Synagogue 3000: The Future of Judaism to be Found in Churches

letter-447577_1280

The folks at Synagogue 3000 are at it again. Last year, Pastor Rick Warren was invited to LA’s Sinai Temple following a “ground-breaking meeting with Synagogue 3000.” This year, the headline says it all…

JEWISH WORSHIP LEADER CRAIG TAUBMAN BRINGS MEGA-CHURCH STYLE PRAYER EXPERIENCES TO ATLANTA IN BID TO INVIGORATE SYNAGOGUE LIFE: Synagogue 3000’s Atlanta Initiative presents composer/recording artist Taubman and local clergy leading services in aim to pack the pews March 23rd and 24th 2007

In order to “invigorate” synagogue life, Synagogue 3000 tells us, we should turn to churches. What a revolutionary idea! Except, of course, that it isn’t new at all. Nearly 200 years ago, a new synagogue was built in Seesen Germany. The founders decided that prayer in most synagogues was “unseemly” by comparison with that in churches, and therefore they revised the service “in the direction of beautifying it and rendering it more orderly.” The new synagogue featured German-language songs and prayers, ecclesiastical robes, a mixed choir, and an organ — all of which were common to German Protestant churches and all of which were previously foreign to Jewish congregations. And thus the Reform movement was born.

When Synagogue 3000 was trading clergy between Sinai Temple and Saddleback Church last year, I asked, “since we’re all one big happy family, what’s wrong with Taubman’s son marrying Warren’s daughter?” Given the intermarriage rate in the United States, I think we already know the answer — nothing, really. Nothing at all. When your source of inspiration is a Mega-Church rather than Mesillas Yesharim (“The Path of the Just,” an ethical work), it’s only natural that the Pastor’s daughter seems more attractive than that of a Rabbi.

The full press release is available at Religion News Service, and reads as follows:

ATLANTA, March 20, 2007 – Craig Taubman, the worship leader who created the “Friday Night Live” Shabbat service, comes to Atlanta this weekend for a series of “seeker” services aimed at the two thirds of Atlanta’s Jewish citizens who don’t belong to a synagogue, as well as existing members of congregations. The three Shabbat services are part of “The Atlanta Initiative,” a project of Synagogue 3000 (S3K), an institute dedicated to revitalizing synagogue life. “Craig’s approach to worship is inclusive and participatory,” says S3K President and co-founder Ron Wolfson, “…and that’s the exact feeling people want to get from their spiritual community.”

“The goal is to create an experience that leaves people wanting more,” according to Taubman, who helps congregations around the country to create services that use upbeat contemporary music to engage spiritual seekers. Similar approaches have become standard fare at many mega-churches and, in fact, Taubman has even helped lead services in places like Saddleback Church in Southern California, the mega-church founded by “The Purpose-driven Life” author Rick Warren. “Pastor Rick Warren is a genius at creating worship experiences that speak to believers and seekers alike,” says Taubman. “S3K hopes to create that same kind of welcoming atmosphere in synagogues.”

Synagogue 3000’s Atlanta Initiative is a project to increase synagogue membership and create a renaissance in Jewish spiritual communities in Atlanta which includes a series of workshops for congregational leaders, the Taubman Shabbat services and “Hallelu Atlanta,” a concert celebrating synagogue life on November 4, 2007.

You may also like...

33 Responses

  1. Baruch says:

    To #4: it could be because you’re Roman Catholic.

  2. Reb Yid says:

    It’s not simply a question of improving a shul’s “image” or PR. It’s making it more welcoming and inclusive.

    Your responses in this thread have stated that “participation”, for you, is most meaningful when there is silence. You seem to see “outreach” as a somewhat limited matter of marketing and PR.

    I respect your opinion, but others may have a different take. I myself heard a beautiful dvar torah last week about the karbanot that related how the 5 senses are an essential part of the davening experience. There are ways to encourage participation and inclusivenesss–for those individuals and shuls that want it–that are in keeping with halacha.

    You may want to see your shul organized and structured in a certain way–fine. But others have just as much right to do things differently–that does not ipso facto make one way “Jewish” and another “non-Jewish”.

  3. Yaakov Menken says:

    Reb Yid,

    And therefore… what?

    No one questions that it’s worthwhile for synagogues to do outreach, and to update their image to attract young families and singles (the JTA article is here). But do you imagine that an OU synagogue would do so by firing up the band on Friday night, or importing “mega-church” style singing and “participation?” The question isn’t the idea of attracting new audiences, but what methods are appropriate. Some take you towards Judaism, while others move you away.

