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  • Derech Yeshua

  • Siddur Sar Shalom

Torah Observant?

I’m becoming increasingly aware that some people view Beit Sar Shalom – our congregation in Golders Green, London, as ‘Torah Observant.’ In one sense i surely hope so! I’d be ashamed if we did not hearken to and observe ‘all the words’ of the Almighty. On the other hand, I am distressed, because people have the wrong idea.

Consider this: from the Christian, or Christian-Jew / Hebrew Christian perspective we are certainly very traditional. To someone from such a viewpoint, we might look as if we are trying to be an Orthodox congregation. After all, we use the Siddur to some degree, only sing Messianic songs, encourage men to wear kippot etc.

But look at us from another angle, the Jewish angle. We are in the middle of a fairly traditional Jewish neighbourhood, but even to a Reform / Liberal Jew we would look quite non-orthodox. Our services are in most respects even less traditional than those of a Liberal synagogue. To a traditional Jew we would no doubt appear very cavalier with Jewish traditions and no doubt very disrespectful of Torah.

Twice in the last year we have had respected guest speakers from the BMJA’s (British Messianic Jewish Alliance) council, one being the past president. These are true friends whom we love. Unfortunately I was absent on both occasions. However, on both occasions comments have been made – quite forcefully – about the dangers of tradition, etc. One of these dear friends comes from a Lubavich background and the other didn’t even know the hymn Adon Olam – two different viewpoints. The key is that both friends have overwhelmingly adopted a ‘Christian’ (in the cultural sense) world view and value system. In fact, an Evangelical world view and value system.

Our last Torah portion provided a fantastic segway into the topic of worship of HaShem from the heart. True worship is not devoid of neither is it dependent upon forms. As Messianic Jews we are free to diverge from or adopt as much of our Jewish forms of prayer as we wish. Our Kavannah (intent and heart attitude) matters more than our keva (forms of prayer). However, we are not free to judge one another.

Talmud teaches that the minimal level of kavanah required is that “one who prays must direct one’s heart towards heaven” (Berakhot, 31a). The next higher level of kavanah is to know and understand fully the meanings of the prayers. The level following that is to free one’s mind of all extraneous and interfering thoughts. At the highest level, kavanah means to think about the deeper meaning of what one is saying and praying with extraordinary devotion. Should circumstances make it necessary for a person to choose between saying more prayers without kavanah or saying fewer prayers with kavanah, the fewer are preferred. (Shulkhan Arukh, Orah Hayim 1:4)

We can’t quibble too much about that, can we?

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