Is Messianic Judaism in Crisis?

Sep 29, 2010 at 11:35 AM

Today is Hoshana Rabbah - the culmination of Sukkot and preparation for the final days of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. However, I find myself troubled a bit, as my joy is not quite complete. I have been deeply troubled lately about the future of our movement, and the dire situation we currently find ourselves in.

Let me explain ...

Messianic Judsaism Today

Over the last 40 or 50 years since the birth of the modern Messianic Jewish movement, we have witnessed multiplication and growth in various ways. Messianic Jewish congregations have sprung-up around the world, we attend great conferences, listen to Messianic Jewish music, support our fellow Messianic Jews in Israel, and read various Messianic Jewish publications. But will all of this be around in 50 years?

Of course aspects of it will. But how much?

Much of the energy which has propelled our Movement forward is based on events in the past out of which the modern Messianic Jewish phenomenon was birthed. Although lip service has been given toward the future, until very recently, very little has actually been done to practically prepare for the future and set a vision for what will happen after the current pioneers are gone. Add to this the huge influx of non-Jews, the higher numbers of intermarriage among Messianic Jews, and the very small numbers of young people currently being raised-up into leadership - the numbers can no longer keep up.

Slowly a crisis is building that remains largely unrecognized outside a few small circles.

A Wake-up Call

In April 2010, Dr. David Rudolph invited senior and associate leaders currently serving a UMJC congregation t
o participate in a demographic study. Here are some of the results of Dr. Rudolph's findings:
  • There are no UMJC congregational leaders in their 20s.
  • The youngest UMJC congregational leader is 33 years old.
  • The UMJC has five congregational leaders in their 30s and four in their 40s.
  • The oldest UMJC congregational leader is 85 years old. He co-leads with his son who is 41 years old.
  • 83% of UMJC congregational leaders are over the age of 50.
  • Two thirds of all UMJC congregational leaders are between the age of 55 and 70.
  • Ten years from now, 38% of all UMJC congregational leaders will be over the age of 70 unless
    younger leaders are raised up.
Although this study was specifically of UMJC leaders, the results ring true across the movement. The MJAA, for example, has even fewer leaders under the age of 40.

Let me explain why this is so dire. Based on the above statistics, in the next 10 to 15 years almost every congregation will need a new leader. There are estimates that there are around 250-300 or so Messianic Jewish congregations in America today.
Of course with G-d all things are possible, but there is just absolutely no way we will have that many young leaders raised-up within the next 10 years! That is the reality.

We currently only have a handful of young leaders currently being raised-up to meet this need. Truly, the "harvest is ripe, but the workers are few."

The age of the pioneers is over. Most of the current leadership had little if any previous experience in congregational leadership, or theological preparation, before planting their congregations. They simply found themselves responding to a need.

But times have changed. Now we have many strong and stable congregations. When the current leadership retires, you can no longer just stick someone in who is not ready. New leadership MUST be prepared. The bar has been raised. Let me give you an example:

There is a particular congregation in America currently looking for new leader. It is over 300 people, they have a beautiful historic building, with multiple staff members, and can afford to pay a great salary and benefits. But they are having trouble finding someone. You cannot just stick someone without experience and preparation into such a large and healthy congregation.

We need to raise-up and equip young leaders now for the tasks ahead.

So what are we to do?

First, we need to commit to truly being a Jewish movement for Yeshua within the greater Jewish community.

Second, we need to raise-up young leaders now! We need to identify and invest in young people with a calling to the Messianic Jewish rabbinate. If you have ever considered becoming a rabbi, do it. And if you would like to know exactly where to start, or what steps you can take, please let me know! I would be more than happy to help.

Third ... Some very difficult decisions will need to be made in the future. The reality is that the need is greater than our ability. As such, a sort of triage will have to determine which congregations should be given highest priority. The priority will have to be given to vibrant congregations currently existing in cities with large Jewish populations.

This is already being discussed within the UMJC's new K20 Program - which was created to meet the need of raising-up new leaders, and working with existing congregations.