  4. Reb Yid says:

    From today’s JTA (Jewish Telegraphi Agency) breaking news at http://www.jta.org. Note the final sentence in particular:

    Orthodox shuls get outreach grants

    Two Orthodox synagogues received $20,000 and a third received $7,500 in outreach grants.

    Congregation Beth Israel Abraham and Voliner in Overland Park, Kan., and Young Israel of New Rochelle, N.Y., each received $20,000 Orthodox Union Outreach Grants, it was announced Thursday.

    This is the first year for the grant program, meant to encourage Orthodox synagogues to reach out to unaffiliated Jews in their communities. Thirty-one synagogues entered the competition.

    Though just one $20,000 grant was meant to be awarded, the judging committee announced it could not decide between the two top contenders, and gave them each the same grant. It also allocated a third, smaller grant to Baron Hirsch Congregation in Memphis, Tenn.

    The winning proposals offer detailed plans for creating and marketing programs aimed at young families, singles and other unaffiliated Jews and creating warm, welcoming congregations.

  5. Yaakov Menken says:

    Roman Catholic, I agree with you that women should certainly be able to hear the Rav. Your first comment referred to the inability to see or hear, and emphasized a “tall steel mechitza with the smoked glass.” It is still not clear to me why that prevented women from hearing — it usually doesn’t. There is certainly nothing wrong with being able to see the Torah lifted — and is the norm in most charedi synagogues — but that’s a far cry from endorsing Taubman’s approach.

    As I’m sure you realize, ‘SM’ creatively misread what I wrote. I’m not making an accusation about your motives, nor did you even refer to “participation.”

    There are, nonetheless, any number of crucial differences between how traditional Judaism and Christianity (especially Catholicism) approach prayer and those who lead the service. In Judaism the prayer leader is merely the “Shaliach Tzibbur,” emissary of the congregation. What he does is invested with importance only because of the congregants. He need not be a Rabbi; he could be a teenage student.

    In Judaism, the height of participation in the service is not when singing, or responding, or interacting in any way with those “down front.” It is at a moment of absolute silence.

    Judaism and Christianity teach their followers to find their sources of inspiration in very different places. That’s exactly why Synagogue 3000 is so misguided.

  6. Rafael Araujo says:

    So fine, I have no problem with that. If its within proper halachic parameters, I have no qualms and if that is what you are looking for, you should find what you are looking for. My question for you is as follows: if you want Orthodox services with more participation/interaction for women, Synagogue 3000 is not the answer. Synagogue 3000 is not a MO synagogue; its not even Orthodox. Its a spruced up heterodox service that specifically has mixed seating, is run by people associated with and belonging to Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Chavurah, etc.

    You made a comparison between an Orthodox shul you attended, and which you criticized, fairly or not, and the Synagogue 3000 service. That is an unfair comparison since you are comparing the services found in two different movements, with different objectives, with different views on egalitarianism and women and prayer. So it seemed to me that notwithstanding your apparent “allegiance” to Orthodoxy, you really wished an Orthodox service to be more like Synagogue 3000. However, IMHO, that is untenable for a committed Orthodox Jew. We don’t look to the heterodox movements for our clues.

  7. Roman Catholic says:

    Rafael Araujo, so what are you and R’ Menken saying? Taken to its logical conclusion, it sounds as if both of you are arguing that as long as a congregation is confident that their Torah teaching is true, then no accommodation need be made for women who wish to hear the reading of the torah or d’rash or be able to see parts of the service like the lifting of the Torah. I have attended a Modern Orthodox shul that had a mechitzah arrangement that kept the sexes from seeing each other but still allowed women the ability to fully see and hear the service. Why can’t a solution like that be endorsed?

  8. Rafael Araujo says:

    RC: My mistake. Taubman isn’t even a member of the clergy. He is a singer/songwriter and has produced a show called “Friday Night Live” and performs it under the auspices of Synagogue 3000, with staff from University of Judaism, Hebrew Union College and other heterodox institutions. Same with its board. That speaks for itself.

  9. Bob Miller says:

    Is 3000 the dues?

  10. Roman Catholic says:

    Rafael Araujo, for you to answer my question, “Is it too much to ask to at least be able to HEAR the rav’s drash” with “Taubman gave a traditional derash?” speaks for itself.

  11. Rafael Araujo says:

    “See over into the men’s section”?! Puh-leese, if I can’t see him, is it too much to ask to at least be able to HEAR the rav’s drash? I didn’t have that problem at Synagogue 3000.”

    RC: Taubman gave a traditional derash? Also, wasn’t this mixed seating, thereby making it all but certain you participated? Finally, didn’t the microphone help you hear what was going on?

