by Dr. Gerhard Falk
numbers of Jews moved from Israel to the Greek speaking world, they translated
the Hebrew words Beth Haknesset into Greek. Beth Haknesset means house of
assembly. Syn or sym is Greek for “together” as in symphony or to sound
together; sympathy, i.e. to feel together; symposium, to drink together, and syn
and agein to lead, hence to lead together or to assemble. (P.S. If you want your
children to get good marks in English, have them study Latin and Greek. English
is one half Greco-Latin).
enter a Beth Haknesset you can wear a hat or place a “kippah” on your head.
You can also wear a prayer shawl known as a tallith. Among Reform Jews this is
optional. Conservative Jews demand that all men wear a kippah and a tallith
while for women it is optional. Among orthodox Jews only men wear these items as
women are segregated from men behind a curtain or some other device known as a
weekday morning or afternoon you will find that those who hold daily services
will try to put together a quorum or Minyan of ten. In orthodox synagogues these
must be men. Among Conservative and Reform Jews women are also counted into the
Minyan of ten. Not all synagogues have a Minyan every day.
morning service consists of preliminary prayers, blessings, the Shemah Yisroel
which affirms the basis of the Jewish religion, i.e. the belief in one God. At
each service, evening, morning and afternoon, the Eighteen Blessings are
recited. These are called Shemonay Essray which means eighteen in Hebrew. At the
end of each service there is a concluding prayer. That is often sung and is
usually Adone Olam, meaning Lord of the Universe. It ends with the sentence
“Adonai Lee, v’lo eerah” meaning “The Lord is with me, I shall not
mornings, but not on Shabbat or Holy Days, congregants will put “Teffilin”
on their arm and forehead. The word Teffilin is derived from the Hebrew word for
prayer, i.e. tefillah. The leather straps are wound around the right arm and
hand in a prescribed fashion. One strap is placed on the head. Both straps
include a small square box containing four biblical verses inscribed on strips
from Exodus and two from Deuteronomy (Greek for “this second law”). We use
the Teffilin in order to fulfill the commandment found in Exodus 13:9, “And it
shall be for a sign upon your hand and for a memorial between your eyes.”
the evening prayer first because all Jewish days begin in the evening inasmuch
as the Torah tells us “……it was evening and it was morning the first
day.” Therefore, all days must begin in the evening.
morning prayer is called Shacharit. This service again includes preliminary
prayers, the Shema, the eighteen blessings and on Shabbat, on Holy Days, and on
every Monday and Thursday a reading from the Torah. This means that some Jewish
youngsters are Bat Mitzvah or Bar Mitzvah on Monday or Thursday, particularly
when there is a legal holiday. The reason for reading the Torah on Monday and
Thursday as well as on Shabbat is that in ancient Israel Monday and Thursday
were market days in Jerusalem. Farmers brought their produce there on those two
days and stayed to hear the Torah read.
the synagogue service is divided into four parts. First come the preliminary
prayers, i.e. the warm up. These are generally said by a lay person. Then the
cantor (Latin for singer), or Chazan, continues with the morning prayers, then
there is the Torah service and finally the Musaf or additional prayers.
includes not only the five books of Moses but also the prophets and the
writings. In Hebrew, Torah, Neveeiym and Chesuveem. This is shortened to Tenach.
Then we have the earlier prophets, namely, Joshua, Judges, Samuel 1 and Samuel
2, First and Second Book of Kings and Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Then there
are twelve minor prophets whose names you can look up yourself and read. We also
include in the Torah Psalms, Proverbs, Job and the five scrolls, that is, Song
of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther, and finally Daniel,
Ezra, Nehemiah and the First and Second book of Chronicles. A lot to read.
Shabbat we read a segment from one of the prophets or from one of the other
books which corresponds in some manner with the part read from the Five Books of
Moses. These five books are divided into Parshas or Segments. The first book,
Beraysheet, or Genesis, is divided into twelve segments. One is read on each of
twelve Shabbatim. Exodus, or Shemoth, is divided into eleven segments. Vayikro,
or Leviticus, is divided into eight segments, Bamidbar or Numbers is divided
into ten segments and Devarim or Deuteronomy eleven parts. All told, then, the
Torah is divided into 52 parts, one for every week of the year.
holidays and on Shabbatim which precede an important holiday such as Pesach, a
different segment of Torah will be read than would normally occur sequentially.
the Torah is done according to a chant which is almost the same for Western or
Ashkenazi Jews all over the world. There are some variations in the chant from
country to country. That is also true of chanting the Prophets. This is
generally done by a member of the congregation who can read Hebrew and knows the
chant. The American manner of presenting the Haftorah is somewhat different from
the European fashion so that experts can detect the difference of the German
from the Lithuanian from the Galician etc.
Torah service the rabbi (from rav or more) prays for the sick. Those who have
died are remembered at every service when we recite the “Kaddish”. That
prayer does not mention death even once. It is a recital in praise of God. Look
at the English translation.
you have read this, your curiosity will be aroused. Now you will want to see all
this for yourself. Remember that there is a great deal of congregational
singing. So if you like to sing, meet your friends, enjoy the Bible, remember
your deceased relatives, listen to an enlightened sermon, and, above all, get
away from the daily grind, the telephone, the boss, the employees, the
government, the newspapers and TV, go to any “shul” (from Yiddish, meaning
school) this coming Saturday. Try it; you will love it.
Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications,
A New Look at the Supporting Generation (with Dr. Ursula A., Falk, 2002),
Ascent to Reason (2003).