Question. I have often wondered why my synagogue is so active and busy but not in a spiritual sense. I feel more spiritual in my garden. Is there something wrong with me?
Answer. Possibly. Maybe you miss the sense of sanctity that comes from sitting in shule and meditating or looking around you and seeing the spiritual potential in every part of the synagogue and indeed in everyone present.
But the fault can also be with your synagogue. If it makes busyness its top priority, is a mere community centre or concert hall and emphasises financial viability at the expense of piety, it has become a secular institution without religion.
The American theologian Eugene Borowitz said,
“Secular Judaism, which could not dominate American Judaism under its own name, now may do so under the auspices of the synagogue… The average synagogue and the large synagogue organisations do not redeem this situation by the example of their own religiosity… The American Jew may belong, but he does not believe much… There are countless creative reasons for avoiding God.”
In your shule, does anyone secrete him- or herself in a corner and commune with their own heart, soul and mind, and God? Does anyone weep when they pray (indeed does anyone pray at all)? Does anyone cry out when they think of the pain of the world and say,
“God, are Your ears closed and Your eyes averted?”
Is your congregation deathly silent when the cantor performs and the choir commences its well-rehearsed responses? Is the rabbi a mere MC who announces the page, a book or film reviewer who gives smooth ten-minute op-eds… or a passionate prophet who says,
“Thus saith the Lord”?
Do they really let God into your synagogue or prefer to manage the world without the embarrassment of His presence?
Maybe you should stay in your garden after all.
Question. Why does a bride wear a veil at her wedding?
Answer. It originated with Rebekah, who covered her face with a veil when she saw Isaac, her husband-to-be (Gen. 24:65).
As with almost every custom, one hears a range of rationalisations of the veil. Perhaps it shows that the bride’s beauty is only for her husband to see. Others see it as a mark of modesty.
It might even be connected with the practice of covering the eyes with the hand when saying the first line of the Sh’ma, which enables a person to concentrate on the holiness of the moment and to prevent distractions. The wedding is a sacred experience, not to be intruded upon by anything extraneous.
There are times when the moments before the ceremony are disturbed by people bothering the bride with questions about hair-do, make-up and flowers, as if all that mattered was the superficialities of appearance and stage-management.
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. Now retired and lives in Jerusalem.