  12. Rafael Araujo says:

    “Judaism has always been influenced by its surroundings. For just one example—there are plenty of synagogues around the world built in a variety of styles—Moorish, Byzantine, Gothic, etc. They’re all “Jewish”.”

    It maybe one thing to be influenced, which can result from natural historical trends, which halocheh can see fit to keep or discard. Its another thing to invite those influences into your shul/synagogue/temple (whatever Synagogue 3000 is) and have the influences speak from the pulpit.

  13. One Christian's perspective says:

    Correct me if I am wrong, but, didn’t the Israelites celebrate/participate in 3 major mega festivals in Jerusalem 2000 + years ago ? Now, each of these had a unique purpose/theme. Some were festive and some were very serious and reflective. And then there was David who danced before the L-RD. Can you not imagine how glorious these times must have been ?

    I have not been to a mega church but I would suspect that the time of year or season, not unlike ancient Israel, would be reflective in the type and tone of the service. The church in which I attend is reformed meaning very orthodox. There are no women pastors, elders or deacons. Often prayers are lead by a teaching elder/Pastor and at other times during the service are silent – the entire congregation prays silently. Sometimes prayers are participatory and for a specific request to be brought before G-d. Music is appropriate to the season and the message of the sermon. The early service is more traditional with older hymns and organ, piano and orchestra while the later service is more contemporary with newer songs and fewer instruments. At times, hand clapping and raising is permitted – we’re trying to not be the frozen chosen. There is a worship order and a decorum but the experience is never without conviction or encouragement. The ultimate purpose is always to glorify G-d with praise, thanksgiving and voice – teaching,preaching, prayer and song. If you come to be entertained, your focus is on the wrong person. It isn’t about you. It is really all about G-d; he is the honored guest. Our attitude should be, at all times, reflective as if he were there.

    Rick Warren is a well respected Pastor and has earned favor from many Christian denominations. Many extraordinary teachings and programs have come out of Saddleback Church. Those which I am familiar have strong biblical support and their intent is to strengthen, heal and direct the church body. I believe he is an ‘out-of-the-box’ pastor in a very good way. He is orthodox in belief but practical in application and he is willing and eager to share his excitement and enthusiasm about G-d to his congregation, other denominations and the nations in ways that bring honor to G-d. This is ‘catching’ but it is not catchy or shtick. He does step out in faith and his actions support his profession of faith.

    Gentiles and Jews were created to glorify G-d with all of our being. How and where we do it is determined by the congregational leaders and their participants within appropriate order and time.

    Attending an Orthodox Jewish Service – if I would even be permitted – might seem strange to me, at first. In all honesty, I would look to see how G-d is glorified, honored and revered by the congregation and leaders. If there is a teaching, I would see how this fits to the written word – Scripture. If there is reading of prayer, I would see how this reflects an attitude of humility, repentance and awe.

    Both groups may be surprised at what we can learn from each other if we are willing.

  14. Bob Miller says:

    I’ve seen one-way glass used effectively in shuls.

  15. mycroft says:

    We go to schul for many valid reasons. Many times and probably often for those of us who go to schul during the week for tfilah-BUT schuls also do and should perform another major function-maybe just as important-as a center for Jews to gather. BTW note name-synagogue-beit knesset not beit tfillah. For those of us who may understand the tfilot fine and good-but unfortunately there are many Jews who don’t understand and even can’t read davening. These Jews-who BTW may have even been in day schools well over a decade just can’t daven-I maintain they should be encouraged to keep a connection with the Jewish community.

  16. Charles B. Hall says:

    Of course we go to synagogue to pray, not to look around. But what is the point of having a service leader (shliach tzibbur) when nobody can hear him because of the talking, and half the congregation can’t even tell whether he is on the bimah because of the high mechitzah?

  17. SM says:

    Roman Catholic talked about participation. R Menken seems to have translated that as “participation” – i.e. wanting to stare at the men. Perhaps I am not versed in this language but how is that justified?

    It seems that RC was actually asking about how to obtain a spiritual benefit from a public service. The answer she got was actually an accusation about her motives.

    Let me ask the question again: how does R Menken propose we deal with the de facto exclusion of women who want only to take the part in the service that Halacha permits them? That is, to be there, listen, hear and respond quietly?

  18. Bob Miller says:

    I’d like to see our message be as straight, honest, and artifice-free as possible. Even today, people can recognize the real deal when they see it. Too much flash can make the message appear superfical or phony.