Lastly, all of this requires funding. Help support the work of those that you believe have a vision for the future and are putting their money where their mouth is. Examples could include the UMJC's K20 Program, MJTI, or the MJRC.

The harvest is ripe, but the workers are indeed very few. So I ask you ... do you have a vision for the future? And if not now, when? By then, I hope it will not be too late.

Quote of the Day

Sep 26, 2010 at 1:14 PM

"We advocate a contemporary Jewish experience of Yeshua and a Messianic interpretation of Judaism. Scripture is clear that one of the roles Messiah will play is to bring his people Israel back to the ways of Torah (see, for example, Ezekiel 27:24). Thus allegiance to Torah and allegiance to Yeshua are an inseparable integrated reality for the seed of Jacob. And we cannot build an integrated Messianic Judaism apart from integrating both Messiah and Torah into our lives."

-Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann from the recent issue of Verge.

International Sukkot Celebration

Sep 24, 2010 at 2:37 PM

If you happen to be in the Washington, DC area for Sukkot ...

Join us TOMORROW NIGHT for a very special international Sukkot celebration you will not want to miss!

This special community-wide event will bring together Jews and Christians from around the world to worship the Lord together.

Special Music and Performances By:

-Beth Messiah Congregation Worship Team
-Connie Lindsley and the River City Church Worship Team
-Acclaimed Congolese singer and composer John Bash
-Alex Sharangabo, Richard Ngendahayo, and the Rwandan Dance Team

Special Speakers:

-Pastor Emmanuel Mutangana
-Rabbi Joshua Brumbach

*Food and Refreshments to Follow

Saturday, September 25, 2010 at 7:00pm

River City Church
Held at: Wesley United Methodist Church
5312 Connecticut Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20015

Invite your friends ... and we hope to see you there!

A Divine Encounter

at 2:29 PM

Shabbat Sukkot

This Shabbat falls during the festival of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles). As such, we drift away from the normal weekly Torah reading cycle and read passages specifically for the holiday. Tomorrow’s special readings (Exodus 33:12-34:26 and Numbers 29:26-31) describe the mo’edim, the appointed festivals when G-d chooses to meet with us in a greater manifest way. We also read the direct instructions relating specifically to the observance of Sukkot.

The word mo’ed, in Hebrew, means a set apart time, or literally, an appointment. Each of the Jewish holidays are meant to carry a specific message and theme, and interact with different aspects of who G-d is. They are opportunities for an encounter of the deepest and most spiritual kind.

We just observed Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Unlike the rest of the world, we Jews interestingly, begin our New Year not with joyous celebrations. Instead, the High Holidays are a solemn time of Cheshbon HaNefesh - reflection, repentance, and standing before Our G-d and King, the Creator of the Universe.

Although the themes and prayers of the High Holidays are solemn and serious they are also filled with joy and with hope. Judaism teaches us that G-d is ready and very willing to forgive the transgressions of those who come in sincere repentance. As such, there is a very deep connection between the High Holidays and Sukkot. The festival of Sukkot is also known within our texts and liturgy as Z’man Simchateinu – the “Time of our Rejoicing.”

We Jews begin our New Year with reflection and repentance so that we can more deeply and sincerely rejoice on Sukkot. When one has been forgiven much and knows their slate has been wiped clean before G-d, there is an even greater cause for joy and celebration.

On this holiday we are to dwell in Sukkot – reminders of the temporal nature of our lives, and take up the Four Species (the Lulav and Etrog) to give praise to HaShem.

Sukkot is our time to rejoice and take hold of the fact that G-d is in control. It is our time to delve deeper into G-d, His Torah, and his purposes for each one of us. The Etrog represents those characteristics about us that are sweet and pleasant. Like the Etrog - May each of us embody that sweetness and exude that fragrance throughout this special season and into the rest of the year.

Chag Sameach!

