Ahh, an ask about Judaism!! You made my day, anon! I don’t know how much you know about Judaism, so I’m going to assume you know very little and over-explain things just in case.
(This is all from my own experience as a Reform Jew; I’ve gone to one synagogue my whole life, but I’ve been to Shabbat services at other synagogues on occasion. There’s lots of variation depending on the size and general culture of a synagogue, so my experience might not match up to all Reform Jews’ experiences.)
Services for Shabbat, the day of rest that concludes the week, take place on Friday evening, Saturday morning, and Saturday evening. (All Jewish holidays start at sundown the night before, so Shabbat starts at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday.) The Friday night service welcomes Shabbat in; the Saturday morning service is the long, main one; the Saturday night service, known as Havdalah, ends Shabbat and ushers in the new week. Havdalah is a short but beautiful service and one of my favorite Jewish rituals. The Friday night and Saturday morning services, though, are usually the most well-attended. I’ll talk about the Saturday morning service since that’s what you asked about.
The service is divided into four main parts: Sh’ma and its blessings, Amidah, the Torah service, and concluding prayers.
- The Sh’ma is the affirmation of Jewish faith: “Hear, O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is one.” The first part of the service, after the Barchu, which is the call to prayer, focuses on the Sh’ma and a bunch of related blessings. There’s a focus on loving and praising God and moving into a mindset of prayer.
- The Amidah is the central, most serious part of the service. People stand during various prayers throughout the service, but the Amidah involves the most standing. The Amidah focuses on praising God’s power, remembering our ancestors, and praying for peace.
- Then you get to the Torah service! Everyone stands while the rabbi takes the Torah out of the ark (fancy Torah case) and carries it around the sanctuary; once the rabbi returns to the bimah (the raised front part of the sanctuary), everyone sits down for the actual Torah blessings and chanting. There’s also usually a thematically relevant Haftarah portion, which is a reading from the books of the Prophets, following the Torah portion. Concluding blessings; everyone stands as the Torah is returned to the ark. Often there’s a sermon at this point.
- Concluding prayers are brief. One of the important ones is the Mourner’s Kaddish. At my synagogue, at least, the rabbi gestures out to the congregation, moving her hand slowly from one side of the sanctuary to the other, and when the rabbi’s hand is pointing in your general direction, you can stand up and say the name of a loved one if they passed away recently or if it’s the anniversary of their death. Then the whole congregation stands, to show support for the mourners, and recites the Mourner’s Kaddish together.
Some other details worth noting:
- There’s tons of music! At almost every temple I’ve been to, services are full of music. This ranges from the cantor singing beautiful solos to the entire congregation joining in on a folk tune. The prayers themselves are almost all chanted to traditional melodies that everyone knows.
- If there’s a Bar or Bat Mitzvah that day, the thirteen-year-old will lead some of the prayers, read from the Torah, and, often, give the sermon.
- At Reform services, the rabbi leads the entire congregation in chanting the prayers in unison. I’ve been to a few Conservative services where everyone kind of reads the prayers under their breath at their own pace; not sure if that’s a typical feature of Conservative services or not, but it certainly gave the services a very different feel.
- Shabbat is a very joyous holiday. There’s a celebratory atmosphere.
- People do dress up in formal clothes for services, of course; many people, especially men, choose to wear kippot (skull caps) and/or tallit (prayer shawls), but they’re not required in Reform synagogues.
And to answer your question from the other ask, yes, Reform Jews use the terms “temple” and “synagogue” interchangeably. Orthodox Judaism emphasizes waiting for the messiah to come, at which point the “real” Temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt; Reform Judaism emphasizes making the world a better place right now, with no need to wait for a messiah. I don’t remember where Conservative Judaism falls in that debate.
I hope that was helpful! Here are some more resources:
Feel free to come ask more specific questions if you have them!!