A Guide to Synagogue

Worship and Observance

Shalom – Welcome 

It is a pleasure to welcome you to Temple Beth Shalom, the Tremont Street Shul. We are proud of our reputation for being a warm, inviting, and Heimish (homey) community. Children are especially welcome here, even when they occasionally make noise.

We understand that for those with little or no synagogue experience, Jewish worship can be overwhelming. The length of the service and the amount of Hebrew we use may make it difficult for newcomers to be fully involved. There is a lot going on and visitors sometimes worry about doing the wrong thing or being asked to perform a role that might make them uncomfortable. Please relax. You are among friends.

This booklet explains some of the customs and observances of Jewish worship and we hope it makes our service more meaningful for you. We value your presence with us today and encourage you to visit often. For more detailed information, see our ritual practice document.

Temple Beth Shalom

In 1924, when our building was built (as Temple Ashkenaz), Cambridge boasted a thriving Jewish community with three synagogues. By the 1950’s, a smaller Jewish community could no longer support these three synagogues and chose to consolidate into one congregation. The new name chosen, Beth Shalom, means House of Peace and reflects a desire for harmony among Cambridge’s remaining Jews.

Today at Temple Beth Shalom we are experiencing an exciting renaissance, with a growing number of young Jewish families. An independent Conservative synagogue with a diverse membership, we support a wide range of religious, spiritual, educational, cultural and social programs. Our community includes the Alef-Bet Child Care Center, an adult education program and Kesher, the Cambridge Community Hebrew School/After School. The religious diversity of our community is reflected in the co-existence of two worship services: an egalitarian minyan (where women participate fully) and a traditional service.

We hope you will visit often and we welcome inquiries regarding membership at Beth Shalom. Visit our Web page at, or call our office at (617) 864-6388. If you like, ask to be placed on our weekly e-mail announcement list.

The Synagogue

The Aron Kodesh

(Ark) & Torah (Pentateuch) Scrolls

In the central place on the Bimah, the platform at the front of the sanctuary, is the Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark). Our Ark sits under the large arch, topped by a pair of tablets flanked by two lions. These tablets represent the stones Moses received at Mount Sinai, on which were written the Ten Commandments. During the Torah Service, at least one Torah scroll is removed from the Ark. The scroll contains a continuous roll of parchments, on which a specially trained scribe has hand-written the Five Books of Moses. The scrolls are dressed in special covers and ornaments which recall the attire of the priests in the Temple, who wore a breastplate, robe, crown and belt.

The Ner Tamid (Eternal Light)

Hanging above the Ark is the Ner Tamid (Eternal Light), a reminder of the ongoing presence of HaShem, the Holy One. This continually burning light has its roots in the Menorah, the seven-branched candelabra, which burned in the Temple in Jerusalem until the Temple was destroyed almost two thousand years ago.

The Siddur (Prayer Book) & Chumash (Bible)

The prayer book used during daily worship is called the Siddur, which means “ordered,” since it prescribes the order of the various services. Jews use countless versions of the Siddur, with variations for specific communities, customs, etc., but the same basic outline, and most prayers, will be found in virtually any Siddur.

Almost all of the Prayer Books at Temple Beth Shalom include English translations. Reading the prayers in English is perfectly acceptable. For those who wish to follow the service in Hebrew but do not read Hebrew text, we have editions of the Art Scroll Siddur with transliterations of all the Shabbat prayers, along with the Hebrew and the English. These editions have a brown cover. Temple Beth Shalom mostly uses Ha-Siddur Ha-Shalem, edited by Philip Birnbaum (the smaller books with a blue cover), along with the regular Art Scroll Siddur (black cover). We also have a few prayer books with translations into other languages, including French, Russian, Spanish and Yiddish.

While following the prayers, you may wish to read the explanations at the bottom of many pages. The Art Scroll Siddur has the most extensive explanations.

The larger blue book is the Chumash (literally “five”) containing a printed version of the first five books of the Bible, with translation and commentary in English. It is separated into portions read each week, and also includes additional weekly readings from the Prophets (see Torah Service below). One full cycle of Torah reading is completed each year, on a holiday in early fall called Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Law). Temple Beth Shalom hosts the largest Simchat Torah celebration in the Boston area.

Note: Since Hebrew is written from right to left, these books open from what would be the back of English books. Page numbers, therefore, run “backwards.”