Sukkot: A Festival of Joy, Gladness, and Redemption

Sep 21, 2010 at 10:35 PM

The festival of Sukkot is one of the most joyous occasions on the Jewish calendar. It is deeply connected to the earlier High Holidays of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, and is the culmination of the Fall festival period.

But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (Tishrei), when you have gathered the produce of the land, you are to observe a festival to HaShem for seven days; the first day is to be a complete rest and the eighth day is to be a complete rest. On the first day you are to take a choice fruit [an etrog], palm fronds, thick branches, and river-willows, and celebrate in the presence of HaShem your G-d for seven days. You are to observe it as a feast to HaShem seven days in the year; it is a permanent regulation, generation after generation; keep it in the seventh month. You are to live in sukkot for seven days, every citizen of Israel is to live in a sukkah, so that generation after generation of you will know that I made the people of Israel live in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I am HaShem your G-d (Leviticus 23:39-43).

Sukkot is an agricultural festival, and recalls several themes:

  • our wandering in the desert for forty years
  • our dwelling in temporary shelters (sukkot)
  • of God's faithfulness in providing for us and our crops
  • our regathering back to our Land
  • and of a future ingathering of the Nations.

By dwelling in sukkot every year, we are faced with the reality of our human frailty and immortality. Just like the sukkah, our earthly bodies are but temporary dwelling places. When forced to dwell in a sukkah during the festival days, we find ourselves exposed to the elements, eating our meals without certain familiar comforts, and spending time in a shelter that at any moment could be brought down by weather.

So too it is with us. Our gufot, our bodies, are also fragile temporary dwelling places, where at any time, could be brought down. This reality begs us to recognize our dependence upon HaShem, who daily causes us to live. When we arise every morning, we say “Modeh ani...I am grateful unto you, O King who lives forever, for having once again, as I awaken, restored my soul unto me.” In this prayer, we acknowledge every morning that if G-d so willed, He could have chosen not to restore our souls unto us another day. So for giving us another opportunity to do His will, we give thanks to our Creator.

Sukkot is our ability to appreciate HaShem's blessings. It is the recognition of our constant dependence upon G-d, and the culmination of the High Holiday season. Sukkot additionally marks the final conclusion of our pleas to G-d for a sweet new year, and for blessings in the seasons to come.

Sukkot also marks our ultimate messianic hope of salvation. For Sukkot is also known as Chag Ha'Asif, the Festival of Ingathering. For it is in this festival, we are taught, that a day will come when all nations will be ingathered to Jerusalem and worship the one true G-d, the G-d of Israel. It is also the hope of the greatest Hoshanah Rabbah, when we will see Yeshua our Righteous Messiah return in all His Gory and regather the scattered remnant of His people.

Chag Sameach!

Liturgy: Dead or Living?

Sep 20, 2010 at 9:29 AM

*A Radical Repost from 2009

In response to our last post on Jewish prayer , Kari, a reader, observed that a large part of our movement carries tremendous baggage on the subject, and many people seem to recoil at the mention of the word "liturgy." Here are her words:

I wanted to add one hurdle that I see someone very close to me struggling with when it comes to Jewish prayer. This is a man who was raised Jewish, but had very negative feelings toward Jewish worship, even before becoming a follower of Yeshua. I thought this might fit into the category of "nostalgia," but more of a "negative nostalgia." Liturgy may, for some Messianic Jews, bring back memories of a form of worship that made them feel empty. Though I agree that it can be greatly meaningful, sometimes there exists a deep resistance based on negative feelings liturgy can evoke in those whose Jewish experience growing up may not have been so positive.

I so get this. Just this weekend, my husband and I attended a standard-issue suburban Conservative synagogue for what was billed as a moving and spiritual Slichot service. I walked out brimming over with disappointment and anger. Keep in mind that I married a rabbi, and that I'm particularly nerdy about my love of being Jewish and doing Jewish. It really takes a lot to put me over the edge. And yet, I walked away with all the wind knocked out of my sails.

