Cancel Culture in Shul?

Sunday, 27 June, 2021 - 9:32 pm


Question of the Week

My friends have been asking me to join them for a synagogue service for months.  I don't believe in G-d. I never pray. What could I possibly gain from attending synagogue?


You are implying that people go to synagogue to pray. Where did you get that idea from?

True, you will often see people praying in synagogue. But people also pray at home, in the street, at an airport or in a foxhole.

You don't need a synagogue to pray. And you don't need to pray to go to synagogue. This is clear from the very name "synagogue."

Synagogue comes from the Greek sunagoge which means "bring together." And if that's all Greek to you, the original Hebrew term is Beit Knesset, a house of gathering. It is not called a house of prayer, but a house of community connection.

The synagogue is where we meet old friends and make new ones. People who would otherwise never cross paths interact and get to know each other. It is one of the few places where everyone belongs. Young and old, rich and poor, familiar and strange, politically left and right, all are welcome in the synagogue.

When it comes to people with opposing views, the post-modern world has cancel culture, where other opinions are excluded. The Jewish world has kiddush culture, where we mix with all types, and become enriched by the experience. We create community just by being together under one roof.

That's why in Yiddish, the term for synagogue is shul, which means school. Shul is a place of learning about ourselves and others: who we are, what we are here for, and what really matters in life. These lessons may be picked up in formal classes taught by the rabbi, informal discussions with fellow congregants, or in silent moments of reverent self-reflection. Some might call that prayer. 

Of course, prayer does play a central role in synagogue life. And during prayer services is not the time to socialise. Even if you aren't sure about G-d, you can participate in that silent reflection. But by never attending synagogue at all, you miss out on the group energy, community spirit, collective identity and shared experiences that only a house of gathering has to offer. 

If you think synagogue is all about prayer, you should go to shul more often.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Moss

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