The Kippah or Yarmulke (Head covering)

It is our practice to wear a small cap called a Kippah (Hebrew) or Yarmulke (Yiddish) while praying or studying as a sign of humility and reverence for God. This custom is encouraged for both Jews and non-Jews coming into our synagogue. Many traditionally observant Jews cover their head at all times.

The Tallit (Prayer Shawl)

The Tallit or fringed prayer shawl may be worn by congregants when they become members of the community at the age of Bar or Bat Mitzvah (see below). The intricate pattern of twists and knots in the strands of the corner Tzitzit (fringes) together add up to 613, the number of Mitzvot or commandments enumerated in the Torah. By wrapping ourselves in the Tallit we are surrounding our being with a sense of fulfilling God’s will. The Tzitzit are a visual reminder of our responsibilities. Non-Jews are not expected to wear a Tallit.

 Sabbath & Holy Days

The purpose of Jewish Ritual is to imbue our life with a sense of holiness — to make the ordinary sacred. We do this with objects (the Torah, Tallit, etc.), space (the synagogue, our homes) and time. Each day, week, month and year is punctuated by rituals reminding us of the presence of the divine in our lives. The Holy Days connect us with the memory of events in our shared history as well as the natural flow of the earth’s processes.

Nothing has had a more profound effect on the Jewish People then our relationship with the Sabbath. A weekly time-out from the physical world, the Sabbath, Shabbat in Hebrew, is a piece of sacred time which allows the Jew permission, regardless circumstances or status in the community, to enter a different, more spiritual reality. Our ancestors saw this time not in terms of a withdrawal from anything, but as a real presence representing a unique mode of time. The mystics, in fact, would leave their towns on Friday evenings to receive the Sabbath “Bride” and symbolically bring her back into the community. If you are with us on Shabbat, we invite you to experience the joy of allowing this day to transport you to a peace-filled, re-creative time and place.

Bar/Bat Mitzvah


The Term Bar/Bat Mitzvah literally means “son/daughter of the commandment” and refers to a person, not an event. On becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah the individual is obligated to observe the commandments incumbent on all adult Jews. Below the age of 13 — in some traditions 12 for a girl — the child is exempt from these communal responsibilities. No ritual is necessary for one to attain this status: it is something that happens automatically at the appropriate age. Since the Middle Ages, however, it has become customary to celebrate this rite of passage by calling the new community member to the Torah in order to exercise the rights — and responsibilities — of his or her new status. The ceremony almost always includes the recitation of the Berachot (blessings) before and after the reading of a section of Torah and may include the Bar/Bat Mitvah leading parts of the service, reading from the Torah or Haftarah, or speaking about the Torah portion.

 The Worship Service

Traditionally, Jews are enjoined to pray three times each day, in the evening (the beginning of the liturgical day in Judaism), in the morning and in the afternoon. Certain prayers are found in every service. Others are specific to the time of day and to special occasions. The outline below will lead you through the Shabbat morning service. Notations for other Holy Days are indicated in the Siddur and pages will be announced throughout the service.

The order of the service developed over centuries and contains many allusions. The process of prayer connects us to the Avodah, the divine service done in the ancient Temple and, at the same time, acts as a spiritual road map through the various physical, emotional, mental and spiritual spheres of our existence.

Preliminary Service

Birchot HaShachar (Morning Blessings)

Transliterated Art Scroll (brown) p. 233, Art Scroll (black) p. 18, Birnbaum (blue) bottom of p. 15

The morning service begins with a preparatory section, Birchot HaSchachar, a series of Blessings which focus on the physical sphere. Through these blessings we reflect on, and thank God for, the commonplace aspects of life: breathing, body functions, waking up in the morning, being clothed, etc. This is the level of existence we normally take for granted but without it we could do nothing. Through these prayers we ensure that our body is truly awake and ready to participate in prayer.

Pesukei Dezimra (Verses of Praise)

Transliterated Art Scroll (brown) p. 282, Art Scroll (black) p. 368, Birnbaum (blue) p. 299

Once the body is ready and aroused, we are ready to move on to feelings. We do this through a selection of Biblical readings, primarily Psalms, which focus our prayer on the level of emotion. The central activity in this section is Praise of God: Halleluyah. Listen carefully as the leader chants the closing verses of each section: you can frequently hear this repetition of Halleluyah. As we chant through these ancient songs, our being is prepared to enter into the core of worship.

