From the Rabbi - December 2010 Print

Dear Friends:

There are a number of things I don’t expect to happen when I come to Shabbat services.

For one thing, I would be quite surprised if even a sizeable minority of the congregation showed up.  We have around 400-plus individuals who are members of CBI.  If twenty-five percent of you came to a Friday night service, that would mean about a hundred people, and I would be astonished if that happened.  One of my friends in the Los Angeles region said that his congregation was populated by Seventh-Day Absentists.  I have a pretty good suspicion that this is not solely a southern California phenomenon.

A second thing I don’t anticipate is that we shall hear a divine voice penetrating into the Sanctuary and issuing commands or specific answers to our prayers.  If such a voice did make itself heard, you’d probably accuse me of ventriloquism.  Besides, theologically, many of us are not sure that God is revealed in this way, at least in today’s modern era.  Evidence for God and godly acts is much more subtle and sophisticated than a booming bass voice – or could it be a soprano?

In nearly fifty years of rabbinical life, I’ve never experienced a member of the congregation overcome with emotion to the point of blurting out a religious vision or testimony.   Maybe I’m doing something wrong, but I am pretty sure that we expect personal transformation to be more inward and gradual and that we’re happy to leave public conversion experiences to charismatic Pentecostals.

So, is there anything I do expect to happen if someone comes to services?  Yes, there is!

When I open the siddur, I do expect a specific result.  The prayer book is a shorthand summary of what liberal Judaism stands for; it rehearses in a terse fashion the fundamental values of our religion and our culture.  If you read its pages carefully, you will find a capsule version of what a Jew ought to believe and what a Jew ought to stand for and what a Jew needs to do.

I spend my entire working life preoccupied with those values, yet even I treasure a weekly refresher course.  I am grateful to spend ninety minutes of my week rehearsing the basic premises of what and who I should be.  There remain 166½ hours in each week when I can then implement what I have reviewed and relearned at services.

But I am unusual in this respect.  Most members of CBI, most Jews, do not devote themselves directly to the study of being Jewish.  It’s an important part of our lives, but there are other involvements as well.  That’s why, it seems to me, that coming to services for a weekly repeat of the basic values is important.  Services are not, according to this way of thinking, not an end in themselves, but a vehicle to help us pattern the rest of our lives during the ensuing week.  This is a specific outcome you can expect from your attendance.  So, come in when you can and take advantage of the benefits that accrue from being in temple Friday night or Shabbat morning.

            Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi