Jewish are also forbidden to wear any garment that contains the mixtures of wool and linen. The Torah does not give an explanation for this but this is supposedly a sign of faith and obedience (Forta, 2005).
Inside the church, the rabbi started reading the Torah. According to the orthodox tradition, the Torah should be understood in its most fundamental meaning. This is where the role of the rabbi comes in. It is the role of the rabbi to interpret the Torah as it should be interpreted and understood by the Jewish. The Jewish tradition of worship and service is mainly composed of prayers and songs. I have always enjoyed the variety of worship songs alongside the reading of the prayers. It is so fun to hear that the reading of the scripture is not only vocalized but also chanted. There were a lot of songs that accompanied the reading but the chants of the reading itself were pretty much the same. Nevertheless, they are still nice to hear. Moreover, the readings, the prayers, and the songs were basically in Hebrew. Accordingly, the standard Jewish liturgy is in Hebrew. The other movements in Judaism such as the Reformists formulated a new kind of liturgy but the Orthodox remained faithful with the original language of the Torah. The Orthodox rabbis believe that even when the Jewish Law allows that the prayers can be recited in any language, it only applies to individuals who does know Hebrew. Furthermore, they believe that substituting the prayers with other language is a departure to the tradition that cannot be tolerated. The Jewish also believed that Hebrew is the original language of men and God’s language when He spoke to His prophets (Jacobs, 1995).
The Orthodox Jews are people who think of themselves as continuing the ancient traditions of Judaism in a modern context. The other members of the non-Orthodox movements of Judaism attack them with their stand that the Orthodox Jews are just making their lives difficult and that they should adopt their ways. However, Orthodox Jews still adhere to their tradition and heritage even for the sake of comfort and convenience because they believe that their way is the only way of serving God in the fullest (Forta, 1995).
Cookson, C. (2003). Encyclopedia of Religious Freedom. Connecticut: Taylor and
Forta, A. (1995). Judaism. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Jacobs, L. (1995). The Jewish Religion: A Companion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.