Shacharit – The Morning Service

Barchu (Bless the Lord)

Transliterated Art Scroll (brown) p. 349, Art Scroll (black) p. 406, Birnbaum (blue) bottom of p. 335

After the Reader’s Kaddish, the actual morning service begins with Bar’chu, the call to prayer which is followed by an acknowledgement of God as the creator of light and darkness, the maker of peace and ultimate source of all creation. See the end of this booklet for a brief description of the Kaddish.

The Shema (Declaration of God’s Unity)

Transliterated Art Scroll (brown) p. 362, Art Scroll (black) p. 414, Birnbaum (blue) bottom of page 343

The ancient declaration of God’s unity and uniqueness proclaims Shema, Yisrael: Listen, Israel, HaShem is our God, HaShem is One. The Shema, as it appears in the Siddur, contains Biblical passages (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21) which enjoin us to love God “with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your physical being.” We are told that this message of love and obedience is to be passed on to our children, to be reflected on at all times, to be seen in the things we do. The third paragraph after the Shema (Numbers 15:37-41) is the source for wrapping ourselves in a garment with fringes (the Tallit).

The Amidah (Standing Prayer)

Transliterated Art Scroll (brown) p. 372, Art Scroll (black) p. 420, Birnbaum (blue) p. 349

The Amidah (literally “standing” since it is recited while standing up) is a series of blessings which form the core of all Jewish prayer services. With the Amidah we move beyond the realms of doing, feeling or knowing and arrive at a place of be-ing. All aspects of Jewish prayer (praise, petition and thanksgiving) are present in the seven Shabbat and nineteen weekday benedictions. The initial silent recitation of the Amidah offers an opportunity to commune directly with the Divine. You may see some members of the congregation completely envelope themselves in their prayer shawls, allowing them the greatest opportunity for private meditation.

Note: While the Amidah as it appears in the Siddur conforms to a pattern set over the years by tradition, this is a particularly appropriate time for personal meditation, reflection and prayer.

The Kedushah (Sanctification)

Transliterated Art Scroll (brown) p. 374, Art Scroll (black) p. 422, Birnbaum (blue) page 351

After the silent recitation of the Amidah the reader repeats it aloud. During this repetition the Kedushah is chanted with the congregation. The root of the word Kedushah is “holy,” and this selection proclaims the Holiness of God: “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh,” “Holy, Holy, Holy is the God of hosts, The whole earth is full of God’s glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)

Reader’s Kaddish (Doxology)

Transliterated Art Scroll (brown) p.390, Art Scroll (black) p. 430, Birnbaum (blue) p. 361

See the end of this booklet for a brief description of the Kaddish.

The Torah Service

The Torah is read on Shabbat (morning and afternoon), Holy Days, Mondays and Thursdays.

Taking out the Torah


Transliterated Art Scroll (brown) p. 390, Art Scroll (black) p. 432, Birnbaum (blue) p. 361 (Shabbat)

The Torah Service is one of the focal points of Shabbat morning. Since the Torah is the most physical manifestation we have of God’s will, a great deal of ceremony is involved in the reading. The Torah removed from the Ark with chanting and carried around the congregation to allow people to touch or kiss it. Note that, out of respect, most people do not touch the Torah directly, but only with the fringes of the Tallit or the corner of the Siddur. Once The Torah returns to the reading desk its ornaments and cover are removed and the scroll is laid down, ready to be read.

Reading the Torah

Blessings: Transliterated Art Scroll (brown) p. 402, Art Scroll (black) p. 440, Birnbaum (blue) p. 369
The actual reading for the week is in the Chumash (large blue book). The page will be announced.

On Shabbat, eight people will be called to recite the blessings before and after each section of the weekly reading is read. This honor is called an Aliyah (literally, “ascent”) and the blessings emphasize the concept of Torah study. Each person called will touch the Torah gently with the corner of the Tallit, kiss the fringe and recite the blessing. This procedure is repeated after the section is read. Maftir, the last Aliyah on Shabbat, is an additional honor generally given to the person who will be reading from the prophets (the Haftarah). When appropriate, this Aliyah is reserved for the Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

As the Torah portion is read, two synagogue members, called gabbaim, stand on either side of the Torah reader and follow the reading closely, assisting the reader and prompting the participants. Gabbaim play an important role since the text in Torah scrolls, unlike the printed Chumash, is written without vowels, Adderall XR. Because constant contact with the parchment can smudge the letters, the reader uses an ornate silver pointer, called a Yad, or hand to show the place.

The portion is chanted in Hebrew. You are encouraged to follow the English translation as well as the commentary, which is found at the bottom of each page of the Chumash.

