An Attempt to Observe the Principles of Reform Judaism

Hello readers of World religion weekly,

Today is the very important, last day of my study of Judaism. Today is the day where I am supposed to “practice Judaism for a day.” In hindsight, this was not the most realistic idea. However, I will still attempt to observe the main principles and a few rituals of Judaism which I have noticed through reading the Tanakh, attending a Friday service at a local synagogue, and extensive googling. I would like to clear up that I am attempting this in order to help me better understand the daily lives of people with belief systems different than my own. I am trying to further my knowledge and empathy of the Jewish people. I am not attempting to cheapen anyone’s beliefs and I fully understand that I am not a legitimate practitioner. I will be focusing more on Reform Judaism, as this is the form I have had the most interaction with. Also, it has considerably less mandatory rules than other streams of Judaism.

Firstly, I am attempting to observe kashrut. This just means that I am going to try to eat kosher today. I cannot eat meat from animals which don’t have hooves and eat grass, I cannot eat seafood besides fish with scales and fins, and dairy and meat must always be separated. This last one is generally the most difficult to observe because you are not allowed to eat one then the other, lest you have residue in your mouth (or, depending on the strictness, in your stomach), and you have to use different utensils and containers for each. I felt that using disposable utensils and paper plates would be a bit over the top (and bad for the environment), so I am technically not separating dairy and meat completely. I am eating vegetarian today, so I will not be mixing dairy and meat in my ingested food. I already had one scare when I remembered that someone once told me that collagen (an animal byproduct) was an ingredient in Oreos. However a check on OU Kosher showed that not only were Oreos technically Kosher, but they actually contain no dairy. This is worrisome, but I have not yet violated kashrut!

I am also going to spend a good deal of time reading the Tanakh. I am not nearly as close to finishing it as I would like, with less than a day before moving on to Hinduism. Moreover, I will spend time contemplating the content and looking for discussions online, to better understand its many interpretations.

I will recite the Shema tonight. I did not do so this morning, which is unfortunate, as  its recitation in both morning and evening is seen as biblically mandated by many traditional Jews. I will not be reciting the meal prayers as I have already forgotten twice. I really am deeply thankful for the deliciousness of the apparently kosher oreos.  I am actually doing very poorly on this portion of observing the principals of Reform Judaism.

Thank you for reading,

Audrey Cole

My visit to Congregation Kol Shalom, a Reform Synagogue

Dear readers of World Religion Weekly,

I attended a Friday service at this local center for Reform Judaism. My visit began with a tour of this beautiful synagogue, which actually began as a martial arts studio.

The Torah scrolls reside in a hand-inlayed cabinet, actually created by one of the synagogue-goers.

You probably notice that there three. Yes, they are all copies of the Torah. Why, you may ask? The reading of the Torah is a very involved process.

One doesn’t really read the Torah, as much as sing it. Listen to this recording to better understand.

Mostly, only one Torah is required. However, several occasions each year require two or even three Torahs (including Hanukkah and others), so that multiple readers can participate.

Rabbi Strasko treats the Torah with great reverence, as it is a document which has been valued and passed down for thousands of years.

These particular Torah scrolls are one hundred and fifty years old. They are handwritten onto actual vellum,   and clothed in intricately embroidered cases.

After a brief tour, Rabbi Strasko explained exactly what their congregation was. Congregation Kol Shalom practices Reform Judaism, which is one of three kinds (Reform, Orthodox, and Conservative, each with further subcategories). Orthodox is what most people think of when they first think Judaism. It consists of very strict adherence to a literal interpretation of the Torah, and most people recognize it by the traditional hat and hairstyle.

Conservative Judaism is what you think of when you realize that you haven’t met many Orthodox Jews and there are probably more moderate kinds of Judaism. Conservative Jews believe in finding a middle ground. They do hold that Jewish law is binding, however they also believe that it can change with time.

Reform Judaism is perhaps the most overlooked, despite being the most common stream in America.  It is undoubtably the most liberal stream. It considers Judaism a  living and changing endeavour, and is considerably more inclusive and diverse than other streams.

I also had a fascinating interview with the Rabbi, which you can access in the Interview section of Judaism.

And then came the actual service.

Luckily, the books of psalms used in the service had phonetic sections is romanic lettering, next to the Hebrew passages. This allowed me to see exactly what the room was singing about.  Rabbi Strasko seated me next to his wife, who whispered page numbers to me, warned me before the congregation stood up, and generally saved me from general confusion throughout the service.

The service was mostly conducted in Hebrew. The passages covered were almost completely sung, and the guitar at the front of the congregation received liberal use.

Just from a musical perspective, it was outstanding. The Rabbi would start singing and people would add in and drop out depending on their confidence and perhaps other factors. People harmonized, embellished, and just lent their voices to this Hebrew tapestry of sound. I tried to sing along as best I could, despite my general lack of Hebrew linguistic skills. Luckily, my attempts were definitely lost in the torrent of the more vocally gifted, Hebrewic-ly proficient. Before the service, the Rabbi described Jewish services as a full body experience, which I quickly realized was meant literally. Throughout the service there was clapping, stomping, bowing, standing up, and sitting down. It was a beautiful experience.

After the service, I asked the Rabbi what  was going through his head as he sang these songs of devotion. In this specific sermon, he was contemplating the notion of the universe and its relationship to individuals, more feeling than thinking. He says that he typically fixates on a word or phrase in the sermon and contemplates its meaning. Obviously, this is a spiritual experience. While he does this, he also chooses the melody to sing, depending on the general mood of the congregation, who then respond and embellish.

The service also included a musing over the red heifer and what the notion of “uncleanness” means in today’s society.  His interpretation was that uncleanness is something that comes from the feeling of deep discomfort with your surroundings or self, and purifying is your way of recovering from it without accepting it.

After the service, the attendees were encouraged to shake hands, exchange  names, and talk to each other. The individuals over twenty-one also engaged in verbringen, an Eastern European tradition of taking a shot of whisky after the service in order to assist the socialization. I enjoyed this social end to a beautiful and enlightening evening.

Thank you for reading and I hope you have some new knowledge or understanding,

Audrey Cole




Dearest blog readers,

I had  no access to Wi-Fi for this period of time, resulting in no posts. In summation, I have finished the most of the Torah section of the Tanakh.  My copy is the Oxford Press translation, The Jewish Study Bible. 

I have so many questions about the content of the Tanakh. I will hopefully receive some answers in my interviews .

I have contacted a Jewish Congregation, to see if I could attend one of their services.  They have not responded yet.

Thank you for reading World Religion Weekly,

Audrey Cole

Official First Day of Judaism

Dear Readers of World Religion Weekly,

Today I began researching Judaism. I read through the Book of Bereishit (Genesis), part of the Torah portion of the Tanakh. An online version of the Tanakh can be found here.

As an avid reader, I find it quite interesting. The sentence structure and diction are a bit unusual, but that is the nature of all translations.

Thanks for reading,

Audrey Cole