Chagall's Praying Jew

I recently received the question, “Did the Jewish people have liturgy?”

Firstly, in replying, I noted the use of the past tense. Do some people think the Jewish people are no more? Or do other people think the Jews have liturgy now – but didn’t used to? Or never have had liturgy?

I wonder if the question is a sign that the Old Testament, the First Testament, is little or not read in many churches – that is certainly a reality in some places I know (this was a question from an Anglican). Except for the Easter Season, the Sunday lectionary we agree to use has a First Testament reading to be proclaimed in the community (in the Easter Season that is replaced by reading through the Acts of the Apostles). If one reads the First Testament, there are vast swathes of descriptions and rules (rubrics!) of Jewish liturgy.

Jesus, the Jew, participated in Jewish liturgy, is recorded in the New Testament as participating in Jewish liturgy, and Christianity continues this heritage.

The Eucharist begins, essentially, with a synagogue-type liturgical rite of readings, address, and prayers; and continues with the Jewish home liturgy of a significant meal. Every significant meal began with a short prayer and shared broken bread and concluded with a lengthy prayer and a shared cup of wine. The meal has dropped out, and the home bread-and-wine ritual has been glued onto the synagogue rite. Jesus knew that his disciples would continue this and said, from now on, when they did this they should do it to bring His reality to their present.

There are even theories that the Gospel stories are told in response to the fixed Jewish lectionary. As they heard the readings from the First Testament, the earliest Christians told stories of Jesus connecting with those readings. The collection of these stories, in this viewpoint, became Gospels.

That is enough to start reflecting on “Did the Jewish people have liturgy?”

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Image: Chagall’s Praying Jew

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