At the conclusion of the reading, the Torah is lifted by the Hagbahah and held up to the congregation to demonstrate that the Torah is an open book that belongs to all people. It is then dressed by the Gelilah and set in a place of honor on the bimah. When special readings are required, a second and sometimes a third Torah scroll is used.

The Haftarah (Reading from the Prophets)

Transliterated Art Scroll (brown) p. 406, Art Scroll (black) p. 446, Birnbaum (blue) bottom of p. 373
The reading is in the Chumash, following the Torah portion

On Shabbat and Festivals, the Haftarah — a selection from one of the books of the Prophets — is chanted after the morning Torah reading, with blessings preceding and following it. Haftarah means “conclusion.” These selections were chosen for their thematic connection to the weekly Torah portions. Often the Haftarah is chanted by the Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

Returning the Torah

Transliterated Art Scroll (brown) p. 428, Art Scroll (black) p. 458, Birnbaum (blue) page 387 (Shabbat)

After the readings, another procession takes place with the Torah, which is then returned to the Ark. On the Sabbath before a new month, a special blessing for the month is chanted first. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah may make some remarks before the Torah is returned, usually on the content of the morning’s readings.

Musaf – The Additional Service

Transliterated Art Scroll (brown) p. 433, Art Scroll (black) p. 462, Birnbaum (blue) p. 391

In the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, a special additional sacrifice was offered on Sabbaths, Festivals and the New Moon. After the destruction of the Temple, when sacrifices could no longer be offered, the synagogue service took its place. Musaf is an additional service that parallels this sacrifice. As with all services, it consists of an Amidah and a Kedushah. Musaf is preceded and followed by a Reader’s Kaddish.

Eyn Keloheynu (None like our God)

Transliterated Art Scroll (brown) p. 455, Art Scroll (black) p. 476, Birnbaum (blue) p. 407

All children are invited to the front of the Synagogue to lead us in this simple hymn and to receive a treat from the “Magic Tallis Bag.”

Conclusion of the Service

Alenu (It is our duty)

Transliterated Art Scroll (brown) p. 463, Art Scroll (black) p. 480, Birnbaum (blue) p. 413

Since at least the 14th Century, Alenu has been included toward the end of every service. The first part of the prayer asserts that God is Ruler over all of the universe. In the second section, Jews envision and pray for universal recognition of God’s sovereignty by a united humanity.

Mourners’ Kaddish (Doxology)

Transliterated Art Scroll (brown) p. 466, Art Scroll (black) p. 482, Birnbaum (blue) bottom p. 413

The Mourners’ Kaddish is said by those who have lost a close relative in the past eleven months or on the anniversary (Yahrzeit) of a close loved-one’s death. The Kaddish in fact says nothing about death or mourning. It is an ancient prayer in Aramaic which praises God’s name in a variety of ways, among which is Yit-Kaddash (sanctified — the same root as Kedushah and Kiddush). There are a number of versions of the Kaddish, which is most often used as a bridge between parts of the service. A transliteration of the Mourners’ Kaddish is on the last page of the Birnbaum and regular Art Scroll Siddurim. For more history and explanation of the Kaddish. see page 45 in the Birnbaum or page 17 in the regular Art Scroll.

General announcements follow. Because Jews are not permitted to take written notes on Shabbat, we pay rapt attention to the announcements and commit every word to memory. Sort of.

Adon Olam (Master of the Universe)

Transliterated Art Scroll (brown) p. 224, Art Scroll (black) p. 12, Birnbaum (blue) p. 423

This hymn, which can be sung to almost any known musical composition, concludes our service and we proceed downstairs for Kiddush.

Kiddush – Blessing over Wine

On special occasions it is customary to sanctify the event by recitation of the blessing over wine — the traditional symbol of joy. Kiddush is recited both in the evening and before lunch on Shabbat and Holy Days. Kiddush at Beth Shalom is a very special tradition, which includes a festive meal, singing, Torah discussion and general celebration. All our guests are invited and we urge you to join us.

During the Sabbath and Festivals, Temple Beth Shalom does not permit the taking of photographs, and visitors are asked not to turn lights on or off. So that others may have the benefit of this material, we ask that you not remove this booklet from the synagogue.

For further information about Temple Beth Shalom or Jewish customs and observances, please ask someone at services, visit our Web page or call the Temple office during normal work hours.

This booklet was edited, and material written by Martin R. Federman, with editorial support from Marlene Booth, Arnold Reinhold and Tova Greenberg, June 10, 1994


“Come more often, bring more friends!” — Reb. Moshe