Why is photography not permitted during Shabbat Services ?
Taking photographs involves two kinds of labor that are proscribed by the laws of the Torah. These labors, which are derived from the constructive work done when building the Tabernacle in the desert, consist of 39 categories. Photography constitutes a sub-category of (1) Boneh (Building)- the completing of a small electrical circuit, as in a camera/computer etc is seen as the building of the circuit and Makeh b'patish (The final hammer blow)- this refers to the completing of any item. Thus in activating the circuit you complete the building of it. These two are involved numerous times, especially with digital cameras and SLR film cameras- turning them, the autofocus, the activating of the view screen, the completing of the picture in saving it to the memory card.
Although many of us do not subscribe to the rigorous observance of these laws, part of our shared responsibility as a holy community entails a "raising of the bar" to the ideal practices of Conservative Judaism when we gather for worship and other activities on Shabbat.
Why do we require head coverings for all those who ascend the bimah during Shabbat Services ?
Jewish Law mandates every Jewish male to cover his head whenever he walks a distance beyond four cubits, based upon the statement in the Talmud that the mother of Rabbi Nachman bar Yitzchak would not allow him to go with his head uncovered for she said, "Cover your head in order that you should have the fear of heaven upon you." Women who are or have been married (widows and divorcees) are similarly expected to cover their hair (the source for which is different - for another time), yet a female who has never been married does not have to cover her hair.
The ethos of our expectation that all who approach the bimah during Services cover their heads comes from a shared sentiment that this is an area of heightened sanctity, for which there should be a greater sense of reverence. This mindset, the Ritual Committee has posited, is manifested by the covering of one's head. And, as an egalitarian congregation, there are no deviations for reasons of gender or marital status.
Why do we ask that service attendees silence their cell phones ?
At the risk of sounding provocative, the use of cell phones and pagers in the Sanctuary is one of the most obvious examples of how electronic technology can undermine spirituality. Our love affair with technology is also about a quest for control. We're living in an age of change and upheaval. There's an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. But technology gives us the illusion of control, a sense of order. Pick up a smart phone and you have a reliable, dependable device that does whatever you tell it to do. You certainly can't say that about your colleagues or families. On an average day, many of us are checking voice mail, texting, updating our Facebook, and sending/receiving hundreds of emails. Yet, on Shabbat we have the choice of being unplugged from battery powered communication, in deference to the sanctity of the day and our holy connections to spouses, family and community.
What is with the gathering, holding and kissing of the tzitzit ?
Our bringing together the fringes on each of the four corners of the tallit garment signifies the coming together of the Jewish people from the four corners of the earth, which is foretold in the blessing that precedes our daily Declaration of Faith. Like the Shema prayer itself, this action is also an expression of God's oneness. In ancient times, tzitzit were worn on everyday clothes as a sign of freedom. They served as a means of identification, as only those who were free were able to wear tzitzit. In these times, kissing the tzitzit was often seen in business dealings wherein it signified the sealing of a contract. Today, the tzitzit are kissed during recitation of the Shema to reinforce that the words being recited are taken seriously. Upon reciting the third paragraph of the Shema, it is customary to kiss the tzitzit each of the three times they are mentioned. When the leader reads the final words, the tzitzit are kissed for the fourth time.
Why do we only recite some, but not all of Hallel on the final six days of Pesach ?
As is the case in many other contexts, we have here a standard of practice with several alleged reasons. One rabbinic tradition is that only the "half" Hallel is recited on the last six days of Passover because joy is mitigated by the calamity that then befell the Egyptian host when pursuing the Israelites (see Meg. 10b); another reason given is because no different sacrifice was offered each day - which contrasts to the final days of Sukkot, on which offerings of increasing size were given as the holiday proceeded.
When and why do people say "Baruch hu u'varuch sh'mo" when the prayer leader recites a blessing?
We have several opportunities to be participants in blessings when they are initiated and recited by others. The most common, of course, is Amen, an affirmation of the truth of the words recited by the prayer leader at the end of his/her recitation of a blessing. The response barukh hu u-varukh shemo ("Blessed is He and Blessed be His Name") is a doxology (an expression of praise to God) to be added when hearing someone else reciting a berakhah. The most frequent context for these words in the service is the repetition of the Amidah. The phrase has become a watchword of sorts for many of our worshippers, who would do well to learn the correct (and far less frequent) usages of barukh hu u-varukh shemo. Some guidelines will appear in future editions of Shul FAQs.
Despite the fact that these words, translated "Blessed is God and blessed is His Name," adds great praise to the Holy One, in most places of the service it constitutes a break in the flow of one's kavannah, or intentional focus, while listening to a blessing. For instance, if one wishes to be yotzé on the berakhah that the leader is reciting (that is, if you wish to respond to it 'Amen' and have it considered as if you, too, had recited the berakhah) - then you must not respond barukh hu u-varukh sh'mo. Examples of this include the Kiddush blessing of Shabbat Eve and the Shofar blessing of Rosh Hashanah.
Now that we have raised attention to the need for discretion in reciting this popular phrase among traditional Jews, it will be helpful to know when it is to be utilized and when omitted ... UTILIZE the doxology of "Baruch hu u'varuch sh'mo" during the Early Morning Blessings before p. 83, for the blessing of Yishtabach on p. 106, during the repetition of the Amidah, and when listening to the Torah and Haftarah blessings; OMIT it during the Pseukei D'Zimra (pp. 83-105) and the three blessings of Shacharit (pp. 107-114), as well as during the singing aloud of the Amidah for Musaf, when it would pose an interruption to the flow of our blessings.