On Thursday the 18th of September we had the privilege to visit the “Great and New Stenecourt” synagogue in Manchester, built in 1960. We were being educated on the insider’s version of what it is like to live the orthodox Jewish lifestyle by a member who regularly attends that particular synagogue.
Upon arrival we were introduced to our faith tutor, David Arnold who kindly had kosher refreshments prepared for us. At this point we were advised that any non-kosher food was to be left outside and not taken into the Shul. After refreshments we were taken into the Shul and shown around. We were told men and women have different seating arrangements in the room and women were to be covered by partitions. Seats are bought on rent in the Shul and each person can have a designated seating spot. Further we were shown where the Torah is kept and where the service takes place. The Torah is kept in the back and protected very carefully. David also explained the all the different locations in the Shul from the Pew to the Bimah (Platform).
David explained that Judaism is not seen as a religion but rather as a way of life. He explained the role of a man and women and how they differ in Judaism. He explained how the Jewish people are the ‘chosen people’ in a special covenant with God due to Abraham and renewed with Moses. He explained that not only do they pay a respect to God but also to the law of the land and in this case it would be the United Kingdom. This was very promising to see as it explains the way of life for a Jew especially in the light of the legacy of history.
David explained the Torah as the five books of Moses. He advised it can take years to compile. It is written by hand with a quill in Hebrew and on parchment. Further the cycle of reciting the Torah takes exactly a year and once finished the cycle starts again. To purchase a Torah would cost at an average of 20 – 30,000 pounds. The Torah is written on a scroll with wooden holders which symbolically mean ‘the tree of life.’
After visiting inside the Shul we took our seats in the meeting area where we had the opportunity to discuss the most important day in the Jewish week, Shabbat. We discussed the preparation for Shabbat and the religious meanings to why this day is known as the day of rest. David explained the importance of preparing the meals and drinking the special wine. He explained that once a week there is a special service at the Shul to commemorate the beginning of the holy day. We were told the lady of the house lights the candles to bring the light of Shabbat in to the house. We also had the opportunity to taste the special bread which is prepared for the meal. In all it was very clear that Shabbat is a family occasion and a day to thank God.
Moving on from Shabbat we discussed kosher food and the importance of it in the Jewish household. Separation of meat and dairy is very important to the extent dishes should be kept completely separate. No dairy and meat should be eaten together. David gave us examples of what is considered to be Kosher. Following on nicely from this we went for lunch at a kosher restaurant which was a great insight and first-hand experience.
Some RE reflections
Our visit to the Shul was definitely a first-hand insight to the thinking and reasoning of a Jewish tradition. It was interesting to find that their truth claim is still very much at the heart of their lives. We all may not agree with certain aspects of what may have been discussed but it is important to take away that every person, be it secular or religious is committed to and identifies with their truth claim and as civilised fellow humans we need to learn to accept and respect differing opinions. Speaking for myself this visit truly opened my eyes to the challenging of managing conflicting truth claims and beliefs which I may face as an RE teacher. I am looking forward to this challenge and resolving the issues this brings in my classroom by developing excellent RE for community cohesion.
Aisha Butt- RE PGCE Trainee 2014