New York is about to witness an entirely new form of Jewish religious observance combining interpretation of the Scriptures with a colorful ritual described as resembling that of the Ancient Temple.
An important part of the ritual provides that members of the congregation attend the services attired as for a social function.
Rabbi Jacob Sonderling, exponent of Neo-Chassidism, as this form of Jewish worship is categoried, is reported to have had great success in Germany with the unique ritual of his conception and to have attracted to his services many of the most distinguished Jews in Hamburg, Berlin and other places.
He gave New York Jewry its first taste of this type of religious expression at a private demonstration held recently at the Community House of Temple Emanu-El, which received the approval of a considerable number of prominent Jewish men and women.
On Selichoth, September 24th, Rabbi Sonderling will invite the general public to attend a Neo-Chassidic midnight service at the Level Club. He has also engaged the auditorium of the Level Club with a seating capacity of 2,300, for special services he will conduct on the Jewish Holidays, Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur, October 1 and 2, and 9 and 10, after which Rabbi Sonderling plans to form a permanent congregation in New York for the followers of Neo-Chassidism.
In making known these plans, Rabbi Sonderling explained his motives and the new form of religious observance he is introducing in America. He said:
“Neo-Chassidism tries to penetrate the channels of the five senses to the soul of man. It is ‘sense-appeal” and it is in accordance with old Jewish thought. Rabbi Moses Isseles, one of the great authorities of the middle ages, stated that the Sanctuary of old was surrounded by a wall. That wall had five doors leading to the temple corresponding with the five senses….
“The synagogue and public services as now conducted do not appeal to the younger generation. The Jewish home is vanishing rapidly. What can be done in order to revive Jewish religiosity? Modern Jewry apparently is not discouraged by the lack of response of the Jewish masses. It has continued to build magnificent temples and has invested untold millions in structures which remain empty.
“I suggest that we build, instead of huge synagogues, the Jewish home for the congregation at large.
“In order to avoid misunderstanding, I insist most emphatically that the Jewish centers as built in recent years are not the things I have in mind. There is nothing Jewish in them. We can’t become Jewish by means of a swimming pool; dancing to the tunes of jazz will not arouse any Jewish consciousness in our youth; neither will bridge parties or similar enterprises help the religious cause.
“What I plan is a beautiful hall in which the congregation gathers, where people replace the leader and the service becomes a social gathering.”