Prayer at Union Temple
Communal prayer is essential to Jewish worship. The Jewish liturgy has been developed over the last 2000 years and continues to evolve. This liturgy is followed on Shabbat and variations exist for Holy Days and Festivals. As Reform Jews, we enter a spiritual time that links us to our ancestors while engaging in contemporary reality.
The overview that follows about Jewish liturgy and the features of our sanctuary is intended to familiarize visitors with the vocabulary and structure of our services. We suggest you also read about the customs of Union Temple to help you feel at home when you join us. And welcome!
About the Liturgy
- Introductory Psalms and Blessings: Shabbat is a time of joy, and we welcome Shabbat by singing select Psalms. We conclude with Lecha Dodi, a piyyut written by the mystics of Tzefat. During the final verse of Lecha Dodi it is customary to rise, turn toward the entryway, and bow, symbolically greeting the Sabbath Bride.
Friday night only:
Shabbat Candles: We call upon a member of the congregation to light Shabbat candles and say the blessing.
- The Shema and Its Blessings: This rubric features Judaism’s central declaration of faith in the One and Eternal God of Israel, and emphasizes God’s role in the Creation of the world, the Revelation of Torah, and Redemption of Israel – the Jewish People – from tyranny.
- The T’filah: The T’filah is a series of prayers recognizing our ancestors and the People of Israel and asking for redemption, holiness, thanksgiving, fulfillment and peace.
Shabbat morning only:
The Reading of Torah: On any given Shabbat, the whole Jewish world reads the same section, parashah, of Torah. In keeping with Reform practice the rabbi chants a single section of the parashah. After the Torah has been read, it is held aloft and turned toward the congregation, so that all can see the parashah.
Aliyah: The honor of being called to the Torah to recite or chant the blessings that precede and follow the Torah reading is called an aliyah, or “going up.” Each person honored with an aliyah is called up by his or her Hebrew name.
Haftarah: Readings from the Haftarah, usually from the writings of the Prophets and thematically linked to the Torah reading are also preceded and followed by blessings.
D’var Torah: The rabbi or other prayer leader delivers the D’var Torah, a commentary on the week’s Torah portion focusing on an ethical message as applied to contemporary life. When one of our Religious School students is called to the Torah for the first time as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah they prepare the D’var Torah.
- Mi Sheberach: During this prayer for healing the names of those who are ill are recited.
- Aleinu: We rise for this prayer to pay homage to God and bow before the open Ark in acceptance of our responsibilities as Jews.
- Mourner’s Kaddish: In reciting the Kaddish we remember those who died in years past during this week, and members of our congregational family who have just been laid to rest. Rather than an actual prayer for the dead, the Kaddish expresses our messianic hopes for the future – a time of justice, compassion and peace upon the earth.
- Kiddush and Final Hymn: We conclude the service with kiddush, the blessing for wine, recited by a member of the congregation. This is followed by brief announcements and a final hymn, usually Adon Olam or Yigdal.
About the Sanctuary
- Bimah: In the main sanctuary the bimah is the raised area from which the service is conducted and the Torah is read.
- Aron Hakodesh: This is the Holy Ark, the “closet” that houses the Torah scrolls of the congregation.
- Ner Tamid: This is the Eternal Light that hangs over the Ark in every synagogue to remind us of God’s eternal presence. The Ner Tamid in the main sanctuary is solar powered.
- Torah Scroll: The Torah consists of the Five Books of Moses. Each scroll is handwritten on parchment by a trained professional called a sofer, or scribe.
- Torah Ornaments: Torah ornaments include: the mantle (cover): a silver breastplate depicting the insignias of the Twelve Tribes of Israel: two silver finials or a single silver crown; and a yad (hand), or pointer, which the reader uses to avoid touching the parchment.
- Artistic Symbolism: Within the stained glass windows are various symbols of Jewish tradition including the lions of Judah, the crowns of Torah, the hands of the Priestly Benediction, and the tents of Jacob.
- Flags: As loyal American citizens, we display the American flag on our bimah. Because of our strong ties to the State of Israel, we also display the Israeli flag.