“People from the North think that Virginia is the wilderness.”
“I resent that.”
“I represent that.”
So it finally happened. I went to a place where they sing the Barechu. There was a choir. It was the Reform temple. I brought my sister there because a week ago she was asking questions about Judaism, and she agreed to go talk to the rabbi there. (Of course, she later denied this, but by then I made an appointment for her anyway.) Anyway, the choir sang everything—to the point where I really just wanted them to sit down already.
Contra David (see link above), I am adamantly against singing the Barechu like a song. It’s not a song. I have a suspicion they’d still sing it without a minyan, too (no chance to ever test that one though; that place was packed). Call me old-fashioned. But it has a specific purpose, and it’s not there for decoration.
They sang the Kaddish. They sang the part after the Shema that you’re not supposed to sing (baruch shem kavod malchuto l’olam va-ed). And by “they” I mean the choir and definitely not the audience.
Which brings me to my real complaint. Now, finding myself in the Reform temple five months after my last visit, I can more easily discern the differences. I quickly noticed that the people were afraid to do anything that might call attention to themselves—they were afraid to even rustle. OK, so I was just complaining about how people were chit-chatting the whole time last week, but this is like the bizzaro version of that fateful night. It reminded me of that guy in the Middle Ages who, apparently disgusted, said we should take note of the decorum of our gentile neighbors (then he later converted to Catholicism). To make it more jarring, there was about three or four times as many people as we usually get at the Conservative shul.
Of course, they didn’t really have too many chances to sing the songs anyway, given that they were basically being taken over by the choir. I saw some poor people trying to bow during the Barechu but they couldn’t because the choir was mumbling and you couldn’t really hear anything anyway.
Then we had Torah service. All I can tell you is that the rabbi somehow got in “bring gold jewelry, also whoever has skills may use them in service of the Temple” into the English translation of the parashat that came after every paragraph, which she read in Hebrew as if she was reading an index card, not the Torah. The point was that we all have our own unique skills we can bring to the service of God, as she made clear (I couldn’t find any mention of “skills” when I read the chumash on Saturday morning at the Conservative place, but anyway). Well, whatever. There was also no chumash to read from because I guess the assumption is that no one can read Hebrew there. It was a parsha that said “Those who don’t obey the Sabbath will be put to death”, which she translated into English quite boldly, and I was kind of surprised about that. I wonder how everyone else took it.
My sister liked the choir though, and I guess that’s what counts.
It just seemed very superficial. They lit Shabbat candles after Shabbat started; they only read a little sliver of the Torah; there was no Birkat Hamazon; they talked about their treif chili picnic coming up; the cantor played an accompaniment of piano through his computer; they chop up the Amidah, everything’s in English—it just seems like everything is for show. Even the building is rather utilitarian. I think it’s just an example of how Judaism dies without Jewish law. Maybe it’s just not a good group of people for me. It’s like they were there because there was nothing on TV. It’s like how people say Judaism dies without Talmud study, which I suppose is true too.
Oh, and at the Kiddush, the rabbi said, “Now turn to someone you don’t know and introduce yourself.” I said to my sister, “This is church!”