Sunday, March 22, 2009

Shalom Shabbat! - Visiting a Messianic Jewish Service

The Shofar

I convinced Isaac to join me in visiting Baruch HaShem Messianic Jewish Synagogue on on Saturday morning for their shabbat (sabbath) service. We really had no idea what to expect, but it WAS SO COOL.

messianic synagogue in dallas, tx

We were greeted on the way in by multiple cheery "Shabbat Shalom" greetings, and walked into a nice sanctuary that we found out later houses one of largest messianic congregations in the world. It felt like arriving at a Sunday morning church service in most respects, but it was also strikingly different. Scattered around the room between people wearing jeans and t-shirts were men wearing kippot (skull caps) and tallit (a white prayer shawl with stripes on the end). Some of the tallits were embroidered with Hebrew, sometimes with the shema (the passage that says "hear oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart... etc.).

The entire service they said Yeshua instead of Jesus, and used words like Adonai, HaShem (the Name), Tanakh (the Old Testament), and they always wrote out "G-d" instead of spelling out the whole word. Songs and scripture passages were written in Hebrew script, transliterated Hebrew, and then English. In the sermon they referred to "Rav Sha'ul" several times before I realized they were talking about Paul, since "Rav" means teacher, and Sha'ul is the Hebrew for Saul.

It was so fascinating. The congregation was the most diverse congregation I have ever seen. Beside us were a hippie couple with tats and dreadlocks. In front of them was a big Hispanic family. To our left were a couple of white guys. In front of us, two exuberant African American women, and next to them a serious young Asian man. And the age range - young kids, from just weeks old all the way up to a good number of teens, lots of families and then white-haired and bearded old men and their wives.

When the music started it was ... just beautiful. In many ways its similar to an evangelical service - they had the band up front with a few singers, and the congregation singing and clapping along, and some people raising their hands. But it was very different too - it is different seeing people raise their hands knowing that it is a Jewish act of worship that has been done for literally millennia. Half the words were in Hebrew and the melodies were the haunting melodies that I've heard before from Jewish communities - they have a distinct middle-eastern flavor.

This video is from youtube, and I'm not sure what's up with the crazy dance music going on, but the footage gives you a feel for something similar to what we saw on Saturday...

Women and children from all over the congregation gathered and began weaving through the aisle, dancing gracefully. It's odd because Isaac and I have never attended a church where people danced, so it's a little weird for us, but this dancing was so beautiful - it reminded me most of trees swaying in the breeze. Most of the women and teens moved in sync, and the children fumbled beside them, watching their every move and attempting to imitate. It was beautiful. The dancing continued through all of the singing and all of it had such a tone of exuberant celebration and also reverential joy. In one song one of the lines talked about the shofar, which is the old Middle Eastern ram's horn. Well, when they got to that line from somewhere in the congregation someone blew a shofar; the long, lonely, haunting sound gave me goosebumps... I wish I could show you guys a good youtube video but I couldn't find one that was similar enough.

Isaac and I agreed later that both of us got really emotional during the music time. The combination of sensory overload and these ancient, ancient psalms being sung in Hebrew, the language of Yeshua/Jesus himself, by the people of God who sing TO THEIR MESSIAH... Isaac and I were both just overwhelmed with this great privilege of seeing the people that God calls to Himself. The rabbi is the son of Holocaust survivors, and most of the congregation is ethnically Jewish. Not only are they from that persecuted minority, but they are persecuted within their own minority for believing that Jesus is the Messiah. Chanting the Shem'a together with one booming voice of proclamation was... I don't even know how to describe it.

I loved the importance of family and children. Not only did the children dance alongside the adult women, but during the recitation of the Aaronic priestly blessing at the end, the men would gather their family around them in the row and then spread their prayer shawl over the family as the blessing was said. The same thing was done before they dismissed the kids to the kid's lesson - the elders gathered around all the children and surrounded the group with prayer shawls and blessed and prayed for them.

Kriat haTorah - Reading the torah

The other amazing thing was watching their reverence for the Torah, the Word of God. There was quite a bit of ceremony and ritual that was done in Hebrew by the elders before carefully taking down the huge scrolls and walking them out into the people, who gathered around and waited in line to reach out and touch the scrolls. They were careful to declare that they were not worshiping the scrolls themselves, they were showing their great respect and adoration for the Word of God, and emphasized that Jesus is also the Word of God. The scripture was chanted in a lyrical cadence that to me was most similar to the Muslim call to prayer of my childhood in Indonesia... Ironic. :)

In one song while the women were dancing around the congregation, I looked up and saw a woman I recognized from the bus. She is a short little lady that just overflows with energy and happiness and talks to everyone around her, including the black high school kids and the little Hispanic moms (she speaks fluent Spanish). She and I and my Jehovah's Witness friend usually got in a bit of conversation every morning before the bus got there, and we all talked in terms of our faith, which drives all of our lives. However, I know that despite all talking about God, I was at least talking in very different terms then my JW friend, and I wasn't sure what this woman really believed. When she saw me across the room she broke out of line, RAN to me and gave me a HUGE hug and then another one, and we both laughed with joy. She said, "welcome to MY world, I'm so glad you're here!" And afterward she brought me over to meet her friend that grew up in Malaysia.

It was quite an experience - I LOVED it. I have never been to anything Jewish other then a wedding, and yet it all felt like something I was familiar with but had never seen. I decided that was because I've received a pretty good education on 2nd Temple Judaism, but also because I've read a lot of Jewish literature. The only difference was that these Jews were also claiming Jesus as Messiah and King. It was fun for Isaac both because he got to see and hear the Hebrew he's learning, but also fun for both of us to see our own history as ingrafted branches into this chosen people of God.


kediger said...

Ooo...thanks for the cafe recommendation. I'm now perusing your Yelp reviews and bookmarking new places to try.

Kaycee said...

This is really cool. I love reading about traditional ceremonies.

I just finished reading about the different Jewish sects, so this is interesting.

I wonder why the maker of that dance video felt compelled to add techno music. I'm sure the traditional music was better.

Togenberg said...

How cool!

I am so curious!

Do they use Aramaic at all or simply Tannak Hebrew? Do they accept the Mishna and Talmud or do they differ from most Jews in that respect. How are they treated by other Christians in Dallas?

I know what you mean about the adhan and the rhythmic similarities to Judaism. You can see how close they are linguistically and stylistically (relative to western Christianity, esp post-modern suburban Christianity). Super cool KC

Anonymous said...

Im A memeber of Baruch hashem the synagogue ur talking about and uve been since i was a baby i was bar mitzvahed there and i still atend today yes im an messianic Jew.
LOL Rabbi Marty waldmen
not Pastor

Anonymous said...

im sorry ive been a memeber since i was a baby