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Trip Around the Sun

 

 

55 of 52 - Orthodox Jews

 

 

By faith, we take a leap - by doubt we test the leap.

- Chuck Borough

 

 

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the
edge, about to jump off.  So I ran over and said "stop! don't do it!"


"Why shouldn't I?" he said.

I said, "Well, there's so much to live for!"

He said, "Like what?"

I said, "Well...are you religious or atheist?"

He said, "Religious."

I said, "Me too!  Are you Christian or Buddhist?"

He said, "Christian."

I said, "Me too!  Are you Catholic or Protestant?"

He said, "Protestant."

I said, "Me too!  Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"

He said, "Baptist!"

I said, "Wow!  Me too!  Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist
church of the Lord?"

He said, "Baptist Church of God!"

I said, "Me too!  Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you
reformed Baptist Church of God?"

He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God!"

I said, "Me too!  Are you reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation
of 1879, or reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?"

He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!"

I said, "Die, heretic scum", and I pushed him off the bridge.

 

   - An Emo Philips joke

 

From a Jewish Friend - David:

(After asking me what Jews I had visited – and I had answered – Reformed – Conservative – Messianic)

 

Hmm.  Two watered-down versions of Judaism and one fraudulent one.

 

In brief:

 

Reformed: might as well be Unitarians.

 

Conservative: confused.

 

Messianic: Basically run by fundamentalist Christians trying to convert as

many confused Jews as possible.  They do well with Reform kids (teens &

young 20-somethings), and have some success with Conservative.

 

NOTHING you have seen in any of those three places will REMOTELY prepare

you for your encounter with the Orthodox, should you manage it.

 

 

 I:

Well - that makes it definitely interesting enough to justify the visit - I'll go. I'll have to leave town - but I've done that before to catch denominations that aren't local.

 

David:

I don't think it's something you can just wander into.

I'd be interested to hear how you plan to manage it, though.

The nearest place to you is in
Los Angeles.  But if they don't know you, you'd
better have the right garb, the right gear and a decent cover story.


 I:
Oh no - I made it clear - I wanted Orthodox.
Poway is much closer than LA - just 8 miles away.

They assured me they have the "garb" for me. The cloth that goes over my shoulders - and the little cap.

I told her I had attended the Conservative, Reformed, and Messianic - and about how a friend had told me I hadn't seen anything yet - She laughed - and assured me this was Orthodox. She said the men and women would be separated by a divider.

She said the Rabbi is very friendly and helpful.

I've had a lot of experience getting along with all kinds of people.

David: (After reading the reports of Jewish visits)

 

I can clear up some misconceptions I inferred from what I read.

About the biggie -- that "Messianic Jews" is not an oxymoron, you have already heard.

(Note from Chuck - Someone had said as much in the Messianic meeting – that often Jews did not consider the Messianics to be Jews, but Christians pretending to be Jews.) It was a Jewish woman visiting from the
Holy Land, with a thick accent, so the comment brought some laughter. Later her husband, a Rabbi, spoke. She also said, “We are Jews – who believe the promised Messiah has come.” )

 

The shawl is called a Tallit.  It's worn differently in Orthodox practice than in
others.  The Orthodox Tallit will be much less narrow, and will be worn draped over
more of your upper body, with its middle hanging down your back.

To see what I mean, take a very large bath towel.  Grasp it by the two corners on
its long edge and hold it up behind your head, hanging down behind you.  Settle the
long edge over the back of your neck and pull the corners you are holding around to
in front of you.  Now, slide your hands down the short edges on each side of you
until you come to the middle of each.  Fold those shorter edges up onto your
shoulders.  There should now be two corners hanging down in front of you about to
where your nipples are, and two more behind you but in the same relative position.

When presented with an Orthodox Tallit, you will notice that one long edge of the
rectangle is ornamented with at least a satin band, possibly more.  That satin band
should end up over your neck and facing out.

The "golf bag" in which the Torah is cased before & after being read is not the
Ark.
  The Ark is the "cupboard" in which the whole thing is kept.