Here's why: the cantor, who had a marvelous voice and excellent technique, clearly understood the service as an opportunity to put on a show. There was operatic solo after operatic solo, punctuated by the kind of introductions you'd expect at a symphony, but certainly not in a service that's intended to prepare the people for pre-Holy Day repentance. The clincher was her introduction of a final song, concluded with these words: "I think it's a nice way to listen to it." Listen, I thought, You think I came here to listen to you??? G-d forbid I would come to synagogue seeking an opportunity to PRAY! I won't go into detail, and I won't name names, but it was suddenly clear to us why we were the youngest people in the room by at least thirty years.

So yes, I understand the baggage. But I've had enough positive experiences with moving Jewish prayer that I haven't lost hope.

So ... what's the antidote?

I want to make crystal clear what the antidote is NOT. Very decidedly, the antidote is NOT sparkly banners or Magen David tambourines. And please G-d, it is NOT random shofar blowings.

As we've seen in our own travels to congregations around the country, these unfortunate hallmarks of our movement fail just as spectacularly at attracting Jewish spiritual seekers as does the Reform movement's affinity for choir robes and operatic cantor solos.

Awkardly, these supposedly "spontaneous" forms of Messianic worship have developed into their own forms of predictable "liturgy." Who hasn't noticed the following pattern? It goes like this: two happy clappy songs, interrupted by the head singer's "transitioning" prayer, followed by three weepy sleepy songs ... at which point we're all supposed to feel that our spiritual tanks have been filled and we've been sufficiently prepared for the "meat" of the service, which is the rabbi's 45 minute thematic sermon. Twenty blogger points if your own community has tweaked the foregoing ever-so-slightly!

The antidote, we'll humbly submit, is a total re-thinking of the purpose and practice of Jewish prayer. Followed by a humble reckoning with this question: "Why do Jews go to synagogue? What does the average Jew yearn for when she or he ventures into the pew?"

Here's our answer: What the Jewish seeker is NOT looking for is a place to play Jewish dress-up, or an attempted reconstruction of "first-century Judaism" (which is both a silly and impossible task twenty centuries later). Neither are we looking for an opportunity to warm a pew while a professional Jew on stage puts on a show (see my Slichot story above). You wonder why non-Orthodox synagogues can't fill their pews outside of the High Holidays? Because most operate under the assumption that Jews are looking for a pretty show, and reinforce this assumption with their High Holiday services.

We fervently believe that within every Jewish person - from the most disaffected to the most observant - exists a Jewish neshama, a Jewish soul. If you scratch past the surface, what you'll find in every Jewish neshama is a deep longing to simultaneously connect with G-d and to find one's place within thirty centuries of Jewish history. Every Jewish person is ultimately looking for those two things when he or she approaches a prayer service.

What does that look like?
  • First, we need to stop treating the bimah as a stage, accessible only to the vaunted few. In fact, let's get rid of the stage altogether. Bring the rabbi, the singers, and the other leaders onto the floor where "everyone else" is seated. Let's physically reinforce the message that we are all in shul to pray together.
  • Second, we need to stop treating the "liturgy" like the dusty rare books we leave on our shelves to impress our dinner guests. Who says you have to sing the Aleinu in the same melody week after week? And why are our rabbis more inclined to give us stage directions (stand here, bow there, cover your eyes) than they are to inspire us to meditate on a particular line in the forthcoming prayer? How would we pray if we saw our prayer books as instruments of holiness ... as living, breathing guides to accessing G-d through the traditions of G-d's people?
  • Third, we need to stop treating our congregants like children. Let's give "speaking roles" to the congregants already. The cantor may have a nice voice, but we didn't all show up to listen to the cantor. Get your congregants involved beyond the aliyot, and you'll be amazed to see your community "buy in" to its own future.
  • Finally, as for the children, we need to vanquish our expectation that they sit silently while the grownups have their spiritual time. It is in childhood that Jewish people develop their sentiments about organized Jewish life, for better or worse. The most efficient way to alienate a young Jew from Judaism is to make her feel that she isn't allowed to act like a child in the synagogue. What if we made the synagogue a fun and relaxed space for our children? What if we let them run in the aisles, dance with their friends, and gave them candy after their every visit to the bimah?
As we've said before, we don't have a patent on the process. But it's our hope that in implementing these suggestions, and perhaps a few more we have yet to identify, we'll get one step closer to drawing in the congregants that our movement set out forty years ago to serve.

