Reform Judaism has always been committed to creative worship and Jewish learning, mixing tradition and expression to form meaningful Jewish experiences. NFTY has long been at the forefront of creative worship and informal Jewish education.
This section is intended to help NFTYites produce and enhance creative worship experiences while working within certain boundaries of the Jewish tradition. It is important to remember that worship experiences cannot be confined to praying in a temple. Worship can occur during a service, outside alone in the woods, holding hands with a friend or listening to music. NFTY works to facilitate all kinds of meaningful, interactive exerperiences that allow NFTYites to explore worship.
This section also provides resources to help bring Jewish content to TYG, regional and camp programming - whether it is learning how to write a d'var Torah or take action on issues related to the current situation in Israel.Learn more about our Teen Songleading Fellowship
Many of these documents contain specific Hebrew fonts that may not come standard on your computer. You can find these fonts, available for download, at the bottom of this page.
For more assistance with compiling creative services, please contact your local or regional Religious and Cultural Vice President.
Jews stand during prayer as we would stand before royalty. It is generally accepted by our tradition that we stand for the Barchu, Hallel (psalms of praise), and the Amidah. Many Reform Jews also rise for the Shema, but it may surprise you to learn that not everyone does—this is because Shema is an affirmation, and not a direct address to God. Our tradition also teaches that one must say the Shema with kavanah. Some Jews close or cover their eyes while saying the first line in order to concentrate better.
Amidah literally means “standing up,” and is traditionally considered the most important prayer. It is traditional to bow down on the words “Baruch atah” and stand back up on “Adonai.” Bowing is a small-scale simulation of falling to the ground during Temple times to prostrate oneself before God. When bowing, one bends the knees, but rises up at the waist up. Although we bow for “Baruch atah Adonai,” there is no traditional basis for bowing at “elohei Avraham, elohei Yitzhak, v’elohei Yaakov, etc.”
During the morning K’dushah, we rise up on our tiptoes three times for “kadosh, kadosh, kadosh.” The Kabbalists were the first to suggest that the triple sanctification of God’s name is an indication that one must reach to God with one’s whole body. It is also an imitation of God’s ministering angels.
Some congregations will then sit and read through the remaining sections of the Amidah together. Others will instruct individuals to pray the rest of the Amidah individually—standing until one has completed the Amidah.
During the Torah service, we rise when the Torah is removed from the Ark, returned to the Ark, and when the Torah is raised for Hagbah and G’lilah. We sit for the Torah reading, in that it imitates Torah study in which a group might sit in a classroom or in a living room.
We stand for the Aleinu. The very words of this prayer tell us what to do: “va-anachnu (and we) korim (bend at the knees) u-mish-tachavim (and bow down) u-modim (and give thanks), (we then raise ourselvs back up) lifnay melech mal’chay ha-m’lachim ha-kadosh barchu (before the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He).”
We also stand for the Kaddish Yatom, the Mourner’s Kaddish. Traditionally, only those who are in mourning or who are observing a yartzeit stand to recite this prayer. Many Reform Jews today stand in order to not single out the mourners, and to say Kaddish for those who do not have someone to say kaddish for them.
When praying, it is important to practice the postures that you feel most comfortable with. Try both traditional and non-traditional postures in order to decide which ones enhance your personal worship experience.
The Process of Compiling T’fillot (Services):
- This meeting should include the RCVP, service participants and the Youth Advisor.
- Decide on a date for the T’fillah (service) (if it is not already decided) and confirm with the Temple staff and clergy.
- Announce the service to the rest of the youth group and in the Temple bulletin at least one month beforehand.
- Songleaders - many Youth Groups believe having Songleaders enhance the T’fillah. If you plan to have a songleader at your T’fillah, make sure you contact them well in advance and give them enough time to prepare.
- Themes - Some youth groups enjoy weaving a theme into their T’fillot. They can provide continuity for the community, but they can also be very distracting and sometimes detract from the service atmosphere.
- Brainstorm with those interested in helping to compile the T’fillah, if you decide to use a theme – stick with it!
- Find readings and songs that reflect your theme and relate to the prayers. (Be sure they are meaningful and avoid “My favorite color is blue” or “I love the summer” because they really have nothing to do with the T’fillah)
- Remember to choose songs that are known throughout the congregation and that are appropriate for the T’fillah (i.e.: don’t choose a song welcoming Shabbat if your T’fillah is during the week)
- Do not substitute readings for important prayers (see T’fillah Outlines)
- Let participants choose parts – encourage everyone to take part in T’fillot
- Determine the date for the next meeting
- Put the pieces together in the form of a T’fillah
- Readings, songs, Torah/Haftarah portions, etc.
- Watch out for too many consecutive readings
- Estimate the length of the service
- Have a Rabbi (or other qualified person) review the T’fillah for appropriate songs, readings & prayers BEFORE you make copies!
Formatting the T’fillot
- Be sure to use versions of prayers and songs with transliterations and translations for those who don’t yet know them (you may have to type it out yourself)
- Clearly indicate “congregation” and “reader” for responsive readings
- Make sure every participant has a copy of the T’fillah ahead of time with their part clearly marked
- Keep a master copy of the T’fillah with each participant’s name next to their part – be prepared to step in or have the Rabbi step in incase the participant is not there.
- Make sure participants know where to sit and when to do their part
- Make sure to review the songs and versions in the T’fillah
- Run through the entire T’fillah
- Read through every reading and Hebrew prayer
- Torah reader read from the scroll at least once before the T’fillah
NOTE: Use your imagination to enhance the service but be sure that the participants are not distracted from prayer. Be sure your creative piece is not seen as a performance, but as an expression.
- The most important part in writing D’vrei Torah is to pick a passage that is interesting to you and that is relevant to you today.
- Take time to read the actual passage, not just a summary of the parshah.
- Select a particular verse or section that really matters to you.
- Begin with a brief summary of that portion.
Formulate a Question
What is it that you truly want to know about this passage that cannot be answered just from Torah text?
Read the Commentary
Studying Torah means discovering what scholars from the earliest times to the present had to say about your passage. Do they answer your question?
Famous Commentary Sources
Early and Medieval
Hashana Rabbah – early, pre-talmudic commentary. Often in the form of Midrash (stories to explain the unexplained).
Rashi – the most famous - an 11th century French commentator.
Tosafists – Commented often on Rashi.
RaMBaN – (Nachmonidies)
Abramanel – Like RaMBaM and RaMBaN he is Medieval.
Nahama Leibowitz – 20th Century Israeli, explains Rashi and adds insight.
Gunther Plaut – The Torah: A Modern Commentary Stone Chumash – includes most of the early and medieval commentators.
Where you Come In
Your job is not to be the expert, but to share you search. Here is the traditional order of your presentation:
- Start off with a summary of the parshah of the week.
- Present the question or topic you would like to explore further.
- Share the commentary. Do you agree? Does it answer your question?
- What is the relevance of this passage to you today? (If it doesn’t matter, don’t pick it!)