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Congregation Beth Shalom of the Blue Hills

Serving the Jewish Community of: Milton, Quincy, Boston, Hyde Park, Dorchester, Roslindale, Braintree & Surrounding Areas

Balancing Communal Norms with Individual Autonomy or…

On the Count of 3, Let’s All Sing Adon Olam!

Dear Congregation Beth Shalom of the Blue Hills Mishpacha,

As Pam Shrago wrote in her report about the goings on of the Ritual Committee, a lot of discussion has been taking place the past several months about the “Avirah Ruchanit” or “Spiritual Atmosphere” we want to create in our new home.

As an independent congregation, made up of Jews with different perspectives (nothing new there!) who take being Jewish to heart each in their own way, we had long, in depth, philosophical discussions about finding a balance that respects both long standing communal norms and the desires of each person as an autonomous, self-defining human being.  We also talked a lot about public and private space and public and private time.  It was a privilege to be part of these conversations and I can assure you that a wide range of perspectives was shared.  No ideas were off the table and it was wonderful to see the level of mutual respect those on the committee showed for one another.  For this we have reason to be justifiably proud.

When it comes to understanding the dynamic relationship between private versus public space and time, it seemed obvious to us that it’s perfectly fine for a person to sing anything they want and as loudly as they want in the shower, but that it’s not OK for a person to do so while attending a BSO concert.  Similarly, while a person might have a favorite melody for Adon Olam, when the Hazan starts singing a different melody at the end of the service, there is an implicit agreement that everyone will accept that choice and either join in, sit quietly or, if necessary, walk out as unobtrusively as possible.  Of course, it is perfectly fine to speak to the appropriate decision makers to request that your preferred melody be chosen once in a while and that your request be integrated into the repertoire.

We also identified times on Shabbat and Holidays when it is appropriate for the balance to shift more toward individual preferences.  For example, after services are over when a family hosts a private luncheon in the building.  Here the consensus was that while some communal norms must apply at all times, others need not take precedence.  That is why we now permit photography and music once a private function has begun.

Given this as introduction, here are some of the policies the Ritual Committee and I, with agreement from the Executive Board, have put in place.  As always our policies are a work in progress and we welcome comments and suggestions.

Music – We now permit non-electronic, instrumental music that enhances the spiritual feeling of our services or other spiritual experiences.  After the Congregational Kiddush is over (approx. 1:15pm) live and/or electronic music are permitted at a private family function.

Food, Glorious Food – Our congregation has made a commitment to maintain a strictly Kosher Kitchen at all times.  No “outside” food, drink, coffee/tea cups, etc. are permitted inside the kitchen without prior approval of the Rabbi.  Only Kosher Caterers/accommodators are authorized to come into the building and use the kitchen.  Dairy or parve food/snacks from home can be brought in and eaten in our Gallery space or outside in the Sukkah.  In other words, no shellfish or meat/foul are to come into the building from home – even if you keep a kosher home!!  For your information all synagogue staff, including the Rabbi, has made the commitment to only bring dairy or parve food into the building from home.

Live Fire – Since Shabbat and Holidays symbolically begin with the lighting of candles and end when another candle, the Havdallah candle, is lit, no live flame is permitted on Shabbat and Holidays in the building or on Temple property.  In addition, smoking is not permitted in our building or property at any time. 

Money – In keeping with the spiritual focus of Shabbat and Holidays, no business dealings are to take place in the synagogue during these times.  This includes the use of money, credit cards or the writing of checks. 

Photography / Cell phones / Writing / Sign-In Boards – Photography or the use of cell phones (except in the case of an emergency) are not permitted in the synagogue during Shabbat or Holiday services or during Kiddush.  Once a private function has begun, photography and cell phones are permitted.  Sign-In Boards/Writing is not permitted at any time during Shabbat and Holidays.  A spiritual priority of these days is to deepen relationships through direct, face to face, personal encounters, not to send messages through a one-sided, stand-alone medium.

Parallel Spiritual Experiences – A person’s spirituality can be expressed in many ways.  Our goal is to help people do so in a way that is both genuine and informed by the wisdom and beauty of our tradition.  With that in mind, we encourage the creation of parallel spiritual experiences such as yoga, nature hikes and meditation in our synagogue or on the property during service times on Shabbat and Holidays.  If they so choose, these programs can integrate electronic or instrumental music.  Care must be taken that the sound of one spiritual experience not interfere with any other taking place at the same time.   

Community Cohesiveness – In order to maintain and strengthen the cohesiveness of our community, we have decided that it is a priority that all parallel spiritual programs end in enough time for all to then join together for Kiddush, HaMotzi and any congregational, sit-down luncheon.  Schmoozing time between and amongst those in our congregation, especially between generations, is a value in and of itself.

I sincerely hope this report gives you insight into how much the people involved in this process respect the dynamic nature of our community and of the tradition we feel so blessed to have as our inheritance.  As always, stay tuned…