• 28 JANUARY, 2020
Responsibilities of The Leader of the Synagogue

The synagogue is a Jewish community house of worship. The religious community gathers here for worship, other assembly and study. To better understand who operates the synagogue building and who can effectively take care of the religious practices going on at the House of Prayer, the book I Am Only Mary, written by Thomas Atzberger, sets it out for us.

The author of this historical religious fiction explores the culture of the time during the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This original prose meditation portrays how the community and visitors worshiped in their holy rituals, including the Sabbath worship and spiritual activities at the community synagogue. Since the place of worship is also used for daily operations, comprising both spiritual and community services, the physical arrangements of the synagogue services need to be managed properly. Therefore, the elders of the community appoint a scholarly person as the synagogue leader.

Being a devoted and ardent religious girl, Mary desires to learn how religious services are conducted in synagogues and who takes care of the services and the building. Mary also listens with surprising interest to the rituals and spiritual prayers conducted during Sabbath worship at the synagogue. Her father, a member of the Synagogue leadership, revels in teaching her.

While reading the book, the readers learn that the synagogue constructed by the community of Nazareth is well managed and maintained by the spiritual leaders who are intellectually and morally qualified.

The author describes different leadership roles. The lowest among the leaders is the Chazzan or minister, and he also acts as a schoolmaster. Despite his lower ranking, he conducts religious services and performs administrative roles. The Archisynagogos is referred to as the head of the synagogue. He is closely connected to the daily operations of the synagogue. Thus, his various functions vary comprise the arrangement of the spiritual, education, and community activities in the synagogue. He is also liable to manage the physical administration of the building. He ensures that events in the synagogue, the prayers, religious sermons, and rituals are properly conducted. The spiritual leader supervises education and general community affairs and collects charity funds and donations for the Jews.

The Archisynagogos also assists the reader of the scriptures to visit the Bima, a place found in front of Ark. The reader stands at the lectern, and Archisynagogos begins the service with two prayers. Then he begins with Shema. This prayer is considered the keystone of the daily morning and evening prayer services. Shema reminds the believers to affirm God's singularity and kingship and teaches us to obey God’s commandments. Archisynagogos make certain that all the services at the synagogue are taken care of properly. Thus, Archisynagogos is held in high esteem by congregation and community people.

The spiritual leader is generally the rabbi who knows the Talmud and the Shulkhan Arukh (Code of Jewish Law) and classical texts of Jewish scholarship. Moreover, he is expected to be modest, well-informed, and insightful. Having a deep knowledge of the Scriptures, he speaks with clarity and wisdom. His inspiring words touch the hearts of the listeners who come from near and far to hear and comprehend the words of God. Being compassionate, he deals politely and kindly with other people.

The ancient priests performed sacrificial rituals sacrifices on behalf of a community or congregation to restore the holiness of the community. The high priest has overall charge of the synagogue, looking after the holy building, the finances, and administration. He also holds the responsibility of collecting taxes and maintaining proper decorum and order during sermons and other religious services.

Thomas Atzberger observes that “Preaching is a most important function. It glorifies God and brings men nearer to Him; it quenches the soul’s thirst. A preacher is like the deliverer of a little city, weak and besieged.”

His book illustrates the different steps in the Sabbath worship at the synagogue. The ceremony leader takes his position before the Ark and begins with reciting Shema. Then he proceeds with narrating Eulogies or benedictions. A significant part of the service includes reading the Law. The Haphtarah, a section from the Prophets, precedes reading of the Law. Since they are recited in Hebrew, many believers cannot comprehend the language. Therefore, the synagogue leader provides the Methurgeman, or interpreter, who translates the reading. Finally, the service includes a sermon called the Derashah.

This book is a must-read. I Am Only Mary is available on different online platforms for the readers who have a deep interest in Mary, the mother of Jesus. The book helps the readers know Mary as a fellow person of faith, emphasizing her humanity and her virtuous living of God's call. It explains the rituals Mary followed during her childhood to adulthood. The book reveals the elements of Mary's life and character that are rarely thought of or known. Since the probable details of Mary's biography are rarely available to the readers, this little history of her probable actual life brings her close to us.