Wednesday, March 12, 2014

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יהוה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יהוה אֶחָד Sh'ma Yisrael ADONAI Eloheinu, ADONAI Echad! Hear, O, Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One!

*** UPDATE ***
Due to some personal problems, my friend whom I was going to go with is no longer able to go. I will therefore not be going to Kol Ami Synagogue in Salt Lake, but will be attending the synagogue here in Ogden, Congregation Brith Sholem. This congregation is similar to Kol Ami in that they take from both the Conservative and Reform Traditions of Judaism. It differs in that it seems to be a smaller more humble congregation that doesn't have a permanent Rabbi and is instead run entirely by the laity of the congregation. I'm very curious to see this and will update you if there are any further developments.

Those are the most famous words in all of Judaism. They are central to the faith and said at each service. I figured there would be no better way to introduce my journey to Kol Ami Synagogue this Friday evening than to echo those words.

Congregation Kol Ami is located in Salt Lake City. It is one of the most popular synagogues in the state (of course I'm only aware of four of them). The congregation is an interesting one as it borrows from both Conservative and Reform traditions.

I am painfully aware that there is a great deal of ignorance when it comes to the Jewish faith. A lot of people in the United States don't know much about it. Therefore, I will fill in some gaps. Let's start by going over a couple things that Judaism isn't.
  1. Judaism is not Christianity. Jews do not worship, follow, nor in any way view Jesus as a central character to their religion. Period. I know this should be obvious. But it amazes me how many people I've talked to who don't know that. There is a very small group of Jews called Messianic Jews who are basically Jewish Christians. But they're a small minority and not at all representative of Judaism as a whole.
  2. Judaism is NOT just the prequel to Christianity. Christianity came out of Judaism and uses the Jewish scriptures, what the Christians call the Old Testament in their scriptures. However, Judaism does not need Christianity at all to survive, and is its own religion with over 4,000 years of rich culture and history behind it. To fail to see it is to miss out on Judaism entirely. Judaism didn't stop at Jesus, it continued on for another 2,000 years after him.
With that out of the way, let's talk about Judaism.
  • Judaism started roughly 4,000 years ago, some would argue earlier, as a tribal religion in what is called the Holy Land. Some of the seminal figures in the Jewish scriptures are: Abraham, the first monotheist, according to tradition, and the Father of the Faith; Moses, who, according to tradition, led the Jews out of enslavement in Egypt and received the Torah from God; King David, the first great King of a unified Israel; Solomon, the Wisest King; and various prophets, including Daniel; Isaiah; Elijah; and Jeremiah.
  • During biblical times, the central focus of Jewish worship was the Temple in Jerusalem. Animal sacrifice and daily prayers by priests were the central forms of worship. The Temple was destroyed for a second and final time in 70 CE (AD) by the Romans and has been in ruins ever since. Since then, Jewish worship has been centered around the synagogue, which are houses of worship and learning.
  • Jews are strict monotheists worshiping one unified God who is seen as the ruler of all the Universe and beside whom there is no other god.
  • Judaism has a number of holidays, the most well known are: Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New year; Yom Kippur, the Day of Attonement; Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights; and Pesach, or Passover.
  • There are three major sects of Judaism and a number of smaller ones: Orthodox Judaism, which is staunch in its interpretation of Jewish Law and extremely traditional; Reform Judaism, which is very liberal and seeks a Judaism that redefines itself to be relevant in the modern era; and Conservative Judaism which lies between the two.
  • The central scripture in Judaism is the Bible, or what Christians call the Old Testament. But the most important part are the first five books called the Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, said to be God's word to mankind.
  • The Jewish Sabbath is not on Sunday like the Christian one, but is on Saturday and begins Friday night at sunset, hence why I am going to services Friday evening.
  • Concepts of the afterlife are not concrete in Judaism. Some Jews believe in an afterlife, some do not. Similarly, some Jews anticipate a messiah and the resurrection of the dead, and some Jews do not.
As I said before, the congregation I am going to takes from both Conservative and Reform traditions, which I think will be an interesting blend to see. I'm quite excited as I have never been to a synagogue and would love to experience it the rich heritage Judaism has expressed for a modern era. I am going with a friend who is a congregant there, so hopefully I'm not too much a fish out of water.

I will let you know how everything goes.

Until then, peace be with you.

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