Yom Kippur: Life, Death and Proper Protocol

Sep 17, 2010 at 8:43 AM

Traditionally, Leviticus 16, which deals with the proper protocol for the High Priest during the special Yom Kippur service, is read in the synagogue on the morning of Yom Kippur. The Torah introduces the Yom Kippur service immediately following the death of Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu. This demonstrates that there is a direct connection between this tragedy and Yom Kippur.

According to the Sages, part of the transgression committed by Aaron’s two sons is that not only did they offer improper offerings, but they entered into the Holy of Holies, which only the Kohen HaGadol (the High Priest) is allowed to do. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah (First Century) comments that either sin would have been enough to warrant their death. As a result, the entire rest of the chapter deals with the proper protocol of Yom Kippur and the order for the High Priest’ to enter into the Holy of Holies.

It is taught that Moses’ long process for seeking forgiveness on behalf of the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf ended on the tenth day of Tishrei (Yom Kippur) when he returned with the second set of tablets. That day became associated with forgiveness. The Torah, in several references, goes into great depth as to the specifics of Yom Kippur and the proper way of observing the most holy day.

The obvious question is why the Torah goes into so much detail regarding the observance of Yom Kippur? The Jewish holidays are known as mo’edim. The word mo’ed, in Hebrew, is best translated as a divine set/appointed time. It is a time when G-d chooses to meet with us. Yom Kippur is our opportunity for a supernatural encounter, and the day G-d’s forgiveness and mercy is most abundant. G-d wants to be in relationship with us, and Yom Kippur is our opportunity to perfect ourselves and prepare ourselves to be used by G-d in the coming year.

According to Tosefta Rosh HaShanah 1.13:

"All things are judged on Rosh HaShanah, and their fate is sealed on Yom Kippur."

Beginning on Rosh HaShanah, when the Book of Life is opened, and judgment begins, the shofar is sounded to call our souls to repentance. The Rambam states that the shofar beckons our souls to:

"Awake, you sleepers, from your sleep! Arise, you slumberers, from your slumber! Repent with contrition! Remember your Creator! (Hil. Teshuvah 3:4)"

The shofar serves to call us to teshuvah (to repentance), and for G-d to act mercifully toward us and pardon us for our shortcomings.

G-d gives us the opportunity of the High Holiday period to prepare ourselves and make things right with both our Creator, and with those around us. The Torah is concerned about all these details because G-d cares about protocol. Each detail on Yom Kippur teaches us that it is not about ourselves. That the world does not revolve around us. Each one of us is reminded of our ultimate fate and judgment on Yom Kippur, and our individual, as well as corporate need for atonement.

Yom Kippur is also a reminder of G-d’s mercy and ability to bring atonement for our shortcomings. According to Hebrews 9:6-28, Yeshua is our Great High Priest, and it is through him that kapparah, that atonement for sin has already been made. By seeking to truly make things right this Yom Kippur, and to carefully observe G-d’s instructions regarding this most holy day, let us merit the sealing of our names in the Book of Life, and the ultimate assurance of our atonement through Yeshua. May the final shofar blast at the end of Ne’ilah, the final Yom Kippur service, truly be the blast which announces the arrival of our long-awaited and beloved Messiah!

G’mar Chatimah Tovah – May you be sealed for a wonderful New Year!

Messianic Judaism and Coffee

Sep 15, 2010 at 11:09 AM

Americans love coffee. Or, at least we think we do. We like to think that we are coffee connoisseurs. Doppio this, macchiatto that ... part of the reason that Starbucks has been so successful as a franchise is that it's given us an excuse to roll these exotic European words off our tongues while ordering our morning cuppajoe.

