Primary menu

A Jewish perspective on Church

Debbie Young-Somers's picture

Tags Associated with article


I am always amused when people ask me about Jewish churches, partly because we have synagogues, and Christians have churches, but also because the synagogue I grew up in used to be a church and we worked very hard to make it more like a synagogue (even though the building was cross-shaped!)


Together or alone?

Community life has traditionally been very important to Jews. On the one hand, any Jew can pray alone, and any family can fulfil many of the commandments independently. This has often been seen as being connected with the Jewish people's success in living in exile for 2000 years - we don't need a rabbi to perform our rituals. Nonetheless, if a person can pray in a community, it is considered preferable, and there are a few prayers that cannot be said without a quorum of 10 (men in Orthodox Judaism, people in Progressive Judaism). Communities are also particularly important when someone dies, as friends and fellow members will bring food to the mourners' home so they don't have to think about preparing food for the first intense week of mourning. Communities also make keeping kosher easier because it's worthwhile having a butcher and a baker only if you have a critical mass of people.


Synagogues today offer a variety of services, from life-cycle and ritual events, to education and social provision. However it is increasingly a struggle for some communities to attract participants, and many are beginning to challenge old modes of thinking, and are introducing alternative services and a diversity of events, from social action to barn dances!


Modern Jewish communities

Jewish communities before modern times were, through the nature of the societies in which Jews lived, particularly in Europe, often rather inward-looking. Today Jews are accepted as citizens, and communities are rarely the inward-looking shtetls (villages) or ghettos (areas of a town set aside for one group) that they used to be. Sometimes they are very spread-out, and as a result new forms of communities are developing, such as a ‘face-book synagogue' and Jewdas - a radical Jewish satire and learning group. Some families regularly meet for Sabbath meals, but don't attend a synagogue, or women meet once a month to celebrate the New Moon. These new communities are bringing an element of choice and diversity to the Jewish community that is very exciting. They are also a response to the changing nature of our communities, not only geographically, but also in terms of how people are living today: families are not always what or how we would have defined them 50 years ago, and women's role in communities has shifted in many areas, and this has in turn changed communities.


One person, many communities

My community is very important to me, though as a young adult I have several different communities: There is the community I grew up in, who knew me as a child, and watched me grow into an adult, there is a community of young adults who go to different alternative services together, there is the community of my family and my husband's family, there is the Jewish community in general. But I am also a member of non-Jewish communities: I am a member of the local community where I live, I am a member of the fans of Saracens rugby club, I am a member of my university alumni community and so on. My community has helped me become who I am today, but they are not my only community, nor the only part that makes up who I am.

Post new comment

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Glossary terms will be automatically marked with links to their descriptions. If there are certain phrases or sections of text that should be excluded from glossary marking and linking, use the special markup, [no-glossary] ... [/no-glossary]. Additionally, these HTML elements will not be scanned: a, abbr, acronym, code, pre.
  • Insert Flickr images: [flickr-photo:id=230452326,size=s] or [flickr-photoset:id=72157594262419167,size=m].

More information about formatting options