Sample Guide to Service

By Rabbi Daniel Kohn

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Return to Bar/Bat Mitzvah Ideas and Primer for Interfaith Families.

 

Major sections of the Shabbat morning worship service include: The Shema (“Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One”). This passage from the Book of Deuteronomy and the three passages that follow constitute a central part of each morning and evening Jewish prayer service. Probably the most important single sentence in the liturgy, the Shema is not a prayer but rather an affirmation of the unity of God.

The Amidah (“Standing Prayer”). The Amidah, a series of prayers recited while standing in silent meditation, is the major liturgical piece of every synagogue service throughout the year. On a weekday, the Amidah contains prayers for the physical and spiritual well-being of the one praying as well as of the entire community of the people of Israel; on Shabbat we praise God for the joy of the Shabbat and the rest that we enjoy. It is perfectly acceptable and even desirable that people recite the Amidah in English, and worshipers are also encouraged to pray from their hearts if the printed words do not speak to them.

The Torah Service. Following the Shema and the Amidah is a transition from prayer to study. The primary study text is from the Pentateuch, or Five Books of Moses. This text has been written on the parchment of the Torah scrolls by a specially trained scribe. The Torah is divided into–and read in–weekly portions, according to a prescribed calendar, so that the entire Torah is read in the span of one year. The cover and accoutrements of the Torah scrolls recall the priestly garb of ancient Temple times, i.e., breastplate, robe, crowns and belt. Usually the rabbi, and sometimes the bar/bat mitzvah child or another congregant, delivers a d’var Torah, a word of Torah, that comments on the weekly Torah reading. Once the Torah reading is over, another person–usually the bar/bat mitzvah child–chants a portion from the prophetic writings of the Hebrew Bible. The Haftarah, which means concluding teaching, is usually chosen to reflect a theme or literary allusion in the Torah portion. The purpose of the Haftarah is not only to provide an opportunity to teach from a different section of the Bible, but also to assert that prophecy serves to reinforce the laws of the Torah.

Mourner’s Kaddish. Although there is no mention of death in this prayer, the Kaddish is recited at the end of all worship services by family members who have lost a loved one in the past year or who are observing the anniversary of a death in years past. Despite sorrow and pain, the mourner rises to declare continuing commitment in praising God’s name, to which we all respond, “Amen.”

Excerpted from What a Bar/Bat Mitzvah Guest Needs to Know, by Rabbi Daniel Kohn. Reprinted with permission from MyJewishLearning.com.

 

The Bar/Bat Mitzvah Ideas and Primer for Interfaith Families is also available as a PDF document.





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About Rabbi Daniel Kohn

Rabbi Daniel Kohn is Rabbi-in-Residence at Contra Costa Jewish Day School in Lafayette, California, a proud father and author of Kinesethic Kabbalah: Spiritual Practices from Martial Arts and Jewish Mysticism.