But what most of us are drinking isn't actually coffee. It's mostly cream and sugar. Frothed, foamed, whipped, and sprinkled within an inch of itself.

You see, Americans don't actually like coffee. Coffee is bitter. Acidic. It's an acquired taste. What Americans really like is cream and sugar. And we like the concept of drinking coffee, even though we dislike the flavor. Starbucks has succeeded because it allows us to think we're drinking coffee and show off the fact that we are drinking coffee ... without actually requiring us to drink coffee.

This is the state of Messianic Judaism today. For the most part, we have built a very comfortable spiritual home for Jews and non-Jews who do a little bit here, mix in a little bit there, read a book or two ... and soon declare that we are Jewish connoisseurs.

The "coffee" of our movement is Judaism. It is the real, live, messy, complicated, demanding task of living according to the Torah in a community of real, live, messy, complicated, demanding Jewish people.

So if the coffee of our movement is Judaism, then what is the cream and sugar? I'll let you fill in the blank.

Continuity can only exist when we continue to live a Jewish life with and among our people. I am very concerned that the popular watered-down form of faith we call Messianic Judaism today will not exist in another generation or two. This does not mean I am completely without hope for the future. With HaShem's help, we will indeed continue to be a representative presence for Yeshua within greater Israel. But that can only happen when Jews continue to live as Jews. Let me make clear that "living as Jews" does not necessarily mean "Orthodox." There are many ways to be Jewish. But Jewish life must be committed to the foundation blocks which have held us together for over 3,000 years.

Messianic Judaism is like coffee. We can either be true connoisseurs with a deep value and knowledge of our history and tradition, or we can continue to drape our faith with a Tallis and call it "Jewish." It is my deepest conviction that the only Messianic form of faith that can survive into the future is one that truly is a Messianic form of Judaism.

Days of Awe

Sep 13, 2010 at 2:35 PM

We are currently in the Yomim Nora'im - the 10 days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur - known as the Days of Awe. During these 10 days, we are to focus on Teshuva (Repentance) and preparation for Yom Kippur. Special insertions are added to our daily prayers, emphasizing the themes of G-d as King, G-d's judgement, and G-d's holiness. We also recall prayers referring to the Book of Life.

Remember us for life, O King Who desires life, and inscribe us in the Book of Life - for Your sake, O Living G-d ... Who is like You, Merciful Father, Who recalls His creatures mercifully for life ... Blessed are You, our G-d, the Holy King. (From additions to the Amidah during the Days of Awe).

These 10 Days of Awe (and the whole High Holiday period) are meant to particularly recall G-d's mercy. As Rabbi Wayne Dosick notes, although our "prayers are solemn and serious, they are also filled with joy and with hope. For Judaism teaches that G-d is ready and very willing to forgive the transgressions of those who come in sincere repentance."

HaShem's desire is for relationship with us. And the High Holidays are opportunities to meet with G-d in the most intimate of times. The 10 days help us to more intently focus on, and deal with, those things which hold us back in life, and from the presence of HaShem.

Although we should be focusing on repentance, forgiveness, and overcoming life's obstacles every day - G-d, also knowing the procrastinate nature of humanity, has built into the calendar specific times in which we are obligated to deal with those shortcomings. Otherwise we might just continue to sweep them under the rug. For most of us, the last thing we want to do is go to someone we may have hurt in the last year to seek forgiveness. Or confront a person for the hurt they have caused us. But by doing so, and allowing forgiveness to take place, we remove more of those spiritual stumbling blocks. We are able to break free of the weight of guilt, shame, anger, and inadequacy.

The Days of Awe are awesome days because they are what you make of them. My deepest prayer is that they would be for you a time of blessing and restoration.

G'mar Chatimah Tovah - May you be sealed for a wonderful New Year!