The Hebrew text you reproduced graphically is a biographical sketch of an Israeli
children's author.  The transliteration you reproduced is, unfortunately, nonsense.
  It is not any sort of recognizable Hebrew.  Hebrew would, for one thing, never
have so many very long words in sequence.  80% or so of Hebrew words are one or two
syllables.

 

 I:

Wow - thanks for all that information - I'm putting it in the header above the next visit report.

The Hebrew text I put in the report was just some I found on the net - to show what the letters look like - I didn't know what it said, of course. You saw that it was a children's book text - you read Hebrew?

The "transliteration" was included in hymn books, etc - on one side - with the Hebrew on the other. As I understood it, it was just to help people "pronounce" the Hebrew words. Some were reading the Hebrew directly - others read the transliteration - and then all sound the "same," sort of. I noticed that the transliteration sometimes had pronunciations that included several Hebrew words in a single string – probably to move as the music did.

I heard them say they were going to remove the Torah from the
Ark - and made obviously the wrong assumption. The cabinet makes more sense. It's fun to have these corrections.

Another friend wrote:

 

If you’re going to attend with the Orthodox, I hope to hell you are circumcised, my friend. 

 

 I:

 

Wo!  Surely they don’t check that – do they ???

 

PROBABLY not ;) 

 

David again:

One  more thing I keep forgetting to mention.  Most Ashkenazic congregations have a custom that men only wear a Tallit after they are married.  That's why you were asked that at the Conservative one.

As for the person there who was puzzled by the question, afterward... one of my pet peeves is people who are Jewish but are non-observant simply out of ignorance.  (I am zero-observant, but that's from a surfeit of knowledge and a relentlessly logical mind.)  Most congregants at Conservative and Reform synagogues are laughably ignorant of the realities of Judaism.  In fact, my non-Jewish significant other knew more about Judaism before we met than most Reform or Conservative Jews of my acquaintance.

Which is why Reform Judaism looks so much like Unitarianism... there's nothing authentically Jewish to really distinguish it.  As for Conservative congregations: ask ten Conservative rabbis if they aren't their congregation's "vicarious Jew."  Use those words.  The ones who deny it will flush first.


 I:

Most interesting. Does this mean the Rabbi

is the only one there who
is really Jewish? - all the others

compromising in some way?

 He:

No... they're all Jewish.  The same way everyone who's an American citizen is an American citizen, even if they cheat on their taxes and never bother to vote... dig?

 I:

No - I understand that they're all Jewish by heritage - but have they compromised the religion - with the exception of the Rabbi, who still believes correctly - but is there to "take care of" the compromisers? Is that what you meant by their “vicarious” Jew?

 

He:

Compromised?  Hmm.  Not on belief, but on action. What it is, is... they don't acknowledge the obligation to be assiduous on every single mitzvah.  The Rabbi probably does.

(I thought this was interesting. In the old first missionary discussion, there is a question for “Brother Brown.” It goes, “Brother Brown – how can we tell what someone believes? By what that person says – or by what they do?” The answer, of course, is “By what they do.” In other words, what is “lived” is what is believed. We often hear people say they believe something but don’t live it. Perhaps that is something they would like to believe but do not currently believe? Like hope rather than belief?)

 

The Visit: Orthodox Jews

 

For the 10:00 meeting, I arrived just on time – after making several wrong turns. – the relatively small parking area behind the facility had a large gate – locked. It was not obvious where one was to park – only a small amount of street parking. The facility was large, and I supposed there had to be something somewhere. I saw an elderly couple parking across the street – in the only space evidently left. I U-turned – and came up next to them – from his dress, it was obvious the man was Jewish. I asked them where it would be well to park. The old man was blind – but the woman said I could park in the lot here – and pointed. It was the lot for a large Christian Church across the street from the synagogue. Evidently, the Jews use it on Saturday, and the Christians on Sunday.