  19. Joseph says:

    “real Judaism ”

    What is that, please? I’m very serious. And how are the recruitment techniques of a mega church contrary to its principles.

  20. barry says:

    There is no doubt that it’s easy to bash Mega Church-style operations when presented in a Jewish (or, perhaps, only “jewish”) but non-Ortho house of worship. But if Pirchei/Gateways/NCSY/YI or [insert here a mossad you respect]tried to borrow/adapt that medium, would you consider it treif?

    We need to learn to separate content from methodology. Where the latter works to invigorate OUR message–T’A’ G”Ch, Messilat Yesharim, etc., grab it. There are too many casualties out there for us, that is Orthodox Jews, to remain smug and/or triumphalist.

  21. S. says:

    >In order to “invigorate” synagogue life, Synagogue 3000 tells us, we should turn to churches. What a revolutionary idea! Except, of course, that it isn’t new at all. Nearly 200 years ago, a new synagogue was built in Seesen Germany. The founders decided that prayer in most synagogues was “unseemly” by comparison with that in churches, and therefore they revised the service “in the direction of beautifying it and rendering it more orderly.” The new synagogue featured German-language songs and prayers, ecclesiastical robes, a mixed choir, and an organ—all of which were common to German Protestant churches and all of which were previously foreign to Jewish congregations. And thus the Reform movement was born.

    Young Orthodox rabbis in Germany were similarly displeased with the “lack of decorum” in the old synagogue, and also with the “medieval” appearance of the old rabbi, and they too instituted changes, among them Haham Isaac Bernays and R. SR Hirsch.

    I suppose you will propose that theirs was but a tactical approach, that really they longed for the “old synagogue” and wished they didn’t wear canonicals. However, such evidence is entirely lacking. It seems that as the 19th century rolled around the Jews of Western Europe were poised to modernize. Some felt that this meant halakhah goes. Others didn’t. But don’t confuse form over substance. Many Orthodox rabbonim also desired aesthetic reforms; they were but moderate Reformers.

  22. Bob Miller says:

    Once, after a Friday technical committee meeting in Las Vegas, I was stuck in my hotel room in Caesar’s Palace over Shabbos (Nowhere to go in those days—just me, my Wilton meals, and seforim). The room had a Roman-style couch that would be great to recline on at a Seder.

    The rightness of borrowing styles from the outside world depends on the situation; some are compatible with real Judaism and others not. Even the use of blogs for religious purposes was probably borrowed from somebody.

    A home-and-home series between a “synagogue” and a church, or an outright rip-off of a church’s proprietary shtick, is Mega-Stupid.

  23. Roman Catholic says:

    “See over into the men’s section”?! Puh-leese, if I can’t see him, is it too much to ask to at least be able to HEAR the rav’s drash? I didn’t have that problem at Synagogue 3000.

  24. Ori Pomerantz says:

    How far is it permissible to alter services to take good ideas from the surroundind environment?

    I know the answer isn’t “no changes”, because the Siddur show the influence of societies where Jews lived. Tehillim (= psalms) uses the same poetic style used in Ugarit for idol worship. “Lecha Dodi” and other liturgical poems from the Middle Ages use poetic styles that were originally Arabic. The reclining in the Passover seder comes originally from Graeco-Roman culture, IIRC.

    I don’t mean that Synagogue 3000 is necessarily a good thing – I can see NLG’s point that it could show Judaism as meaningless. I’m asking how far could an Orthodox service mutate and still be Orthodox.

  25. Steve Brizel says:

    I fully agree that ersatz forms of Judaism that offer “no sweat, no pain, no gain” substitutes for Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim are gimmicks that will fail.

  26. Reb Yid says:

    I suppose if this blog had existed a few hundred years ago someone would have admonished the idea of women learning, too.

    Judaism has always been influenced by its surroundings. For just one example–there are plenty of synagogues around the world built in a variety of styles–Moorish, Byzantine, Gothic, etc. They’re all “Jewish”.

    Giving sermons in shul (and in the vernacular) is also an innovation taken from the Protestant-era Enlightment. Taking your logic to its extreme, I suppose sermons should be eliminated, too.

  27. Yaakov Menken says:

    To take things to their logical conclusion, let’s remove all references to G-d in the service in order to be more inclusive, and get rid of the clergy to make the service more participatory.

    Obviously, this is unworkable. “Dumbing Judaism down” may work in the very near term to bring people in the door, but they don’t leave with a commitment to a distinct set of values and beliefs that they feel is worth preserving.

    This is why one might note a difference between changes in the service as part of a school of thought derived from Kabbalah, vs. changes in the service as part of a school of thought derived from Enlightenment-era Protestant Christianity. One is Jewish, and one isn’t.

