Back in late November, I gave blood at Temple Shalom Medford. A woman (talking to someone else) mentioned that this Temple has a Torah study from 9:30-10am on Saturday morning before service, and obviously I perk up at religious textual study. Due to being out of town or wanting to sleep in, this is the first Saturday I've actually made it up there.
I got there a few minutes after 9:30, but the study definitely hadn't started yet. It's the holiday weekend kicking off February school vacation, so attendance was rather sparse.
I flipped through the big red Etz Hayim while I waited. Yay commentary.
The parsha was the revelation at Sinai (Exodus 18:1 - 20:23). Apparently the parsha's called "Yitro," which is Jethro in English -- Moses' father-in-law, who was a Mideanite but who gave Moses lots of good advice about governing the Israelites. Jethro doesn't actually get mentioned at all in this Torah portion, so I was a little confused, but I'd forgotten about that by the time I would have had a chance to ask.
I was actually a little surprised that we read it aloud in English. We stopped partway through (in part because of time constraints, I think), and the rabbi said that your interpretation of what happened at Sinai influences everything -- e.g., whether you think it's the verbatim word of God, or whether you think it was written by divinely inspired humans. He talked about how there is rarely one "Jewish" interpretation of a verse or story. He talked about how, for example, the rabbis would never say that something in the Torah is incorrect but they would often narrow the scope of something -- like the statement that a son who rebels against his parents is to be taken out to the gates of the city and stoned to death, they would say that he would have to be a drunk and a glutton, and there would have to be two witnesses not related to him or to each other, and he would have had to have been warned a certain number of times. A lot of the stuff he said about this specific Torah portion I noticed was in the commentary in the book. He said there's a tradition that God actually holds the mountain above the people and says: if you accept this, things will go well for you; if you don't, your grave will be there. Another tradition points out that it says "there," not "here," and interprets that as saying that if they don't keep the Torah they will die out as a people, not that they will be killed right then and there (and also interprets the floating mountain as providing shade for the people -- i.e., a caring rather than threatening gesture). Apparently there is also a tradition that the people did not accept the covenant until Purim.
At one point in conversation in between study and service, someone (the rabbi, I think) mentioned that there are Hasidim that take their names from cities in Europe so there's a Hasidim that translates as "Saint Mary's Hasidim." Someone else quipped, "She was a good Jew" :)
It took a while for us to get a minyan. The first time someone did a count I said, "I don't count" (because I'm not Jewish) and an older woman who had come in with me said, "You do count -- just not for a minyan" :) At one point when we still didn't have a minyan, I thought of Jesus' "where two or three of you are gathered" and wondered if that was interpreted as rendering null the minyan rules for the early followers.
I was reminded of [Christian] Orthodox services, with all the singing/chanting, and also of Catholic services, with my lack of understanding what was going on (I was sitting in the front row, 'cause we'd rearranged the chairs in the chapel after Torah study, and that happened to be where my chair ended up -- this proved problematic in discerning when to rise and when to sit, though most times the rabbi explicitly said to rise or sit), and the little blue book that isn't a Book of Common Prayer, and the Adoration of the written Word.
It was all in Hebrew (which I now want to learn) except for one prayer for Israel (Medinat Yisrael) and one segment where we went around and lifted up names of people in need of healing. The rabbi said because it's Shabbat we don't raise any petitions, but we hope for healing etc. for these folks (and I appreciated that he specified both physical and non).
The Haftarah was Isaiah 6:1-7:6. It was weird to have an entire service where there didn't seem to be any commentary on the Scripture (though the website has links).
Announcements included that there's gonna be a Learner's Service, Saturday February 28, at 9:30am. I plan to return for that. (I'm not sure how much I would get out of worshiping there regularly, since I didn't actually know what was being said -- I did a lot of reading the English on the facing page, though near the end of the service I could at least follow along with the transliterations.)
After service, we went to fellowship hall for kiddush.
A guy walked around holding a tray of soft plastic shot glasses of sweet red wine, and I saw that on the table was a loaf of bread under a cloth. I felt like I was at Communion. There was a bunch of Hebrew and then we drank the wine and then a woman cut the bread and a guy salted it and brought it around we each took a piece (it was challah bread! have I had challah bread since Smith? maybe once.) and there was more Hebrew and then we dispersed and got snacks. I got some cookies and "sweet and spicy herbal tea" which tasted like it had cinnamon red hots.
People initiated conversation with me, and I ended up staying until the last people left. (I wasn't quite first-in last-out, but the rabbi and I were the last people to leave the building -- at about 1:20pm.) Someone mentioned their young adult group. haha. (You bet I signed up for the listserv, though.)
I felt a little oogy being like, "Yeah, I'm Christian, I wanted to check out the Torah study, and I wish I knew more about Judaism since it is part of my history/tradition in a sense." I mean, I don't think I am actually being all culturally appropriative -- we share some of the same texts, and I'm interested in textual interpretations and commentaries; my tradition is, as someone said before service, a "spin-off" of Judaism, so it's legit for me to want to understand that history better -- but I still feel a little weird being like a cultural anthropologist or something. But everyone was really nice and welcoming.