Let respect for the community always be with you. — R’ Isaac, Talmud Bavli, Sotah 40a
For thousands of years Jews have been a people of the world, with communities spread to the four corners of the Earth. As a result, we are a people of great diversity; in language, in appearance, in philosophy, and ritual practice. And yet for Jewish communities near and far, the synagogue has served as the place of gathering, the place where Jews of different backgrounds were able to experience this diversity and come together as one in prayer.
At BJ everyone is welcome. We experience great joy in welcoming those who visit BJ from all over the world, people of different faiths as well as fellow Jews for whom our style of prayer may be unfamiliar. We hope this guide to our customs will enable you to feel more comfortable at BJ and to show respect for our community by participating in our services as we do. To make our services more accessible to everyone we also provide a glossary to explain commonly used words and phrases.
Sacred Time and Space
- Shabbat and holidays are sacred time when we try to live and experience life in an elevated way. Traditionally this is accomplished in two ways; by adding special prayers and by removing those objects and activities that can divert our focus.
- We do not use electric devices such as cameras, video equipment, and cell phones.
- We do not write.
- All public spaces at BJ are strictly kosher, so food may not be brought onto BJ premises.
“We believe none of these values—Shabbat, learning, social justice, community—can be fully realized absent spiritual discipline. Contemporary Jews who are fully at home in the modern world need to freely embrace a system of religious duty—halakha—because meaning cannot be sustained without a consistent practice. In these days in which we are all Jews by choice, we challenge our congregants to choose the spiritual discipline of observance.”
- Siddurim (prayerbooks) and Humashim (Bibles) are sacred books. We use Siddur Sim Shalom and Humash Etz Hayim.
- They should never be placed on the floor; they should be kept in one’s lap or on the seats.
Kippot, Tallitot, and Tefilin
- Men are expected to cover their heads while inside of the sanctuary. There are baskets of kippot (yarmulkes) provided for those who do not bring their own.
- It is customary for Jews over the age of Bar/Bat Mitzvah to wear a tallit (prayer shawl) when attending morning services. Communal tallitot are provided for those who do not bring their own.
- We strongly encourage, but do not require, the use of tefilin at morning minyan.
- Music is an essential element of prayer at BJ, and there is amplified live music at all services.
- Services are led by at least two and sometimes three shlihei tzibur (prayer leaders). When leading services, the rabbis, hazzan, rabbinic fellows and cantorial intern stand at the amud (podium) in front of the aron kodesh (Torah Ark) while the hazzan sits or stands in front of a keyboard with the musicians. The rabbis periodically announce page numbers during the service.
- Services are conducted in Hebrew.
- Members of the congregation sometimes rise to dance after Lekha Dodi (p.262 in Siddur Sim Shalom). Feel free to join in.
- Distribute the weekly Kol Jeshurun.
- Direct people to empty seats when seating is limited and to reserved seating, if applicable.
- Seat those new to BJ next to a member who can assist with following the service.
- Assist those who have special needs with seating, hearing devices, and the like.
- Provide copies of the Siddur transliteration to those who request it.
- Monitor compliance with our rules and customs. Please cooperate with their requests.
If you want to know more about BJ’s services or music, have special needs that require reserved seating, or want to know more about how to enhance your own knowledge and participation, please call 212-787-7600 x234.