The Synagogue

Earlier today our group experienced a new part of Israeli culture- the Orthodox Jewish Synagogue. As we entered into the traditional style synagogue men and women were separated, as usual. But it was even more strict than other sites. The women have to wear dresses or skirts while the men have to wear dress clothes and a kippa. Upon entrance, we departed from each other. The men disappeared into the crowd of other men, while the women went up several staircases to the high balcony. From that moment on, I knew that this service would change so much about my views of men and women.

As I sat in a hard wooden seat in the balcony, I leaned in as much as I could to try to hear the soft voice from below. But I was also distracted by the men staring up the girls from our group. They were not staring out of lust or desire- not even curiosity. The women in the balcony did the same. Upon our group’s arrival to this area we have been nothing but Gentiles in the land of the chosen people. At this service I felt “unclean”. I was a Gentile.

I tried with so much effort to listen and pay attention to the service, but I had many issues that I dealt with. Aside from the stares of everyone at the service, the location for the women was enough of an issue on its own. The balcony seating for women allows for little to no understanding of the service below on the main level. Kids were like animals running around the balcony while their mothers had not a care in the world. Some women fervently were praying and silently reading the scripture to themselves. However, most women were in the midst of conversation with the women around them. The balcony was high up therefore hearing the rabbi was rather difficult- no microphone was used [it was also only in Hebrew]. The only moments I could actually hear the service and halfway understand what was occurring was when the men below would sing songs which echoed beautifully in the building.

Throughout the entire service, I thought of several things. In 1 Corinthians [several chapters], Paul reverences how women need to remain silent. In today’s Christianity, but more specifically because of my current location, Judaism, scriptures such as 1 Cor. 14 have been misinterpreted and used incorrectly. At the synagogue, so much became clear to me. Historically speaking, the reason women were not allowed to speak was for the reason I listed above: women were in higher balconies therefore not a being able to hear clearly what the rabbi was saying as well as the distractions of children. Frankly women were uneducated and had no idea what was occurring and that is why, back then, depending on the setup, women were unable to speak up. Once again, by scripture and now history, my calling as a female preacher is validated. No one can dare tell me otherwise- I know who I am in God.

But even further I sat there wondering even more. Do these women sit here and wish things were different? Are these women captive by the law and their rigid structure or are they captivated by it all? Do they even care because they know nothing else? They survive in this world full of structure. I am not sure what to think. I take this even further. These Jews seem so focused on rules and ritual and yet do they even feel anything? After almost 2 weeks of being here in Israel I know the answer. It would be so hard for me to think that their worship, obedience and discipline would be all in vain. I definitely feel that these Jews, these orthodox believers, love God with their heart and mind. They have a reverence, obedience, and honor for God that I have never seen before, even among Christians. I have learned something so profound here: regardless of ritual or structure, God can meet the needs of those that ask. God does not reside in the law [alone] nor does he remain bound to structure. Even this, I believe, that if these men and women are content in their ways of life, I encourage them to remain obedient and disciplined. If God can meet me in America at some suburban church, God can surely meet these Jews in their synagogue. Just as He hears my prayers, He will hear the prayers of anyone desperate. The veil has been torn, as I saw in the Temple, but the Holy of Holies is still present. I can feel God here so much, in ways I could have never imagined.

I know Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to Father except through me.” But as I asked earlier, is their worship in vain? I honestly don’t think so. I firmly believe Jesus is the Way, but will God accept those that are so devoted to Him [God] without having not accepted Christ? I have no idea. I struggle with this. Jews are the chosen people. So to this I leave up to God entirely. I cannot make a judgment. I pray that their Hebrew songs are a beautiful aroma before God. As God says throughout the scripture, he will restore his people.

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