I spent last night and this morning attending Shabbat Eve and Shabbat services at West End synagogue here in Nashville. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to future visits. I have three main reasons for undertaking this.
1) After concluding my initial Hebrew lessons in Newnan, I began to consider the possibility of attending synagogue regularly as a way of improving my Hebrew as I began formal courses. Two years of teaching Latin have convinced me that an oral/aural component is essential to language learning. Two friends of mine suggested that I look up a Conservative synagogue when in Nashville, due to the fact that the majority of the liturgy is in Hebrew.
2) I am also interested in learning more about Judaism for its own sake. Conservative Christians (myself included) are far too ignorant about rabbinic Judaism; we tend to think that modern Jews are alot like their 1st century counterparts. This, of course, ignores two thousand years of historical and theological development (not to mention a foundation-shaking event like the Shoah).
You may have noticed that I am on something of an interfaith-dialogue kick at the moment. That grows out the discussions that Alex, my summer Hebrew teacher, and I were having as we read through the Gospels together and ended up spending alot of our time in Genesis 1-3. Anyway, my plan is to attend synagogue regularly for about 4 or 5 months and then, in the spring, spend 4 or 5 months at a mosque. (For another perspective on interfaith dialogue, see the recent resolutions to come out of the 2005 General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the accompanying study guide.) More to come on this topic…
3) Thirdly, in keeping with the thinking-out-loud that I have been doing on this blog about worship and liturgy, I want to understand the workings of the Conservative/Orthodox liturgy as a vehicle/resource for enriching my understanding of worship (and I’m always on the lookout for ideas that might breathe new life into the decidedly non-liturgical Church of Christ liturgy). (***As a side note for my CofC readers, Conservative and Orthodox synagogues worship a cappella [perhaps I should say a synagogo :)]. This is the way that Jews have done it since the sacking and destruction of the First Temple in 587 BCE. Early Christian worship was strongly influenced by synagogue worship and patristic polemic against the use of musical instruments in worship recognized, along with Jewish writers, that the use of instruments was best reserved to the pagans who were already using it.)
The people have been gracious and helpful to me as I have attempted to follow along. My only other synagogue experience was at a Reform synagogue that a friend took me to in Athens. This is significantly different and didn’t really prepare me for this. My biggest concern at the moment is not necessarily following the Hebrew — it is, instead, the concern not to commit some major gaffe in religious etiquette. After two services, I think that I have the hang of wearing the kippah (it almost fell off of my head last night!), sitting and standing, touching the Torah scroll (wasn’t quite sure I was allowed to do that at first…), etc.
The congregants evince a good spirit about all of that though. I’m looking forward to meeting more of them and meeting the rabbi, as well (who is out of town at the moment).
I’m off to Woodmont Hills in the morning to hear John York preach (who is, apparently, the man under whom I will be studying homiletics at Lipscomb). I’ll let you know if I get struck by lightning. I’m also supposed to meet Jamie Hooten.