 

By the time I had the hot rod parked, I was surrounded by Jews. Little Jews – all boys – with their little black caps. They had many questions about the hot rod, and I enjoyed answering them. “Did you make it?” “How fast will it go?” “Can we have a ride in it?” I told them they could if their parents gave them permission. I asked if we needed to hurry – since it was time for the meeting to begin. They acted like there was no hurry.

 

Indeed – on entering the synagogue – everything appeared to be beginning slowly – there was plenty of time.

 

I asked a man what I needed to do – as a visitor who knew little about protocol. They were most helpful – helped me get the shawl and the cap and showed me how to wear them.

 

Then the Rabbi approached. He had a large and very black beard – and came straight out of “Fiddler on the Roof.” He had already heard about the hot rod – and his first question was, “So – you are visiting? And when do the boys get to have a ride in that hot rod?”

 

(Ha – what an opener that little car has been all year! Everyone thinks I’m automatically approachable. The Rabbi, of course, would have had no problem approaching regardless.)

 

I told the Rabbi that I had told the boys they could ride if their parents approved. The Rabbi said, “Yes – but not on Saturday.” “Ah – maaan,” I thought – “this isn’t going to work for those boys.” I really was already looking forward to giving them each a little ride. I think the boys were ready “today.”

 

Leona would have loved the look of these boys – all had a look of belonging somewhere. When we visited in Pennsylvania – with the Amish – Leona was very impressed by all the little school children returning home after school all dressed alike in their all black attire. I had planned to take some pictures, which the Amish do not like – and Leona had made me put the camera away. But when we saw those children, she said, “Oh, honey – get the camera – take just one picture. Hurry! They’ll be gone.” So, I did, and once I had the “permission,” I took several others as well – of the farm homes – the clothes lines, etc.

 

I would like to have a picture of these little Jewish boys – completely encircling the Sun Trip car – all the little black caps almost forming a frame.

 

What is written here so far – I had put in notes after sitting down for the meeting. But at this point, a man came and sat beside me. He told me that I should not be writing – that writing is “work,” and should not be done on Saturday. I told him I would try to be respectful of the rule. He said, “I tell you only in love – to help you.”

 

From then until the end, I took almost no notes – only once in a while writing one or two words to remind me of some string of thought – and none of even this in the formal meetings – but only in a class – and at lunch. Once, at lunch, a man told me that he did not write on Saturday – but that it did not bother him if I did. “You are not a Jew – I do not expect you to live as a Jew.” I had printed only a single word – Mitzvah – to remember that it meant “good deed.”

 

At this point – before the meeting had really gotten started, another leader came to me – I don’t know if he was a Rabbi or not – had a big black hat. He suggested – and led me to a class to attend. He said that was better for a “beginner,” which I guess it was evident I was.

 

I’m glad I went – it was an interesting class taught by a very enthusiastic man. There were literally dozens of times I said to myself, “I have to remember this,” but without notes – most will be gone – and they will come to me one at a time when they apply to something – long after my report is out.

 

The subject of the lesson was prayers – Daily ones said morning – midday – and night – and other special prayers for special purposes. Evidently, the prayers are written out – not said in one’s own words. There were page numbers given for many of them.

 

The three daily prayers may not be written out – not sure –

 

But Abraham is said to have brought about the first one – the morning prayer.

Then Isaac, his son, brought about the second – I think for midday.

And Jacob coming later brought about the third prayer for the evening.

 

G-d has given each of us two souls. One of them is the “animal” soul. It naturally cares only about the physical world. It is subjected to all the physical temptations, etc.

 

The other soul (or spirit) is the G-dly spirit.

 

(Again – for Jews – writing has a special import different from speaking or listening. One may say “God,” but it must not be written, so they write instead, “G-d.”)

 

He put these souls into our heart.

 

The teacher told us that we may ask questions at any time – and I wanted to ask one now.

 

I asked, “Putting them into our hearts – this is a metaphor, is that correct?”

