Beth El Congregation is a Jewish congregation located in Central Phoenix. They are affiliated with the Conservative Judaism movement. According to leader of the congregation, Rabbi Lavinsky, this locates their convictions and interpretation of the Torah somewhere in the middle between the orthodox and liberal groups. He stated this is reflected in the motto of the movement: “Tradition and Change.”
I visited Beth El Synagogue for a Saturday morning Shabbat service. The set up of inside the sanctuary was similar to a Catholic church. There are pews arranged facing the front. At the front there is a lectern and a podium as well as chairs on the stage for those leading the service and reading the scriptures.
Several differences, however, stood out to me. First, at the center of the sanctuary was a structure they referred to as the ark. In the ark, the scrolls of the Torah are kept. Traditionally, the ark is situated so that as the people face it they are facing in the direction of Jerusalem. Additionally, there was also a candelabra, or menorah, at the front. There were no pictures or pieces of ark work anywhere in the sanctuary.
There were several similarities to a Catholic mass in the order of service. Shortly after I arrived, prayers were begun. These were recited or read from the prayer book in Hebrew. Included in the readings and prayers were items I recognized: there were Psalms and the traditional Shema--“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” There were announcements and prayers for the sick and praises offered for blessings. There were no musical instruments, but there was chanting of praises to the Lord. There were readings of scripture and a message from the rabbi.
One major differ...
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...ated by Muck and Adeny in Christianity Encountering World Religions quite insightful. While attending the Shabbat service, I realized how much I do not know about the beliefs and practices of Judaism. I have made many assumptions simply because I have been taught about Judaism by Christians. I have very little understanding of what the story of Judaism is from the Jewish perspective. Aquinas’ admonition to first enter the story and understand it from other’s terms is a needed observation. Without this willingness, there is a lack of humility, which will in turn drive people away from conversation rather than draw them into it. I could easily theoretically understand the profound nature of this teaching, however while attending and observing the Shabbat service, I can now more readily see the necessity of this type of honoring practice in interfaith dialogue.
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