Rethinking Jewish Prayer, Part III

Sep 12, 2010 at 9:12 AM

Practical Suggestions

Two weeks ago, in the first post, I discussed our re-engagement with Jewish prayer, describing that we are not just reciting meaningless words, or remembering something that happened in the past. Rather, Jewish prayer is a re-enactment of sacred events. It is participation in the Sacred. As such, I encouraged thinking of the Siddur as a script. Through reenacting these events, we live out the story of the Jewish people, our Covenant with HaShem, and participate with the angels in heavenly worship. The Siddur, in so many ways, reminds us of who we really are and what G-d expects from us.

In the second post, we looked at the baggage we often bring to Jewish prayer which can inhibit our ability to get the most out of it.This week we’ll explore how to find deeper spirituality in Jewish prayer, and some practical suggestions for finding a proper prayer book that’s right for you.

Finding a Siddur

Most people do not realize that one should shop for a Siddur the same way one shops for a Bible. With so many different versions and styles, it is important to not settle on the first one you find, or to settle for the one your local community uses. Rather, for your own private devotions it is important to find a Siddur that most speaks to you. After all, it is called a “prayer book” for a reason. If your Siddur does not move you spiritually, and inspire you to new levels of prayer, there is a problem.

It is also a good idea to have two or three different versions. Just as one should study the Bible from different versions, so should one recognize that same richness in variety when it comes to the Siddur. Not all prayer books are created equal. What speaks to you may not speak to someone else. And what moves you at one moment may not at another. So mix it up to keep up the spontaneity and freshness.

So many people pray only from one type of Siddur. Either because they are caught up in a mindset that says, “this is the most authentic prayer book,” or because they are simply not aware of the numerous versions of prayer books. It is important to remember there is no one way to be Jewish. Jewish life is actually broader then we often consider. As such, there are also prayer books that reflect these variations.

In my first post on Jewish prayer I mentioned my preference to daven from Sim Shalom, the Conservative prayer book because of its traditional approach, yet consideration of matters of social justice and egalitarianism. At other times I prefer Artscroll’s complete Hebrew version.

And yet, there are other times when I’ll flip open the new Reform prayer book, Mishkan T’filah, for its rich spiritual and inspiring commentary, or the new Koren Siddur, with its rich progressive Orthodox commentary by Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks.

When it comes to the Siddur … think bigger! In an effort to get people to think beyond Artscroll (which is also a great Siddur), there are a number of other Siddurim also worth considering.

Other Helpful Suggestions

Baby Steps: Incorporate Jewish prayer into your life a little at a time.

For example:

  • Pray the Modeh Ani when you wake up, and pray the Shema when you go to bed.
  • Try to pray an abbreviated Shacharit (morning) service once a week … and build from there.
  • If you are Jewish, go to a morning minyan at a local synagogue that’s user friendly to familiarize yourself with the Siddur, and allow the melodies and words to become familiar to you.

If you are a congregational leader:

  • Do an occasional learner’s minyan
  • Make liturgy accessible. Experiment a little. Try new melodies to make it engaging. Who said liturgy has to be slow and boring? At one time, the melodies we now consider “traditional” were new and daring.
  • Visit area synagogues and observe how they make liturgy user friendly.
  • Give brief and inspiring explanations before prayers (don’t do the same explanations every week, that’s the antithesis of inspiration!)
  • If your community uses a prayer book, call out page numbers regularly.
  • Involve the music/”worship” leader in discussions of incorporating liturgy into your service.
  • Experiment with new seating arrangements: take the leadership off the bimah and set them on the floor. Put everyone in a circle. It makes prayer a communal experience, not a spectator sport.

A Few Recommended Resources

-The Synagogue Survival Kit – by Jordan Lee Wagner

-To Pray as a Jew – by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donnin

-First Steps in Hebrew Prayer – by Dr. Danny Ben Gigi (also comes with a CD)

-The Book of Blessings – by Marcia Falk

*There are also a number of websites which offer liturgical help.

Jewish prayer is what you make of it. It can either be dry and boring; or alive, spiritual, and empowering. Jewish prayer should be understood as participation in a sacred drama, a reliving of Israel’s history, and participation in heavenly worship.