 

He said yes – but I don’t think he understood what a metaphor was – based on the continuing discussion.

 

He said that the heart has two chambers – a right ventricle and a left ventricle. He said that G-d had put the G-dly soul in the right ventricle and the animal soul in the left ventricle.

 

(If this is supposed to be a metaphor, it is getting very detailed.)

 

I said, “Well – I have another question about this. I had a friend who was waiting for a suitable heart for transplant – and for a time, he had put in him a Jarvic heart – one made of plastic and metal parts. It worked well and extended his life some, though he never got the transplant. But while he had that artificial heart, he still loved his wife and his kids – had all his feeling intact, etc. It would seem that his souls were not in the old bad heart that had been thrown away. What of this?”

 

He said, “That is a very interesting question – I want to take that one to the Rabbis.”

 

(One thing I have noticed in Jewish congregations – not only this one – but the other less strict ones as well – they are not threatened by questions as Christian congregations often are. They like questions that do not have answers. It appears stimulating and interesting to them. I like this a lot. I enjoyed the little doctrinal arguments in Fiddler on the Roof. I liked the arguments directly with G-d that the father in the story participates in. He figures out reasonable compromises of the traditions of his faith – and then comes to realize that this was G-d’s way all along.)

 

(There is an old story about someone who asked a Priest, “But why did God make Hell?” And the priest answered, “For people who ask questions like that.” If the Priest was correct, then I might as well get ready to go there.)

 

There are four worlds that G-d has made – and none are lower than this one we live on. This one is the lowest of the four.

 

We are his only creations that have free will. The angels are a high kind of animal – no free agency – no free will. They do exactly as they are commanded to do – and may not waver from it. We have free will – and the two souls allow us to experiment and learn and grow. Our G-dly spirit is supposed to teach the animal spirit to appreciate more than just the physical – to appreciate the G-dly. As our animal spirit learns, we grow nearer to G-d.

 

An animal is like a robot – completely guided by instincts that G-d has given to the animal – and the same is true for angels. We are not like that; we must try to get our animal soul to love G-d as our G-dly soul does. This struggle is what makes us different from the animals.

 

In a handout, there were some “transliterations” for several phrases or terms. Transliterations are the use of our alphabet to “sound out” Hebrew words.

 

Usually, a song book or copy of the Torah, or other books, will have transliteration on one side – and the Hebrew on the other. The Rabbi will read the Hebrew – and by reading the transliteration, we sound out the same sounds – or nearly so.

 

But this handout had transliteration for the Hebrew – but on the other side was the English meaning. Here are some examples:

 

AL  NATILAS  YADIAM  -------  WASHING OUR HANDS

 

ASHIR  YATZAR   ----------------  MIRACLES OF OUR BODY

 

ELOKAI  NESHAMA  ------------  A PIECE OF G-D

 

HANOSAIN  LESECHVI BINA --  ABILITY TO DISTINGUISH GOOD/BAD

 

ZOKOAF  KIFUFUM  -------------  RAISING US UP

 

HANOSAIN  LIAF  KOACH --  DON’T TAKE OUR STRENGTHS FOR GRANTED

 

ROKEA  HARETZ  AL  HAMAIM --  GRATITUDE FOR THE LAND

 

SHEASAR  LI  KOL  ZORKI  -----  ALL OUR NEEDS ARE ALREADY PROVIDED

 

 

(I assume I knew just a little from crosswords puzzles – but it only just became obvious today. ADAR is a month of the Hebrew calendar, a combination of English letters that often fits the needs of a puzzle – but actually that month is not spelled ADAR – but with some Hebrew character or characters – and it must have a pronunciation similar to ADAR.)

 

(We do the same with oriental characters – we eat DIM SUM, but that is probably only a pronunciation for possibly two Chinese characters.)

