August 29, 2012
What Do You Want to Know About Synagogues?
I recently received the Fall edition of Reform Judaism magazine, and quickly came across the article, “What Do You Know…about Synagogues?” on page 10. The Editor’s note at the start of the article says, “This is the first article in a series designed to increase your Jewish knowledge in an interesting way.”
That sounded good, so I quickly began to read the series of questions. And I was thoroughly disappointed with what I found there.
Instead of a list of interesting questions that would actually have a chance – and I mean any chance at all – of increasing the reader’s knowledge about Judaism, it was instead a list of completely useless trivia questions. The kind I hate the most.
Rather than questions whose answers would help a person to learn about synagogue buildings, rituals, or life, they are mostly “gotcha” historical questions that have absolutely no bearing on Jewish life as it is lived today. What a wasted opportunity.
Then I thought, “Well, if I were going to write a quiz under that name, what would I write? Could I come up with ten questions that have some actual educational value, as well as relevance?” The answer is, “Why yes, I could.” See below:
1. What feature does a building need to have in order to be considered a synagogue?
2. Who in a synagogue is considered to be part of the clergy?
3. Who may conduct a synagogue prayer service?
4. Where are the Torah scrolls kept in a synagogue?
5. Where in a synagogue are old, unusable documents with God’s name on them kept before they can be disposed of properly?
6. What can you find in any synagogue over the place where the Torah scrolls are kept?
7. Is it proper to put a mezuzah on the doorpost of a synagogue?
8. Is there a traditional prayer for a person to say upon entering a synagogue?
9. Who should wear a kippah (yarmulke) in a Reform synagogue?
10. Who should wear a prayer shawl (tallit) in a Reform synagogue for daytime services?
Tell me, honestly, which list, either the magazine’s or mine, do you think has a better chance to increase a person’s Jewish knowledge in a useful or meaningful way? Why isn’t the difference obvious to the editors of the magazine?