The Shepherd of Israel Congregation

The Shepherd of Israel Congregation

The first thing that you see when you come into the building of Netivyah is this plaque in Hebrew announcing "The Shepherd of Israel Congregation."

Ours is a congregation of believers in Yeshua dedicated to the ideals of Messianic Judaism. The congregation meets in the building belonging to Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry in the center of Jerusalem. The congregation was founded by Jewish believers in Yeshua who felt that they should be faithful to their calling as Jews and wanted to worship in a Jewish way. Today the Shepherd of Israel congregation is a pioneer in adapting Synagogue liturgy for Messianic Jewish worship. This article takes you on a visit to our congregational hall.

The Ark in which the Torah Scrolls are kept

The Ark in which the Torah Scrolls are kept

The Ark in which the congregation's Torah Scrolls are kept is located in the front of the hall on the left hand side. That is the direction of the Temple mount from this location. Many of the prayers are said facing this direction according to Scripture, especially the recitation of the Shema.
The ladies of the congregation led by Martha Stern embroidered a Parochet (veil) for the Holy ark. The design and the motifs are similar to those found in synagogues around the world. The two pillars is a very widespread synagogue motif reminding us of the two gigantic pillars of solid bronze that stood in the First Temple and were named Yakhin and Boaz. These two pillars have a fruiting grape vine entwined around them. On the right-hand column it says in Hebrew, "Israel is a fruitful vine" (Hosea 10:1), a verse traditionally placed on the parochet. On the left-hand column is Yeshua's statement to his disciples, "I am the vine and you are the branches" (John 15:5).

Another traditional element in the parochet is that the six flames of the menorah [candelabra] bow inward toward the center flame,known as the Servant. This reminds us of Yeshua.
The bejeweled crown in the center of the parochet reminds us that the LORD is King, an important declaration proclaimed several times in the progress of the service.

The Parochet (Veil) of the ark

The Parochet (Veil) of the ark

At the top of the parochet are embroidered the words "He is our 'mercy seat' [or 'covering' or 'atonement']". The "mercy seat" (kapporet) was a solid gold covering of the holy chest of the covenant in the holy of holies was the physical center of atonement in the days of the Temple. In our congregation we believe that Yeshua is the atonement for Israel and His death and resurrection takes the place of offering. The fringed piece of cloth at the top of the parochet is actually known as the kapporet, which is why this message is embroidered on it: "Hu hakapporet shelanu [He is our atonement]."

The Shabbat morning service follows the standard Orthodox Siddur and starts with "Ma Tovu Ohalaiyich" followed by "Adon Olam" and are led by our Cantor. The service proceeds to the "Amidah" (the Tefilah), followed by "Our eyes shall gaze upon your return to Zion" and the sevenfold Aaronic blessing sung beautifully by our Cantor. In our congregation we have adopted the custom of having the whole family gather under the talit. The men hold up and stretch out their talitot and their wives stand next to them underneath the talit. If there are children they also gather under the talit while the Aaronic blessing is pronounced.

Torah Scroll dressed and capped with Rimonim

Torah Scroll dressed and capped with rimonim

Now the Torah Scroll is taken out of the Holy ark and the beautiful silver rimonim are placed on the handles of the scroll often by one of the little boys of the congregation. The Congregation sings "Vayehi b'nesoa haAron" and the Torah Scroll is taken around the whole auditorium. People will touch the Torah Scroll with their siddurs and then kiss the siddur. The procession is concluded with "Blessed is the One who has given torah" and other appropriate songs from the siddur.

Torah Scroll on the Reader's Desk

Torah Scroll on the Reader's Desk

After the procession the Torah scroll is placed on the bamah [reader's desk] at front center and the torah scroll is opened for reading. If for some reason there are comments before reading someone places a covering over the scroll until it is actually read.

The Open Torah Scroll

The Open Torah Scroll

The torah scroll is opened to the portion of the week. In Israel the progress of the year is marked by the portions of the week. One gets the feel of what time of the year it is by which portion of the week is read that week on any given shabbat.

The aliot (the call-ups for reading) are conducted in the traditional way with the blessings before and after the readings. Often the blessing will be said:

Blessed art Thou O LORD our God King of the Universe who has chosen us from all the peoples and has given us His torah and His besorah [Gospel].

Blessed art Thou O LORD who gives the torah and the besorah.

The Hand used for reading from the Torah Scroll

The Hand (yad) used for reading from the Torah Scroll

The "hand" is used by the reader to follow the words while reading to avoid touching the parchment scroll. The torah scroll does not have chapter and verse markings. So finding the portion of the week is done by searching for the first line of the section. The portion of the week is named by the first significant word of the portion. By the way, the weeks of the year are given the name of the portion of the week.

Close-up of the Torah Text

Close-up of the torah text

The text of the torah scroll is done by hand calligraphy and certain letters are adorned with "tagim". You will notice that there are no vowel pointing marks or cantillation marks. This requires those who read the text to know all the vowel pointing by heart. Generally people read from their printed editions of the Bible while the Torah Scroll is being read. If the reader makes a mistake others will correct him. If one knows how to chant he reads according to the cantillation marks; otherwise he gives the text the normal oral interpretation of the text. Joseph Waktor, of blessed memory and one of the founders of our congregation, always read according to the cantillation marks.

The reading of the portion of the week is accompanied by the reading of the haftarah (the matching prophetic portion) of the week. Our congregation has been adding the reading of an appropriate portion from the torat-hashlichim (the teaching of the apostles, that is, the New Testament).

Zot HaTorah

Zot HaTorah

When the portion of the week is finished the torah scroll is lifted up high so that the congregation can see the text and the congregation sings "zot hatorah" ("this is the torah") and the scroll is returned to the Holy ark accompanied by the singing of the congregation, "Return unto us and we shall return unto Thee as in the days of old."

Ceiling Panel Text

Ceiling Panel Text

Along the top of the wall next to the ceiling are paneling with texts from the Bible in hand calligraphy done by Elhanan Ben-Avraham.

The Eternal Light

The Eternal Light

Near the Holy ark is the ner tamid (eternal light) hanging from the ceiling. Our eternal light is of modern design permanently wired in and is never turned off. The text written on the eternal light is: Ner l'ragli dvarekha v'or lintivati ("Your word is a lamp for my foot and light on my path", Psalm 119:105).

The Shema and the Shophar

The Shema and the Shophar

On the front wall of the auditorium is a stylized calligraphy of the Shema done by Elhanan Ben-Avraham. The shofar is used on Rosh HaShanah and at the Ne'ilah service of Yom Kippur.