FAQ

Altshul’s practices have evolved over our history to meet the needs of our community. We often get questions about exactly how Altshul works and why we made the choices we did. Answers to some of the most common questions are below. If you need a definition of a term, check the glossary below. And if your question isn’t here, we’d love to answer it for you! Please contact us at info@altshul.org.

Overall Questions

  • Why doesn’t Altshul meet every Shabbat?
    Altshul is an entirely lay-led community. When we started, we met only one Shabbat morning a month, and we have slowly added more monthly meetings since then.
    Ideally, Altshul would meet every week. At this moment, the ritual team does not yet believe that we would be able to fill out davening and leyning spots, as well as our set-up and support slots, every week.

  • Why does Altshul start at 10am on Shabbat mornings?
    10am felt like the right time for our community.

  • What community policies does Altshul have?
    All our policies can be found on our Website. Currently we have policies about Kashrut, kids, hosting lifecycle events, and the prayer for the state of Israel.

  • How do Altshul policies get made?
    When an issue arises in the community, the leadership team does research into all areas of the issue. We reach out to our community via survey to get thoughts, we look into other independent minyanim and how they handle the situation, and we consult our Halakhic advisors. Once we have all this information we try and make a decision that will work best for our community.

  • Who is Altshul’s Halakhic authority?
    Altshul consults Rabbi Ethan Tucker from Mechon Hadar on most Halakhic issues. While the Altshul community does not have a Rabbi, we are happy to put you in touch with a Rabbi if you have a Halakhic question

  • If I want to propose a new or changed policy, who should I talk to?
    The best thing to do is approach a member of the Altshul leadership team, or to send an email to info@altshul.org and someone will set up a time to discuss it with you.

  • What’s the deal with Altshul’s “blue sheets”?
    It can be distracting to those davening/praying to continually announce page numbers, in addition to some Halakhic complications with interrupting your prayers to speak. However, it is extremely important to us that everyone feel comfortable and welcome in our space and have the opportunity to know where we are in the service. The blue sheets are intended to help our community find their place.

At Services

  • Why doesn’t Altshul always say Aleinu out loud at services?
    A part of the Altshul community found the liturgy in Aleinu challenging, and a decision was made to give people the choice of saying Aleinu out loud when they lead services.

  • On Friday nights, why doesn’t Altshul say or sing Ana b’Choach?
    Ana b’Choach is not in the Sim Shalom prayer book. We don’t want to sing something that is not accessible for those using that prayer book.

  • What is Altshul’s position on egalitarian liturgy (e.g. adding Imahot)?
    Altshul leaves the decision up to the person leading tefilot as to whether or not they include the Imahot. However, in either case, it may not be included in the closing blessing of each paragraph of the amidah, as that raises Halakhic complications.

  • Does Altshul ever skip prayers?
    Our outline includes most of the prayers that are part of the Shabbat day service. In a rare moment, when services are extremely long, we will omit Anim Zmirot at the end, which is not an Halakhic requirement.

Food

(Refer to Altshul’s Kashrut policy for general information)

  • Why doesn’t Altshul serve bread or bagels at Kiddush?
    Unless Altshul is having a sit-down meal, we do not serve bread or bagels at Kiddush as they require a ritual hand-washing and blessing that would make the meal count as a lunch.

  • What Hechshers does Altshul accept?
    Altshul accepts any hechsher (but not a plain “K” on a package of food, which is not a hechsher).

  • If I make food at home to bring to Altshul and I have a strictly vegetarian but not Kosher kitchen, is there anything I should know about?
    Most cheese, wine, grape juice, and vinegar is not Kosher, so if you are cooking with these ingredients, please be sure to check that they have a Hechsher (as a rule, all packaged foods that you use for cooking for Altshul should have hechshers). It’s OK, though, if you use vegetarian but non-Kosher foods in your kitchen at other times.
    If  you bring food into your home from restaurants that are not strictly kosher or strictly vegetarian, and eat it on your dishes, even if the food is vegetarian, please do not bring food prepared in your house to Altshul events as some of our community members will not be able to eat this food.

Glossary

  • Aleinu: The prayer said near the end of each service that refers to, among other themes, God’s special role for the Jewish people.

  • Amidah: The prayers, usually said silently while standing, that form the central part of the three daily services in Judaism. On Shabbat, the Amidah consists of seven prayers, and on weekdays, of nineteen. In the morning, the Amidah is repeated out loud by the leader of the service.

  • Davening: Praying.

  • Egalitarian: In Jewish communities, this usually refers to the idea that women should be able to fulfill the same roles and religious requirements as men. Altshul is an egalitarian Minyan, which means that all of our roles — including reading from the Torah and being counted for a Minyan — can be fulfilled by any of our adult community members.

  • Halakha: The body of Jewish law, starting with the Torah and Talmud and continuing through subsequent Rabbinic legal opinions, that traditionally define the rules for fulfilling Judaism’s commandments. Altshul as a community is guided by — but not bound to — halakha.

  • Hechsher: A mark indicating that a product has been examined by a Jewish authority and determined to be Kosher. In general, for packaged foods, this involves a supervisor (“mashgiach”) inspecting the facility occasionally. For certain kinds of foods (meat, cheese, and grape products in particular) the process is more complex. Food does not have to be blessed by a Rabbi to be Kosher, and many foods (such as raw, uncut fruits and vegetables) do not need a hechsher at all.

  • Imahot: The matriarchs of Jewish tradition: Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel. Traditionally, the first prayer of the Amidah, the “avot” prayer, mentions the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) but not the matriarchs, and many egalitarian communities extend this prayer to mention the matriarchs as well.

  • Kiddush: The sanctification prayer we say over wine on Shabbat and holidays, and by extension the event at which this prayer is said. At Altshul, we say Kiddush after services on Shabbat mornings and have sponsors who volunteer to bring snacks and drinks for people to eat afterwards.

  • Leyning: Publicly reading Torah (or any other part of the Bible, for instance the Haftarah or the Five Scrolls we read on certain holidays). Torah is usually read with a particular musical system called “trope”. Altshul’s leyners are all community members who volunteer to learn Torah portions on the weeks that we meet. If you are interested in leyning for Altshul, contact gabbai@altshul.org.

  • Minyan: A Jewish community. “Minyan” also specifically refers to a community gathered for prayer, and in particular to the ten Jewish adults who must be present in order for a group praying together to be considered a community.

  • Tefilot: Prayers.

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