 

(I have trouble understanding how languages come to have “religious” significance. They appear man-made tools to me – with all their shortcomings, etc. Why did Catholics for so long hold that the Mass must be done in Latin – a language not used for speaking for a long time? And here in America, why don’t Jews simply use English for services? Oriental groups, for the most part, teach their children to use English at school – while Spanish speaking people often want to maintain the “culture” of that language – even at school - to a great disadvantage, it seems to me, for their children’s education. The results are in the pudding – or at the computer terminal.)

 

(I’m glad, for example, that the class I attended here at the synagogue was held in English – so why not all the other more “important” stuff also? How does language become “sacred?”)

 

At the end of the class, the teacher said, “G-d is one. It means there is nothing else – outside of G-d.”

 

One I just remembered that was said earlier – “This Earth is 5763 years old.” !!!

 

This comes from the Torah.

 

I asked a question about this also.

 

“Is all of science from the animal soul? That is – is science misguided by the animal soul?”

 

He answered, “Oh – no – science can be used for good or evil – it can do both.”

 

“But,” I said, “There is not a bonafied biologist anywhere in sight who does not know that not only the Earth, but humanity, including full languages and cultures, is much older than 5763 years. I’m sure that includes Jewish biologists and medical doctors as well.”

 

He thought this was another of those “wonderful questions” that needed to be taken to the Rabbis.

 

(There are not always answers – but the questions themselves are not treated as an “affront.” Teachers do not lose their place – nor their grip on the discussion. This is really pretty cool. If I were there every week,. of course, the questions would keep coming up – until the return from the “Rabbi’s” actually came back to us. One can’t let these things go.)

 

 

I was happy to learn that we had not missed the “Reading of the Torah” in the main “chapel,” I’m sure with a different name.

 

We went there. Now this is interesting.

 

At the meeting with the “Reformed” Jews, as well as with the “Conservative” Jews, the men sat on the left – and the women on the right – but just with an open aisle between – and with full visual and hearing access to all speakers exactly the same.

 

At this meeting, however, there was a wall between the men and the women – with the men on the right. The wall was about three feet tall – with another three feet of glass on top of that – for a total of about six feet. The glass was etched or sand-blasted with designs – such that I could almost not see through it to the women at all. I could see just enough to make a judgment as to what they were doing during the meeting. Mostly, they were quiet – sometimes visiting a little – not apparently paying the same attention as were the men.

 

On the men’s side – and in the back – behind the bulk of the men, was a rectangular and raised stage and a large lectern. There Rabbis sang and spoke Hebrew – obviously with organization – for men knew when to call out “amein,” etc. The speakers appeared to talk only to the men, while the women were mostly sitting quietly on the other side, as though they were waiting for their husbands to get finished. Young boys – the same ones who had showed such interest in the hot rod – were also on the men’s side – but I saw no young girls with the women. Then I noticed outside the building to the right – looking through the glass doors – there was a playground – swings – slide – climbing equipment – sandbox, and little girls were playing out there – no little boys.

 

The Torah was returned to its special holder – what I had in previous reports referred to as the “Ark,” but which is not the Ark. Then it was carried throughout at least the men’s side of the congregation – and each man touched it with his cloth. I did not pay enough attention to notice if it had been carried among the women also. I know it was done on both sides in all the other Jewish meetings, so perhaps I just missed it. I am pretty well saturated in these meetings – trying to see and understand so much – and actually understanding so very little. I’ve felt that way at ballets and operas.

 

Almost all of this meeting was held using that raised stage at the back for speaking and “chanting.” The meeting lasted for quite some time – and then the Rabbi went to a stage at the front to speak. Here, he spoke mostly in English – with some Hebrew mixed in – and he was visible to both sides of the room – women as well as men. He gave a nice, with some meat, talk – and included some praise for all those fighting in the world for freedom against the enemies of us and the enemies of G-d.

 

He said that when we do G-d’s will, we will be happy. That everything we do affects the entire universe. If we close the store on Saturday, we will make the same amount anyway – we cannot fool G-d. Our intentions are more important than our execution.

 

He made some announcements – and then lo and behold, a woman stood to make an announcement on the women’s side – the only words heard from a woman during the entire time.

