Synagogues aren’t primarily community centres

Mill Hill United synagogue under Covid restrictions, including social distancing and masks (Credit: Marc Morris via Jewish News)
Mill Hill United synagogue under Covid restrictions, including social distancing and masks (Credit: Marc Morris via Jewish News)
Rabbi Jonathan Romain, the minister of the Maidenhead synagogue, has told us that the truth is out. That synagogues don’t speak to the vast majority of Jews because they are too prayer-based. He tells us to recognise that the main Hebrew term for synagogue is as a place of meeting and that place of prayer is only the second, and therefore lesser, description.
Now for thousands of years the Christian tried to convert the Jews, but we’re still here. We now know that the mistake they made was not to get the Jews to reduce the synagogue to a meeting place. Of course, Rabbi Romain is wrong; the synagogue originated with the temple and it is first described as a place of worship. Would Rabbi Romain like to contradict me?
It was Moses, and Ezra in the 4th century, who created Monday and Thursday services to recount the pentateuch three times a week, so that it is always studied; the rules in the pentateuch are sacrosanct. Instead Rabbi Romain offers Film evenings on Sunday and Israeli dancing on Tuesday. I presume you don’t need a minyan to say kaddish when you have yahrzeit, otherwise you’ll need an Orthodox community.
Judaism is a difficult religion to observe. Nobody can argue with that. What makes it easier though is if you make all the rules optional. You don’t have to lay tephillin, but if you like Israeli dancing, Rabbi Romain can provide you with an enjoyable evening. Only eating Kosher is optional as well and indeed the official Reform history has said that; ”We recognise that individuals will come to their own decisions.”
The Church should have got us to set up a business plan, like Maidenhead. We are told by Rabbi Romain that this will enable the synagogue to be rebranded from primarily being a house of prayer to being a community centre.
Now, of course, it might be said that the truth is out that Reform Judaism is not a religion. Nobody argues with the Oxford English Dictionary and the definition of the word Religion is “The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power. A particular system of faith and worship.” According to the Oxford Dictionary there has to  be a particular system.
You can, of course, decide what is your own particular system. You can come to your own decision. It’s a free country, but if everybody can have their own system, then surely you have thousands and thousands of systems, not a single religon.  How is there any agreement on the content of a synagogue service if, for all you know, almost all the congregation disagrees with one prayer or another. Shouldn’t there be a referendum to decide the content of the service, and every member of the community centre have an equal vote?
Of course, you can run a country that way. You do have a general agreement on the laws of the land, formulated over the years. I don’t happen to agree with the limited number of cigars you can import but if I break the law, I will be committing an offence. The simple solution for me, if we adopt Rabbi Romain’s concept, is to abolish the law.
It seems  quite likely that 100,000 Brits will die of coronavirus. They all caught it from somebody else, because  someone decided to follow their own system and transmitted the virus by not isolating. Forming your own system could be described as anarchy, but then we are told by Rabbi Romain that we are “shouting heresy. “ Those who disagree with us are shouting; those who agree with us are, presumably, rational and moderate. The choice of language is unfortunate.
What seems to have been forgotten is that over 2,000 years, the only Jewish families who have survived are the Orthodox. The Reform has only been in existence since 1815 and making laws optional make intermarriage optional as well. You may give up the religion, but you keep your own system. Of course, we lose Orthodox Jews as well, but we haven’t got the excuse  that we’re just members of a community centre and can make it up as we go along.
A synagogue is not, primarily,  a community centre. To learn the faith, however, we might remember one other Orthodox law. You can sell a synagogue to build a school, but you can’t sell a school to build a synagogue. A synagogue is there to teach and practice the religion; not to have a community centre.
About the Author
Derek is an author & former editor of the Jewish Year Book
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