Today in class we talked a bit about the choreography of Jewish worship. Ever gone to a service and wondered about the bowing and other gestures some of the people around you were making? I gave two class handouts that may be helpful in sorting this out: Choreography of the Service 1 and Choreography of the Service 2.
Also a few general principles bear repeating:
1. WHEN IN DOUBT, ASK: If you are curious about a gesture or practice, ask the person doing it what they are doing and why. If everyone in the congregation is doing it, ask one of the service leaders. It is never “stupid” or rude to ask politely about a practice so that you can learn. As Hillel teaches in the Mishnah, the shy will not learn!
2. MOST CHOREOGRAPHY IS OPTIONAL: Bow, etc, if it is meaningful to you or if you think it might become meaningful to you. If it is distracting or just “isn’t you,” that is OK. However, give yourself permission to try things out and see how they feel. Some people find that choreography makes them feel more in tune with the minyan, or closer to God in prayer: how will you know if you don’t at least try it out?
3. EXPECTED CHOREOGRAPHY: Only a few things are “required,” and those only if you are able.
- If you are able, stand for the Barechu [call to worship before the Shema].
- If you are able, stand for the Amidah.
- In most Reform congregations, stand for the Shema.
- Respect the Torah: Stand when it is moving or uncovered, and face towards it. Stand when the Ark is open.
4. RESPECT YOUR BODY: It is a mitzvah [sacred duty] to care for your body. If choreography is going to damage your back or your knees or whatever, don’t do it. If you see someone refraining from something, assume that they have a good reason and don’t bug them about it.
5. ESCHEW OSTENTATION: Both the ancient rabbis (in tractate Brachot of the Talmud) and Reform tradition frown on showy displays of piety. If something is meaningful to you, that’s OK. But keep in mind that you are doing this for yourself and for prayer, not for a show for anyone else.
Next week Rabbi Roberto Graetz is going to teach a session on the various ways Jews talk about God. It should be a great session!
The following week, April 29, will be our final class meeting. We will vote on a recipient for our Tzedakah fund, and have a discussion about Jewish learning and your Jewish future. I will look forward to seeing you for one more class!
– Rabbi Adar