    Going to synagogue to “participate” (or to see over into the men’s section) is missing the point. We go to synagogue to pray. Those who are serious about it, of both genders, don’t spend their time looking around the room, because that’s not why they are there.

  28. Reb Yid says:

    A more inclusive and participatory model, indeed.

    You know, several hundred years ago, that’s how Hasidism began, too.

  29. Roman Catholic says:

    Sorry, Rabbi Menken, I can’t say I see it your way, not from the female side of the mechitza, that is. At a Synagogue 3000 service, I’ve been able to connect with the worship as we go through the siddur. At the black hat shul I’ve attended, the tall steel mechitza with the smoked glass in front of it effectively locks out the women. We can’t see anything, we can’t hear anything. Hence, the women wind up admiring each other’s sheitls. That’s not a source of inspiration I can admire.

  30. NLG says:

    Ori asks, “Would Jews who attend these services be more or less likely to want to learn more about Judaism . . .?”

    Less likely, IMHO. A few years ago, when for the first time in my life I decided to check out the faith of my fathers, I attended a number of events such as these. I was really looking, and was able to find nothing of meaning. Despite all the singing and smiling and hugging, there was no holiness, nothing at all compelling or profound to touch my neshamah. I went back to Buddhism, which at least was deeply spiritual.

    Much more recently, I met an Orthodox rabbi who has been showing me the profoundly beautiful and deeply spiritual ways and meaning of traditional Judaism. And because of him, and because of the many wonderful Orthodox kiruv websites filled with spiritual Yiddishkeit that I can tap into, I am now completely resolved to make teshuvah.

    I know plenty of Jews who go “religiously” to things like you are talking about. None keep Shabbos; none daven, or have any sort of prayer life; none study Torah; and far from even remotely trying to keep even just one or two aspects of Kashrus, they all pretty much avoid Kosher food. About all one can say is that they identify as Jews and socialize with other Jews (and all the goyishe spouses and SOs brought along) once or twice a month, or maybe even once a week.

    If this is what you consider bringing people into the Jewish fold, we really have no hope of maintaining our unique, distinct, ancient and wonderful religion except as some sort of social identity bearing at best some extremely minor and meaningless vestiges of tradition.

    Christianity overtook numerous ancient cultures over the past two thousand years, in some cases permitting them to maintain tiny remnants so long as they were within the Christian framework. For instance, there are formerly aboriginal societies where certain saints are represented with features and hallmarks that only anthropologists recognize as coming from their former religions. It did so in many instances by appropriating aspects of those cultures in order to make their churches seem more attractive (“hip”) to the locals.

    I’m sure these evangelists you seem so keen to work with and model yourselves after would be more than happy to accommodate the Jews in the same regard.

    I’ve personally experienced the “love” of evangelical xtians. It started with some seemingly harmless and “open minded” conversations about “spirituality,” grew to so-called “messianic Judaism,” and from there was a very short leap to my converting for a number of years (after which, when I realized what had happened and became disenchanted, I became a Buddhist). So nothing at all makes me sadder than to witness rabbaim and other Jewish “leaders” embracing this stuff so enthusiastically.

    Jews need to be showing Jews in a loving, spirited way how amazing and meaningful it is to be fully, authentically, traditionally Jewish. Anything less will only ensure our destruction.

  31. Fern R says:

    Would Jews who attend these services be more or less likely to want to learn more about Judaism, compared to Jews who don’t attend anything? Or do you think that if the only services available were Orthodox, they’d attend those?

    It seems to me that the mindset of the Jews attending the S3K services is irrelevant. Shouldn’t the question be “Did the Jews who attended the S3K services learn more about Judaism than if they had stayed at home?” And I think the answer to that question is the crux of Yaakov Menken’s argument: Reform Judaism is using gimmicks to attract Jews to events where they will be exposed to bad ideas (i.e. it’s perfectly okay to marry a non-Jew).

  32. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Would Jews who attend these services be more or less likely to want to learn more about Judaism, compared to Jews who don’t attend anything? Or do you think that if the only services available were Orthodox, they’d attend those?

  1. April 1, 2007

    […] While the byline may be mine, both the title and much of the historical content were contributed by Rabbi Dovid Katz, of Beth Abraham Congregation here in Baltimore. His drasha this morning related to two recent posts here—mine on Synagogue 3000 and their misguided efforts to use “mega-church style prayer experiences… to invigorate synagogue life,” and Rabbi Adlerstein’s on “shteibelization.” […]