I went to Shabbat service at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple as part of an educational "field trip" for the Ecumenical & Inter-Religious Studies course I'm taking. We learned about Judaism and Catholic-Jewish relations, and it was such a revelation. I had been to temple once before, back when I was thirteen for a friend's Bat-mitzvah, but I don't remember what it was like. My mom remembers it being long, and she was right. Our Catholic mass is 1 hour long, this service we were at was two and a half hours! Although, that's also because there were two bat-mitzvahs at this service.
We all know that Jesus was Jewish, and that we're all cut from the same cloth--Jews, Christians, and Muslims--so it shouldn't be surprising that there are many similarities in rituals, beliefs, practices, prayers, teachings, and of course the scriptures. What is most commonly known to Christians as the Old Testament, is actually the written Torah. Instead of Old Testament, I prefer to and believe we should all refer to it as the Hebrew Scriptures or something other than the "Old Testament," which was originally written in Hebrew.
The service itself I felt was actually quite similar to our Catholic mass, though much longer. We all sing the hallelujahs, we all sing throughout the service in general, we sit and stand throughout the service several times, we pray for the sick and the deceased, we pray for peace, our loved ones, ourselves, and all that is on our hearts, there's a homily (not sure the terminology for the Jewish version of that), and above all else we praise and love God. I've attended mass in various different languages and it honestly did not feel so different--except that I wondered if all Jewish cantors are also natural born opera singers.
There are certainly differences, and one very big difference between Jewish and Christian beliefs, but the more I learn, the more I cannot understand why there is such a divide between between us. Jews are essentially like our elder brothers and sisters.
So, I was especially shocked--I mean, my mouth literally dropped--when I learned that John LaFarge, an American Jesuit priest who spent his whole life fighting racism in the United States, was asked by the pope in 1938 to draft a paper with a couple others discussing discrimination against Jews and though the authors started out with good intentions, the result was that they felt there was theological support for discrimination against Jews. Thankfully that paper didn't get published at the time it was intended to be published and that we later had the Second Vatican Council, because it would have given Hitler more ammo. This stunned me, but it also shed a light on the hypocrisy of many Christians I have encountered and have had trouble reconciling.
I have a difficult time understanding that if God created all and we are all children of God and should love each other as God loved us all, then how can anyone practice religion from an exclusive point of view. God did not tell us to be exclusive with our love, he told us to love everyone. He didn't tell us to only love people if they join "our circle," but leave them outside if they don't. He said love everyone.
It's interesting. Particularly during my time in the south, I found that there are a lot of great Christians, and they've built great communities, are very warm and welcoming to most people; but while they welcome almost all into their own world, they have a difficult time stepping out of their own world. It's very Truman Show. This isn't unique to the south, but it's something I started realizing while I was there. It's very dangerous being exclusive with religion. Our faith is supposed to guide us to be more loving, peaceful, and righteous people. Yet, if we're exclusive, we become elitist and discriminatory.
Since the Second Vatican Council, Jewish and Catholic relations have improved, Prior to that, there was a very misguided and malicious Christian teaching that discriminated against Jews. That is something else I also just learned. Since then, the popes and the Church has realized its wrong and recognizes that we are all indeed brothers and sisters under God.
Judaism itself is a fascinating study, because try to answer the question, "What is Judaism?" Is it a religion? An ethnicity? Even Jews have a difficult time answering that. Again, I have more questions than ever before, but at the same time, I feel even closer to my Jewish brothers and sisters.
I'm starting to wonder why basic religious studies is not a part of general education, because it helps us understand each other and understand history, even for those of us who are not religious or those who consider themselves Atheist. In fact, I have a friend who was raised strictly Irish Catholic, but now considers herself Atheist, and yet her degree was in Religious Studies because she understood the value of such an education. Not to mention, it's simply fascinating.
I can't wait for our next class on Islam, and to dig into other religions, too, including Sikhism and Buddhism.
BIG LOVE & HUGS