Our Reform Sanctuary Customs

Q:    When are Shabbat (Sabbath) services held?sanctuary
A:    Shabbat services are customarily held on Friday night at 7:30pm and Saturday morning at 10:30am. B’nai Mitzvah services begin at 10:00am and typically start on time. Service times may vary depending on the occasion. Check the Temple calendar on our website at www.bethtorah.net for the calendar of events. You may also request to be added to the weekly electronic mailing list which includes a schedule of all upcoming services and events.

Q:    How will I be greeted and how should I greet those I meet before and after services?
A:    When you enter the temple, you may be welcomed with one of the traditional Sabbath greetings, either Shabbat Shalom, which means “a peaceful Sabbath”, or Good Shabbos, which means “a good Sabbath”. It is appropriate to respond with either of these phrases.

Q:    What should I do with my cell phone?
A:    To honor the sanctity of Shabbat and show respect for the service and fellow congregants, all worshippers must turn off cell phones before entering the sanctuary.

Q:    What is the raised area in the sanctuary called? What ritual objects should I be aware of?
A:    The raised area in the center of the sanctuary, where services are conducted, is called the Bimah. On the Bimah is the most sacred place in the sanctuary, the Aron Kodesh  (Holy Ark), which houses the Torah scrolls. Above the Ark hangs the Ner Tamid (Eternal Light), which burns constantly as a reminder of G-d’s eternal presence.

Q:    Is photography allowed in the sanctuary?
A:    All photography, including the use of cell phones, regardless of flash, is not permitted in the sanctuary during services. On occasion, with pre-approval, photos of certain events may be taken after conclusion of the service.

Q:    Do I need a prayer book?
A:    All synagogues provide worshippers with a Siddur (prayer book). TBT uses the “Mishkan T’filah”, the newest Reform Siddur, which contains Hebrew, English and Hebrew transliteration of the Reform service. It also contains supplemental information and visitors are encouraged to follow along. During our Saturday morning service we also use “The Torah A Modern Commentary” (Chumash), which contains the five books of Moses and is used to follow the Torah and Haftarah (prophetic) readings.

Q:    Should I wear a Kippah?
A:    The tradition of wearing a head covering, a Kippah (skullcap or yarmulke), is a sign of respect and reverence for G-d. While optional for women, it is customary for men. Kippot (pl.) are provided at the entrance of the sanctuary.

Q:    Should I wear a Tallit?
A:    A Tallit is a prayer shawl which contains fringes on each corner called Tzitzit which remind us of G-d’s commandments. The tradition of wearing a Tallit varies widely within the Reform Movement. For worshippers, a tallit is only worn by Jews during Saturday Shabbat morning services or Holy Days. At TBT, out of respect for the congregation, it is our custom that Jewish people are required to wear a tallit if on the Bimah to recite an Aliyah (blessings before and after the Torah reading) or at any time a congregant is holding the Torah. A rack of tallitot (pl.) for use by visitors is available just inside the sanctuary. Tallitot should never be worn into the restroom (hooks are provided).

Note: For the honor of lifting the Torah, holding the Torah and leading an Aliyah, the Jewish honoree should wear a tallit and kippah.    

Q:    Will I be expected to participate in the service? How will I know what to do?
A:    The Rabbi or Cantor will announce the page you should be on and indicate when you are to stand or sit. However, be aware that everyone is expected to stand when the Ark is open.

    During Shabbat services, congregants may be called to the Bimah to assist in the service by blessing the Shabbat candles, opening and closing the Ark, holding the Torah for the MiShebeirach or reciting an Aliyah. These honors are prearranged and you do not need to be concerned that you might suddenly be invited to the Bimah without warning.

    During the Saturday morning service, before the reading of the Torah, there is a procession with the Torah scroll around the sanctuary. This procession is called the hakafah. At that time you may see congregants reach out and, as the Torah passes, touch it with their prayer book or the corner of their prayer shawl. This custom conveys reverence for the Torah, and although it is a Jewish custom, no one is obligated to participate.

    If called up for an Aliyah, the Jewish member(s) should begin by kissing the Torah with their Tallit or use the Torah belt, prior to reciting the blessing. A transliterated version of the blessing will be available on the Bimah. Following the Torah reading the honoree(s) should repeat kissing the Torah prior to reciting the blessing after the reading. Non-Jews may be included in an Aliyah.

Q:  What if I am asked to open the Ark doors?
A: The Rabbi will call up the honorees to open the Ark doors. Once the doors are open, take your prompt from the Rabbi; at times you will return to your seat, and at others you will remain on the Bimah and close the doors following that section of the service. One is not required to wear a tallit or kippah when opening the Ark if you are not Jewish. Everyone over the age of thirteen is welcome to participate in this honor. Children may accompany adults.

Q:    When should I enter or exit the sanctuary?
A:    Our most reverential times occur when standing, so people should avoid exiting or entering the sanctuary at such times.     This is especially true when the Ark is open, the Torah is being read, the D’var Torah (sermon) is delivered or congregants are reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish.

Q:    What are the guidelines for accepted dress at Shabbat services?
A:    We honor the sanctity of Shabbat by wearing appropriate attire. Customarily, business attire such as a suit, dress, nice slacks or a skirt and shirt or sweater is suitable. Women’s shoulders should be covered if on the Bimah. On occasion more casual attire may be appropriate.

Q:    What happens after the service?

A:    At the conclusion of Shabbat worship, refreshments are served. Before eating we say blessings over the wine/juice and challah. On Friday evening, this gathering is called an Oneg Shabbat, which literally means “the joy of the Sabbath”. On Saturday morning, it is called Kiddush, which is also the term for the blessing over the Sabbath wine. Everyone, both members and visitors, are welcome to attend and enjoy the Oneg and the Kiddush. It is also an opportunity to meet the Rabbi, Cantor and members of the congregation.

Q:     Who should I contact if I have any questions about these customs or membership in Temple Beth Torah?
A:    The Membership Chair will return any messages left on the Temple voicemail. The President can be reached at President@bethtorah.net.