Sunday, February 04, 2007

Jewish Spiritual Formation Practices

Spiro, Jack, Formative Process in Jewish Tradition, Religious Education, vol 82, no:1, Fall 1987 p. 547-554

Dr. Spiro is rabbi at Congregation Beth Ahabah and a member of the faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University.

“He who has knowledge of the Torah but not fear of God is like the keeper of a treasury who has the inner keys but not the outer keys; he cannot enter.”

The faith formation process in the Jewish tradition starts with the bonding process between the father and child, the home, the synagogue practices and the synagogue.

The parent (translated “teacher” in Hebrew) are the one who starts the faith formation process in the child. It is often the father who becomes the one solely responsible for the faith formation of the child from the time of birth – the “gidual banim u-vanot” which translates as “a value related to the birth and development of children.”

The family has an important role to play in the initial faith formation of the child. The family has “taharat hamishpachah” which is the value of integrity, honesty and loving relationships in a family. Another value is “kibud av va-em” which means honouring one’s father and mother. The family is also to provide a nurturing environment of “shalom bayit” which is “the sense of harmony and wholeness.” The family is the nursery from which the faith formation of the child grows. It is that the family that forms an integrated complete unit in a larger unit which is the “K’lal Yisrael,” the Jewish community.

One of the key emphases in synagogue practice is the Bar Mitzah (Bat Mitzah for females) at the age of thirteen. Children realise that all their education and faith formation is to prepare them for the Bar or Bat Mitzah. After the initiation ceremony, the rest of their lives is meant to live out the principles and practices of Bar or Bat Mitzah. “Mitzah” can be translated as “commandment.” Bar means “son of” (Bat “daughter of”). What this means is that the ceremony marks the time when a Jew becomes responsible for living out the commandments of God.

The preparation of the child for the Bar Mitzah begins he or she is 4 years old. The education process that is started by the father is now taken on by the synagogue. The “cultural, intellectual, and emotional conditioning” that involves learning about Jewish history, culture, identity and reading of the Torah leads to its culmination in the Bar Mitzah.

The Torah is divided into 54 sections. A separately section is read every Saturday morning in the synagogue throughout the year. Learning from the Torah and Haftarah (prophetic section of the Bible) are encouraged and practiced. Knowledge is not despised but embrace by the synagogue. Everyone is a student; young and old. “The wise student is one who applies his knowledge to serve and improve his life and lives of other.” There is a corporate culture of learning that continually challenges yet integrating learned principles in all stages of Jewish life.

Hence, the Jewish way of faith formation involves the family and the synagogue. It is a corporate enterprise with family and synagogue practices which enhance and direct the learning effort. There are clearly defined pedagogy and desired outcomes. This can be considered corporate spiritual formation.

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