Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What Church Services Have Taught Me About Prayer

When I was at Yeshiva University, a professor of mine, Dr. Steven Fine, posed a challenge to me: how could I call myself a medieval scholar if I had never actually been inside of a church? As he saw it, if I was going to study Christianity I needed direct, first hand experience of it. And so he gave me a special assignment that at some point in the school year I had to enter a church.
I have taken his words to heart and I now have made church hopping an occasional hobby of mine. I attend different church services sporting my usual OSU baseball cap so I am not obviously recognizable as being Jewish. I have been to different types of churches, Catholic, Protestant and Episcopalian. There is a wonderful revivalist service here on campus every Sunday night at 6:30. It reminds me a lot of Emunat Yisroel in Boro Park. There is lots of singing and the people there are really nice. Anyone interested in learning how to create a vibrant religious service, that can reach out to people, should come see this church group.
I find that going to church is a a good way to practice the sort of open mindedness that I preach. It also offers a wonderful opportunity to talk to/ambush Christians by getting them into discussions dealing with theological minefields. It amazes me to no end how little most Christians know about their own religion.
In addition to making me a more knowledgeable and worldly individual, going to church has helped me in my Judaism by making me appreciate certain aspects of prayer that one might miss growing up praying in an Orthodox shul. The first lesson I have learned is that music really adds something to a service. Music makes everything much more exciting and it gets people involved. We, the Orthodox Jewish community, pay a price because we do not have music. The second thing church has taught me is that praying in English is really lame. One should not be praying to the Almighty in the same tongue that you use every day. You should have a special language to come to God. Being a believer should require some work. Is it too much to ask that people learn a foreign language? Now I am very open to suggestions. You want to pray in Hebrew, Hebrew is a beautiful language, so is Latin. I don't know any Greek but my friends tell me that it is interesting. When I hear Christians, particularly Catholics say something as basic as the Lord's Prayer in English I feel betrayed. What do you mean you people cannot be bothered to study Latin? As a protest I recite Pater Noster under my breath. Stupid Christians, dumbing down their own religion.
I have a lot of respect for Christian theology. I guess it has become my pure intellectual alternative universe Judaism. To all you Christians out there: You have a beautiful religion. Why don't you bother to actually study it? For that matter to all you Jews out there: You have a religion that even manages to make sense most of the time. Please sit down and study it.


A former Columbus Resident said...

What do you do about the prohibition of entering a church let alone attending their services? Have your Father and Grandfather poskined that this is permissable?

Izgad said...

One I am doing this as part of my academic training. This puts me in a very different position than your average Jew on the street. I have to do what I do otherwise I could not do the sort of history that I do.
Two, I do not assume that modern day Christianity is idol worship. The majority of Christians that I know do not have the theological sophistication to actually be idolaters. The ones who do have a background in theology are smart enough to avoid idolatry.
So for all intents and purposes I do not assume that there is a real live prohibition that I should be worried about.
If all else fails of course I could simply declare mea culpa like any good Catholic. :)

Anonymous said...

first of all, it is EMUNAS!! Secondly, as long as the churches are Orthodox [Russian or Greek- we are all fruit]and you don't eat at the kiddush.

Izgad said...

I stand corrected it should be Emunuas. Forgive me for not speaking Yeshivish. So you my dear reader are familiar both with Emunas Yisroel and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Very Interesting! :)
So can I eat at a Russian Orthodox kiddush? :)

James Pate said...

I had Dr. Fine for a University of Cincinnati class, and he encouraged me to go to an orthodox Jewish synagogue. So I guess you and I have something in common, is a reverse sort of way.

A former Columbus Resident said...

There are many questions I would love to ask you about your unusual (for an Orthodox Jew) attraction to other religions. Here are a few.

1) What benefit to you see in "ambushing" Christians? How is their any Kiddush Hashem in making them feel ignorant of their own religion? We as Jews should not be telling them how to worship any more than they should be telling us how to worship.

2) Why do you look to other religions for motivation? What do you perceive to be lacking your own religion? If you need motivation then leave Columbus and go to Eretz Yisroel or minimally the greater New York area.

3) How do you view the fact that you grew up in an "out-of-town" community such as Columbus and the education you received there as influencing your interest in Christianity?

Tobie said...

Interesting. Does this mean that you would have been against the resurrection of the Hebrew language in the modern state?

Also, by use of music, do you specifically instrumental? Because there are plenty of Orthodox communities that use music in one way or another, from chazzanut to Carlebach to the Yemenite recitation of all prayers out-loud, in unison, in a specific chant.

Izgad said...

Not that I would have opposed resurrecting Hebrew as a modern language, but I suspect that I would have been more of a supporter of putting Yiddish or even Aramaic as the official language of the Jewish state.
Maybe we should have made Latin the official language. That would have really stuck it to the gentiles. Maybe if we would have done that than all the WASPS would have recognized how civilized we were and anti-Semitism would have ended. (Just kidding)

By Music I meant live music with a band and instruments. The sort of thing we do not allow during the three weeks.

Shana said...

Considering the Church had intense arguments about what kinds of music are ok to have in a Mass- you should know they could have gone the ways of the Jews.
The fact that they even still stick to polyphonic is a whole long complicated reaction to the Reformation as well as Palestrina being awesome...
As for the use of Instrumental music- the Church has felt divided over it. Palestrina's music in some ways was very important to the history of the developement of Catholic Church music because it solved the disgruntment of Church leaders- hyper polyphonic, extremley melismatic music was hiding the Psamltry as well as other essential features of the Latin Mass.

I personally have a prefrence for church music without the instrumentation- the overt ornamentation takes away from the essence of the words, (Sometimes you can't hear parts of Mozart's Masses), plus when properly done, as in Allegri's Miserere, you can hear the historical reference points to plainchant- which is what is supposed to be happening. But that is just me.

BTW- I always get the feeling that the little old ladies who feel a need to say a bissel of tehillim every day are copying St. Benedict. Go Kitzur Shulchan Aruch for Monks.