As we approach the High Holidays, let’s delve deeper and reach higher. Through Jewish prayer we have an opportunity to encounter G-d as our people have done for thousands of years.

“G'mar chatima tova – May you be sealed for a sweet New Year!”

Are You Listening?

Sep 10, 2010 at 8:37 AM

Parashat Ha'azinu

The Hebrew word Ha’azinu means “listen.” It is a command to pay attention to the words of the song Moshe recounts to the Jewish people before his passing.

The verbs to “listen,” “hear,” and “pay attention to” are used many times, and conjugated in many different ways throughout the Torah; emphasizing the imperative to take the message seriously. It is also a beckon to delve into the words to hear what is not directly on the surface. It is a call to ask, “What is G-d really trying to say to me?”

All of us hear many things on a daily basis. However, how often are we truly listening? In any kind of relationship, whether it is a friendship or romantic relationship, there are often moments of miscommunication and lack of true understanding. This is often because we are not intently listening. We are often not paying attention to the subtle nuances, or to what is actually being communicated without being said (non-verbal communication). Due to so many distractions, we often let things go in one ear and out the other.

That is what G-d is warning the Jewish people against through the song in this week’s parasha. Moshe is pleading with the Jewish people not to stray from HaShem, to listen to G-d’s instructions, and do all He commands us. For it is vital that we not only heed the message of HaShem, but that we must be careful to also put the words into practice. And not just for us, but for our children and all future generations to come. As this week’s parasha states:

"Take to heart the words of my testimony against you today, so that you can use them in charging your children to be careful to obey all the words of this Torah. For this is not a trivial matter for you; on the contrary, it is your life!" (Deuteronomy 32:46-47)

The role of the Jewish people is the responsibility of Kiddush HaShem – to sanctify the Name of G-d. This is what Moshe is charged with not doing at the end of Ha’azinu! We must be careful to listen to the warning, to take heed not to stray from G-d’s commands, and to teach our children to follow G-d’s Torah.

On the Burning of Books

Sep 8, 2010 at 4:47 PM

"Where books are burned in the end people will burn." - Heinrich Heine

Rosh HaShanah is just a few hours away. However, I want to take a moment to raise an important issue.

As many of you are already aware, a church in Gainesville, FL has created quite a stir around the world with their plan to hold a Koran burning on Saturday, September 11th. World leaders, politicians, spiritual leaders, and prominent figures have condemned the plans of the small church, and have pleaded with them to reconsider.

I am adding my voice to the cacophony of voices. Why you might ask?

On May 10th, 1933 the Nazis burned 25,000 books - including those written by Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, who had predicted in 1820 that "where books are burned in the end people will burn." Eight years after the Nazis began burning books, they began burning people.

During the middle ages, the church burned copies of the Talmud in various cities across Europe, claiming that the Talmud mocked and denied Jesus and led Jews away from faith in him. This too resulted in thousands of Jews across Europe being killed, tortured, raped, and beaten.

The reason why I, as a rabbi, am speaking up is because the issue with the upcoming Koran burning in Florida is not really about the Koran. It is also not really about Islam. Rather, it is about human dignity and decency.

History has time and again reinforced Heinrich Heine's observation that those who begin by burning books will end by burning people. Intolerance of thought (whether one agrees with it or not) is always the beginning to greater oppression. When one can justify a voice not being worth hearing, it is only a small step to saying not just the voice, but the person is not worth hearing, let alone living.

As a Jew, and as a follower of the Jewish Messiah, I must also speak out against the fear and hatred of the Other that truly lies at the root of this book burning. It is totally acceptable to differ on opinions. In America, we also have the freedom to choose (or not to choose) our own faith. You can agree or disagree with the content of the Koran, or specific interpretations of Islam. But when you begin the path of destruction, you begin to fall down a very slippery slope.

Tonight we Jews around the world begin a period of introspection and repentance. As we seek G-d to have mercy upon us, we must first begin by extending mercy to those around us. Particularly with our "enemy."

Rev. Terry Jones ... Please rethink this foolishness.