Site Visit: Academic Paper
Since the beginning of time Jews have believed that they are the chosen people, God choose them to live out their lives in holiness and righteousness to show the rest of the world how to properly live. They do not believe in a prophet such as Muhammad to Muslims or Jesus to Christians, they believe Moses, was who God talked to in order to help free and lead the people to the promise land, showing himself via a burning bush. Through centuries of exile and slavery Jews have kept their faith due to a covenant made between God and Moses, where God explains he sees the suffering of his people and promises them eternity of everlasting life as long as they live by his word and follow his commands, because of this Jews see all of their suffering as a way of abiding by God’s law. The Jewish community has their own individual relationship with God, but worship as a whole, in all Jewish prayers, pronouns such as “we” and “ours” are used instead of “I” and “mine” to represent the togetherness of the faith. Jews are heavily devoted in studying the Torah and abiding by Halakhah also known as Jewish Law which governs their communities. Having the privilege to experience and participate in their worship helped me to better understand how the Jewish community is so close, how important prayer is to the community, and why the Jewish community is so devoted, by showing me important symbols, explaining their service procedures and requirements in depth and explaining their views on God and his role within the faith.
Judaism is considered to be a very sacred religion being one of the oldest religions known to date. Within the Judaism community there are many sacred relics, prayers, and books. The most important symbol in the Jewish faith is the menorah, this is a seven-branched candelabrum, which is lit by the kohanim, also known as the priest, (not to be confused with the rabbi) every morning and then put out and reset with fresh wicks every evening. The menorah and its lighting represents Israel and its holy duty to be a light unto the nation. Another significant symbol within the Jewish community is the yarmulke (western pronounced “yammica”) is the head covering that men where over their heads, especially during prayer. According to Shabbat, the yarmulke is warn as a sign that God is above them and always with them, therefore most orthodox and conservative Jews, wear the yarmulke all the time, even outside of prayer. The Star of David is a symbol used to identify Jewish synagogues, temples, and even Jews themselves. Once used negatively in the middle ages and then again during the holocaust, the Star of David was used as a way to outcast Jews in society. But Jews viewed the star as the equivalent to David’s shield being that the star was the emblem embedded on it, so in 1897 during the Zionist movement, the Zionist community used the star as a way to represent their cause. The star was again later adopted by Israel in 1948 when the modern state of Israel was founded. In Judaism, the Jewish community worships and studies from their sacred bible called the Torah, which is composed of the first five books of the Old Testament. Shabbat, which is a sacred day amongst the Jewish community is observed on Sunday. This observance comes from God resting on his final day of creating the world as well as a way to observe their redemption from slavery as well as the exile from Egypt the Jewish community has endured. The community does not work, or do any hard labor, actively observing this day is considered a God like behavior. Finally, an important saying and script used among the Jewish community is “Chai” which mean “to live” most Jewish boys and girls are given a piece of jewelry with the Hebrew symbol for the word on their thirteen birthdays also known as bar/bat mitzvahs. It is meant to be a constant reminder of the Jewish Laws a faithful Jew is to abide by, and to live everyday with God in mind. The most common toast amongst Jews is “l’chayim” which means “to life with God.”
A Jewish worship service typically consist of a lot of prayers and readings from the Torah. Traditionally Jews worship at a certain time of day, every morning, afternoon, and evening. This deriving from the Babylonian exile of the 6th century BCE, when the Jewish community was forbidden to make their daily sacrifices that were required at the Temple. So instead they gathered together as a community and prayed during those times. After the exile in 5th century BCE, the community continued to worship as they did during the exile. The most important prayer to the Jewish faith is the “Shema.” This prayer is to be recited in the morning after rising and at night before bed. So during the morning and evening services, the daily prayer is recited as a whole. The Shema prayer derives from the book of Deuteronomy chapter six verses four through nine as well as chapter eleven verses thirteen through twenty-one along with the book of Numbers chapter fifteen, verses thirty-seven through forty. After the Shema, prayer is recited from the Shemoneh Eseri, which are also referred to as the eighteen blessings because of the eighteen blessings within the prayer. Some call the Shemoneh Eseri the Amidah which means “stand” because the prayer is recited standing and in unison. The eighteen blessings tend to be broken into three main groups; three blessings for God, thirteen request (repentance, health, forgiveness, prosperity etc.) and finally three expressing gratitude. The prayer is called eighteen blessings, but there is actually nineteen being that one of the thirteen requests wasn’t added until 2nd century CE. Next the Torah which is composed of the first five books of the holy bible also known as the old testament, is paraded around the room and brought the front of the service and is read by whoever received the honor of that week, this honor is called Aliyah. The Torah is broken up into fifty four sections, with one section designated to study a week. During times of oppression public readings where not allowed so the Jewish community read a corresponding section from the Prophets called “haftarah” today both a section from the Torah and the haftarah are read in service. Towards the end of service two other very important prayers are said in order to complete worship, the Kaddish and Aleinu, both prayers talk about how great God is and thank him for the many blessings of life. Depending upon the time of service and holidays, there are other more intricate and detailed prayers recited as well, such as Psalm prayers and hymns as well as Shabbat prayers.
In Judaism, they do not recognize God as male or female but surprisingly, contrary to popular belief, gender roles within Judaism is almost the complete opposite then what western civilization depicts. Whereas, people tend to believe women are inferior to men, and that men hold the most authority due to leading roles in the church being reserved for men, in example, Rabbis, and Cantors and more domestic like roles are reserved for the women such as, treasurer, leader of children’s studies, and leaders of organizations, Jewish Law tends to favor women more than men because first and foremost Jewish people recognize women as the givers of life. In Exodus chapter twenty verse twelve, the commandment requires a child to honor their father and mother, but in Leviticus chapter nineteen verse three, the commandment starts with the mother, therefore in Judaism they believe it is law to honor your mother more than your father. Also in Judaism, they believe women are slightly more intelligent than men because were “made” and women were “built” which means they are naturally instilled with intuition, intelligence and understanding, because the Hebrew word for “build” contains the same consonants as “binah”, women are considered binah. Women decide the natural rights of a child as far as being Jewish, as long as your mother is ethnically Jewish, the child is entitled to all Jewish rights and privileges (i.e. bar/bat mitzvahs) even if the child or mother does not practice. Women also have the power to decide on marital sex. On the contrast, women are discouraged from receiving a higher education, and are solely responsible for upholding domestic responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning, and being an overall good and faithful wife.
Overall, the Jewish experience was something new and refreshing, I have always considered myself an open minded person but experiencing a new religion has showed me how closed mined I am when it comes to religion. I found myself always comparing the Jewish experience to the Christian experience. At first I felt like the prayers were a little repetitive but after further explanation, I found out even though the prayers sound repetitive, each one was essentially asking for something different or thanking God for something different. The most interesting thing I encountered was how delicate and how much respect is put into carrying and reading the Torah, worshipers feel honored for Aliyah, having the opportunity to read from the Torah, and the fact that they study the same verses every year, contrary to Christianity, where we could go over the same scripture from one Sunday to the next but the sermon, or lesson, is always different. I wasn’t that uncomfortable worshiping in a Jewish Temple because what was being worshiped is essentially the same, in Christianity we read from the Old Testament just as much as the New Testament, I just received the information from another point of view instead of the one I am used to. My overall experience was a positive, informative, and educational one that I wouldn’t mind experiencing again.