Is the Synagogue Outmoded?

Riskin, Shlomo

Is the Synagogue Outmoded? Shlomo Riskin According to a recent statistical study, the majority of American Jews do not belong to synagogues. A recent sarcastic gibe repeats, "God is not dead; He...

...The prototype for the synagogue was the mishkan (sanctuary), biblically commanded by God to be constructed in the desert...
...minyan for those with little Hebrew background who desire more English interpretation and explanation to guide them through a Sabbath service...
...and Hadassah groups (for the latter...
...From this vantage Shlomo Riskin is Rabbi of the Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York City and Professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University...
...The American Jewish community has neither the majesty of the Holy Temple nor the commitment to Jewish life and learning of the European experience...
...He insists that the commandment to erect the sanctuary immediately followed the revelation at Sinai and entirely preceded the sin of the Golden Calf...
...point, the synagogue in general and its ritual in particular may be seen as a necessary protection against idolatry...
...A Yeshiva high school and Hebrew high school, with an adjunct youth center, must provide the necessary learning for the adolescent years, and an adult education institute on a sophisticated level must enable each congregaiit to develop his Jewish learning from the most elementary Hebrew class to advanced courses in Talmud and Jewish theology...
...One of the primary challenges of our times is to alter radically the primary functions of both the synagogue and the rabbi...
...For example, at our synagogue on any given Shabbat morning there are four concurrent services in addition to the junior congregation and nursery...
...Thus the synagogue emerges as a community of learning which is the focal point of Jewish life at a time when so many private homes lack the knowledge and the incentive to be the source for the Jewish experience...
...At the time of the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, we lost the glory and dignity of the majesty of holy place, the beauty of priestly vestment and the euphony of Levitic song...
...The davening is a yeshiva-type service which lasts approximately two hours, and all the participants are then expected to attend the learning class which follows...
...Intensive Jewish expression is manifesting itself through the day school movement (for the former) and U.J.A...
...Circumcision, simchat Bat, Bar Mitzvah and wedding ought naturally to be celebrated in the synagogue since the home is generally too small and the hotel is devoid of religious association...
...He simply cannot find a place in American synagogues...
...Each synagogue must become a mini-retreat center, and expose its student-congregants to the fullness of the authentic Jewish experience...
...What is the function of the syna- gogue...
...And by means of the Jew's relationship to sacred materials which were revered by bis progenitors before he was born and will be revered by his descendants after he dies, he participates in and achieves a glimpse of that eternity which is his link to the Divine...
...a choice of Bible and Talmud is provided...
...The synagogue then became the religious home of the Jewish community, the place where the congregation of committed Jews dreamed their collective dream, cried over their collective anguish, and studied their collective Holy Writ...
...Thus, the sanctuary became a House of Communal Service, Prayer and Torah study as a means of connecting the Jews with their history and their God...
...And the Torah the literal embodiment of the revelation was taught and developed within the Holy Temple itself, since the Sanhedrin convened in the lishkat hagazit (office of the hewn stone...
...The mishkan must be the channel through which the divine revelation continues to be experienced...
...At 8 a.m...
...Since Judaism is experimental as much as it is cognitive, any learning program must contain the deed as well as the word...
...It was neither an atonement nor a prophylactic...
...Nachmanides goes one step further in his analysis...
...there is a traditional sermon with an opportunity often provided for congregational questions...
...Even the Shabbat service must meet the different needs of the various types of Jews we wish to attract...
...I am confident, therefore, that with sincerity and creativity the synagogue can once again become the center of Jewish learning and experience...
...We have experimented with a number of outreach projects which have proven quite successful...
...The rabbi must aggressively reach out to the entire Jewish community, and with inspiration and understanding draw it into the synagogue community...
...The Orthodox are finding greater prayer satisfaction in the shtiebel, and the non-observant are not attending services anywhere...
...Within this context, a Jewish center has come to mean a place where Jews take the sauna and eat gefilte fish together rather than a fount of traditional learning and historical experience...
...If there is to be a legitimate connection between synagogue and mishkan, and if the loss of the Temple service, the agonies of Jewish persecution and the scientific secularism of modern times have all conspired to make the art of prayer difficult if not impossible, we must restore the initial purpose of synagogue as a bet medrash, a house of Jewish study...
...But the synagogue cannot merely be turned into the classical "lehr-haus" of textual analysis...
...And it was the Rav of the synagogue who directed the lives of the congregants and teachers and interpreted those laws which were the very fabric of their lives...
