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For Newcomers to an Orthodox Synagogue Visiting on Shabbat

What to Wear

Most men wear a suit or a jacket and tie to services. Many boys will dress like their fathers or wear dress shirts and nice trousers. All, including visitors and children old enough to do so, are expected to cover their heads, usually with a kippah (yarmulke). You are welcome to wear your own, but there will also be plenty available before you enter the synagogue itself. The custom in our synagogue is for married Jewish men to wear a tallit (prayer shawl) at morning services. This is not a requirement except for participants in the service.

Women and girls are expected to wear dresses or skirts with sleeved tops. The general level of "dressiness" lies between casual and evening clothes, pretty much excluding those two extremes. Married women wear hats. There will be lace doilies available outside the sanctuary for those who prefer.

What to Bring

Orthodox Jews do not use money, write, or use electrical devices on the Sabbath. Therefore, we do not bring pens and pencils, wallets, or cell phones to synagogue and women do not carry purses. Books and quiet non-electronic toys are appropriate for children who are not yet ready to participate in the service. There are various youth groups that will take place at the conclusion of the Torah reading that your children are welcome to join if they feel comfortable.

Getting Here

Orthodox Jews do not drive on the Sabbath, but rather walk to services whatever the weather. Please respect this. If you too would prefer not to drive, we would be happy to try to set up Shabbat hospitality for you and your family. If you do drive, please consider parking in the carriage lane on Commonwealth Avenue and please respect all Newton Parking Ordinances, including parking in the right direction of traffic, not parking within 5 feet of a driveway, and not parking too close to the corner. Directions to our shul can be found here.

The coat room is behind the lobby, across from the rest rooms. Men and women sit separately in Orthodox synagogues. When entering the sanctuary, the women's section is reached through the left-hand doors; the men's section through the right-hand doors. As you enter, please take a siddur (prayer book) and a chumash (Bible). Be sure to take books that include the English translations unless your Hebrew is fluent.

The Service

Services begin at 9AM and will last at least 2 1/2 hours. The men's side will begin to fill up by 9:30, the women's side a bit later.

The service is conducted entirely in Hebrew and very few pages will be formally announced. For most parts of the service, the member of the congregation leading the prayers will read out loud only the beginning and end of each section. Please do not hesitate to someone sitting near you for help finding your place. The order of the service is as follows (page numbers refer to the grey Koren Siddur prayer book with English translations). Please feel free to bring with you a print out of this guide:

Preliminary Prayers (pp.27-57), about 10 minutes, mostly recited privately.

    Pesukei DeZimra -Verses of Song (pp. 399-453), about 15 minutes, mostly Psalms, but concluding with Exodus 15, the Song at the Sea (followed by an extended blessing praising God).

    The Shema and its Blessings, about 15 minutes, beginning with the Barekhu (a call to worship), p. 455, then blessings celebrating God as Creator (pp. 455-467) and Revealer of Torah (p. 469), then the silent recitation of the biblical passages of the Shema itself (pp. 471-the top of 475), and a blessing celebrating God as Redeemer (pp. 475-479).

    The Amidah (pp. 481-495), about fifteen minutes, the central covenantal act of worship, consisting of seven blessings on the Sabbath. The congregation will stand, facing east, and recite this silently. Then the prayer leader will repeat it, including the kedushah (Holy, Holy, Holy..., p. 483).

    Reading of the Torah: The Torah reading itself may be found in the Artscroll Stone Chumash or Hertz Pentateuch. Our Rabbi usually introduces the reading and announces the page number. The Shabbat Torah reading will be divided into at least seven different aliyot, sections for which members of the congregation are called up to recite the Torah blessings. At a Bar Mitzvah or an Aufruf, after the celebrant completes his own aliyah (which will usually be the last), his new status will be celebrated by the singing of "Siman Tov U-Mazal Tov" (Congratulations!) and by showering him with candy (which children will collect and consume). The Torah reading is matched by the Haftorah - prophetic reading, whose page numbers too will be announced by either the Rabbi or the Gabbai (ritual officer). After the Torah is returned to the ark, the Shabbat D'var Torah (sermon) is usually delivered.

    The Musaf (Additional) Service (pp. 537-555). This second Amidah corresponds to the additional Sabbath offering in the Beit haMikdash - Jerusalem Temple. It too will be first recited silently by the congregation, standing and facing east, and then repeated by the prayer leader.

    Concluding Prayers (pp. 557-577), usually led by a child, followed by announcements.

    Kiddush. Please join us in the social hall for food, mingling, and schmoozing!

Appreciating a Bar or Bat Mitzvah

A bar mitzvah is traditionally celebrated in the context of a normal synagogue service. A boy becomes a bar mitzvah (literally, a son of the commandments, i.e., an adult within the community) on the day of his thirteenth birthday. As someone with an adult obligation to fulfill all of God's commandments, including those of communal prayer, he may now lead the synagogue service, read from the Torah, and receive an aliyah. In our synagogue, bar mitzvah boys are also invited to manifest their membership in the adult community by serving as a community teacher by delivering the Shabbat d'var Torah (speech).

In the Jewish tradition, a girl becomes bat mitzvah (literally, a daughter of the commandments, i.e., an adult within the community) on the day of her twelfth birthday. This means that she has religious responsibility for her own actions and that she can take on public leadership roles within the community. In the Orthodox world, though, women do not lead public prayer. This means that communities that wish to acknowledge a girl's bat mitzvah with some equivalence to the traditional celebrations of a boy's bar mitzvah have sought creative ways to do this. In our synagogue, this means that the bat mitzvah girl teaches the community by delivering her d'var Torah (speech) at the conclusion of the morning Sabbath service. Some families choose to hold a service for women only, at which the bat mitzvah has an opportunity to lead the prayer service and read from a Torah.

Most bat and bar mitzvah girls and boys prepare for a full year or more for their celebration of their Jewish coming of age. Please honor them by listening attentively and quietly.

Applause is inappropriate on Shabbat. Please join us in expressing our joy and congratulations in a spirited singing of “Siman Tov u-Mazal Tov” at the conclusion of the D'var Torah.


Thu, July 25 2024 19 Tammuz 5784