 

I thought it was over – but then they had the closing prayer time – and it lasted for quite a while – there was a spoken part – and a silent reading part, wherein we were given the pages to read from.

 

One of the boys on the men’s side was dressed differently – with a big-brimmed black hat. I wondered if he had a special place. He went near the end of it all to sit on a man’s lap – probably his father – the Rabbi.

 

 

And then we were excused to go to the lunch. This would be Kiddush – kosher lunch – and now I would assume that both kiddush and kosher are not really words – but transliteration for the pronunciation of two Hebrew words, though both are included in our dictionary now, as well as Adar.

 

The kiddush – kosher lunch – was laid out on a table – each to go there and get his plate filled with a very delicious stew – watermelon slices – potato chips – pretzels – soda.

 

I sat at a table that was mostly empty – two of those little boys. I asked them if this table was ok, and they seemed delighted. After I sat, a man came to join us.

 

He introduced himself – as I did also. He was very talkative – which I love. I asked him a few questions about the kosher meal. “Are there some things that are simply assumed kosher?”

 

“No,” he said – it must be proven.

 

“Well, I notice that the cola is Shasta – has Shasta been declared kosher?”

 

“No – I see what you mean – no – that’s assumed.”

 

“And the potato chips – they look just like the Ruffles I’ve seen.”

 

“They probably have a little ‘u’ on them – to indicate they are kosher accepted.”

 

I told him I would look for that ‘u’ on things to become familiar.

 

“And the watermelon?”

 

“Oh yes – fruits and vegetables are in automatically. It is not about health or cleanliness, as so many think – it is a spiritual thing – a matter of obedience. We want to know that in their manufacture, they have not come in contact with non-kosher things.”

 

“So,” I said, “Then in a factory where beef wieners are made – if they also make pork wieners – then the beef wieners are not kosher – because of the possible contact?”

 

“That is correct.”

 

He pointed out that there was someone here who had come in a hot rod. I let him know it was I – and then he called several other men over – “This is the man who came in the hot rod.” Another introduced himself and said, “Soo – you’re the celebrity?” I laughed, of course, and these full grown men had exactly the same questions the boys had had earlier – “How fast does it go?” I told them – “With me in it? 60 – tops.” They continued at our table for the rest of the meal. They had brought their plates with them.

 

Shortly after this was when I felt the need to write down the word “Mitzvah,” so I could remember it meant “good deed.” And this is when the man told me I should not be expected to keep all the commandments that a Jew would keep.

 

He said there were 613 commandments but that less than 200 of them are kept today. For example, he said, the law of sacrifice of animals – no longer is that one followed – and there are many others. But he said, we still have about 180 – and you know – other people have only the ten. “How can we expect you to know them?” He said that if you count all the little knots on the “cloth that’s wrapped around us,” don’t right away recall the transliterated name, there would be 613 knots.

 

(I looked at my own – and it appeared lots fewer knots than that – but mine might have been an abbreviated version – perhaps containing only the commandments a visitor might be expected to follow – (-;  )

 

(Or – as my friend David has indicated – it’s also possible that this Jewish man did not know.)

 

As I left, the little boys, I think having been instructed not to “play” too much with the hot rod, watched from afar – but waved as I tore by modestly. So did the men. And my visit with the Orthodox was at an end. I felt strangely that I should come again. The Rabbi had indicated that I might return tomorrow – that the boys would be there again at lunch time. But then that, you see, is Sunday – the Lord’s Day – we dasn’t be riding boys in hot rods on that day. So that leaves only Monday thru Friday before sundown.

 

(I still like Paul’s “The letter killeth – but the spirit giveth life.” Perhaps all this letter stuff is really the animal spirit trying to run things and take away our thinking and free will – for if it were truly up to me – those boys could ride any day they wanted, as I surely do – but more importantly – it would be their decision and not the good Rabbi’s.)

 

 

55 of 52 – Trip Around the Sun – Orthodox Jews

 

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