...And our Sunday afternoon Library Information Center, where a passerby can ask any question he wishes about Judaism, drink a cup of coffee, and experience human concern, is a necessary adjunct of any true House of Learning...
...The average worshipper in the path to communication with the Almighty requires a prayer book to hold, kid-dush wine to drink, incense to smell, a sanctuary to behold, and a Torah scroll to kiss...
...The rabbi serves as pastor at best and administrative fund-raiser at worst, delicately orchestrating his time between sisterhood luncheon invocations and cemetery unveilings...
...Those who pray, study, celebrate and mourn together create the meaningful bonds which provide companionship in times of joy, comfort in times of sorrow, courage in times of stress...
...And according to most young American Jews, the synagogue is the least relevant Jewish institution to which they can relate...
...A free outdoor Yizkor service and Simchat Torah dancing in the streets proved to scores of others that one could be encouraged to pray even without a ticket...
...We built edifices in the main as a response to the Christian churches which are fully utilized but three days a year and are largely given over to a caterer for the other 362 days...
...And I do not mean the establishment of a superficial Hebrew school for the children and a popular lecture series for the adults, featuring a different star on the Jewish hit parade each week...
...Our own synagogue has close to 1,000 adults participating in some 30 classes each week, with a possibility of individual development in almost every field of Jewish knowledge...
...Rashi suggests that this imperative followed the sin of the Golden Calf and served as an atonement for that transgression...
...Our public model s'dorim, Purim mishloach manot, Chanukah candles and Sabbath table displays have won countless unaffiliated Jews to our services and our classes...
...It was in the synagogue that the Jew began his day, and it was from the synagogue that his funeral bier was brought to its final resting place...
...The synagogue must become the source of Jewish learning for old and young alike, in formal classes and informal group discussions, and in this manner serve as a continuation of the Divine Revelation at Sinai...
...And the traditional synagogue community always prided itself on a chevra kadisha which cared for the deceased with proper respect, dignity and concern for Jewish law as human sensitivities...
...indeed, different types of services with different emphases taking place concurrently may well serve the needs of the greatest majority of Jews (needless to say in terms of my perspective each in accordance with Jewish law...
...At the very least, the mishkan served as a source of inspiration for every Jew who entered...
...Of course, the rabbi must understand that he cannot serve as an encyclopedia, ready with the answers for anyone with the wherewithal to open the pages...
...Students of all ages from Hebrew school to adult institute must celebrate Sabbath and festival meals together, dance on Yom Ha'atzmaut and mourn on Tisha b'Av...
...We have a 9:45 a.m...
...A number of especially eager students some in their 60's have requested private tutors to accelerate their literary development, and we have encouraged and provided this service as well...
...Our Torah Van, which serves as a "synagogue-on-wheels," provides reading material, festive ritual objects and personal counsel to the Jews on the streets who would never on their own initiative walk through a synagogue door...
...Is it not time to remove the last rites from the domain of professional morticians and restore the chevra kadisha to its most respected position in synagogue life...
...After the edifice complex of the '50's and early '60's, the synagogue appears to be on the wane...
...This degenerates into pediatric Judaism for the former and kaffeeklatsch Judaism for the latter, and will only evoke the seriousness it deserves...
...The incident of the Golden Calf proved to God that the Jew a creature of five physical senses in addition to his divine portion could not relate to pure spirit without the aid of physical objects...
...The synagogue ought to house a day school for informal Jewish education for the young, as well as a Hebrew school for a minimal religious exposure...
...One traditional Sabbath meal replete with "Shalom Aleichem" and the blessing of the children is worth 10 lectures on the theology of the Sabbath, and a creative study program will include building a sukkah, baking matzot and visiting an old age home...
...The ritual service was awesome in its majesty and beauty...
...The main service lasts from 8:45 to 11:45 a.m., and concentrates on congregational singing of Chassidic niggunim rather than classical chazz-anut...
...It was the focal point of a community where lifestyle and life-substance consisted of the four ells of Halachah, from morning to night, from cradle to grave...
...And mirabile dictu since there is a minimal charge per course and no class confirmed with less than 10 students, our Adult Institute even makes a slight profit at the end of the year...
...we have a hashkamah min-yan, which is geared for those who desire a more intensely intellectual Sabbath service...
...minyan for the latecomers which concludes with a 30-minute Bible class on the portion of the week, and a 9:15 a.m...
...Indeed, in most suburban communities, the catering hall was built before the sanctuary...
...Indeed, throughout the period of the First Temple, our rabbis suggest that God continued to address man from between the two cherubs...

Vol. 1 • April 1976 • No. 9


 
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