A Jewish Evening
3rd November 1998
I decided I would like to go to this evening because I had studied Judaism as part of my theology degree and so thought I would find it interesting. I wasnt wrong - it was a very enjoyable evening.
When we arrived we were greeted with a drink - I chose some red Israeli wine, from the Golan, which was very nice. Supper consisted of Jewish food. There was soup to start with, accompanied by Chollah bread. The main course was pitta bread with some interesting fillings such as avocados, feta cheese etc. and some delicious salads - carrots and cummin, cucumber and dill and some Israeli salad. We finished with Jewish apple cake (see recipe later in this issue) or rumbaba.
Our speaker for the evening was Rabbi Amanda Golby from the Nottingham progressive synagogue. She was ordained in 1988 and is the ninth woman rabbi. She commented on the authenticity of the food we had just eaten. She went on to say that food is very important in Judaism and so it was very appropriate that we had started the evening with a meal.
The topic for the evening was Jewish Spirituality. Amanda talked for a while about whether there is such a thing as Jewish Spirituality. She said that Hebrew doesnt have a word for "spirituality" or "religion" because Judaism applies to everything they do, and their lives are not separate from it. Jews express spirituality through "doing". She added that Jews are not keen to talk about their spirituality. Judaism talks more about action than belief and there has been very little effort to formulate creeds. (There is a Jewish creed - it contains 13 articles formulated by Moses Maimonides in the 12th century AD. This creed is incorporated in the Yigdal hymn in the Jewish liturgy.) If you asked a Jew about life after death they would be very hazy on what it meant. She added that progressive Jews talk about a Messianic age rather than a Messiah.
For both Orthodox and Progressive Jews, the Sabbath is the spiritual high-point of the week. Friday night is the main focus, when all the family are together. The meal starts with the candles being lit and a short grace being said. After the meal there are longer prayers.
Orthodox and Progressive Judaism
This led Amanda on to talk about the differences between Orthodox and Progressive Judaism. The Orthodox Jews wont recognise a woman rabbi whereas Progressives do. The main reason is because the men and women sit separately and several prayers cant be said without at least ten males being present. Women arent allowed to say lots of prayers whereas men are expected to read them three times a day. However in the Progressive synagogue they will say prayers even if there arent ten males present. Traditionally they are supposed to say a hundred blessings a day, which is easier to achieve with the Orthodox Jews who say a lot of communal prayers and blessings before food etc. In the Progressive synagogue the Bar Mitzvah (confirmation) is an equal experience for both boys and girls as they are both allowed to read from the scrolls. This is not the case with the Orthodox Jews.
The community aspect of life is very important in Judaism. In fact the Orthodox Jews say that Judaism doesnt work if there isnt a community. Amanda demonstrated how as a single person she does have the meal and light the candles etc. on Friday evenings, but she doesnt have the same family experience as others. She feels it is possible to be a Jew alone but the Orthodox tradition wouldnt agree with this.
The Orthodox Jews criticise the Progressive Jews services because they say it is too much like a church service - because it is too quiet. Traditionally Jewish services are very noisy, especially before the start of the service, meditation is only just starting to be accepted as part of the service.
Amanda talked about the importance of food within the Jewish tradition. They have traditions of not eating meat from animals that have been killed in a certain way etc. Different foods are associated with different occasions. For instance, honey and apple symbolise a sweet new year. Shabuoth (the Feast of Weeks) is the festival which celebrates the receiving of the Jewish law on Mount Sinai and dairy foods and cheesecake are significant at this time. This was a very important festival in the Jewish tradition, but these days Hanukkah has become more important as Jewish parents have worried about their children missing out at Christmas time.
The talk was very interesting and highlighted the difficulties of wanting to participate in a modern world, while at the same time maintaining the Jewish traditions. For instance, young people wanting to go out on a Friday night rather than staying in to observe the Sabbath. We commented on how there are some similarities in the Christian church with some of the things that Amanda highlighted as problems for Jews in the modern world - for instance, children wanting to play football on a Sunday clashing with church etc. Jews having strict dietary laws which are sometimes difficult to justify with social issues such as famine etc.
The evening was a thoroughly enjoyable one and I came away wishing I had attended other evenings that have already taken place, and planning to go to the next one.