Rabbi Asher Fettmann, seen here beside a Torah scroll, speaking to participants during the Feb 11 visit.
By Jared Ng
Participants of a recent visit to a synagogue were left in awe as they got a up-close look at the Torah – hand-written scrolls in Hebrew of the Books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The Torah is the most important document of Judaism. The Feb 11 visit to the Chesed-El Synagogue at Oxley Rise saw Rabbi Asher Fettmann sharing with the estimated 50 Catholic participants the features of the synagogue and the tenets of the Jewish faith.
The Archdiocesan Catholic Council for Interreligious Dialogue (ACCIRD) organised the visit to help Catholics better appreciate inter-religious dialogue as well as promote mutual respect and friendship with people of other faiths. Rabbi Fettmann shared with his visitors that situated at the front of the synagogue is the ark, akin to a sanctuary in a Catholic church, where the Torah scrolls are kept. In the centre of the synagogue is the bimah, a raised wooden platform where a rabbi leads prayers and reads from the Torah. Men and women are also separated during prayers to “avoid distraction”, he said.
Participants walking inside the synagogue. In the center is the bimah, a raised wooden platform where a rabbi leads prayers and reads from the Torah. Rabbi Fettmann said that there are 613 laws in Judaism, and prayers are held in the synagogue on Mondays, Thursdays and on the Sabbath, observed by Jews on Saturdays. According to Rabbi Fettmann, there are about 2,500 Jews living in Singapore. He also answered questions during the course of his sharing. One participant asked what were some of the issues facing the Jewish community in Singapore. Rabbi Fettmann said that the main issue, similar perhaps to other religions, was reaching out to young people and inspiring them to continue the traditions of Judaism. Another participant asked Rabbi Fettmann how he was inspired to become a rabbi. “When I was 10 years old, I already knew I wanted to be a rabbi. My father was a rabbi so you can say the ‘flame’ was passed on to me,” he said. The Chesed-El Synagogue, located at Oxley Rise, was built in 1905. Participants said they found the talk enlightening. A visitor from the Church of the Holy Cross said he could identify with some of the issues facing the Jewish community. “We too have an aging population issue in most of our parishes because … a lot of the young people are not coming,” he said. “I think it’s something that we as an archdiocese need to look at.” Another participant shared her views. “The way [the rabbi] shared about Judaism has really made me reflect on my own faith and what I can do to live it more fervently,” she said. The Chesed-El Synagogue was built in 1905 and is one of two synagogues in Singapore, the other being the Maghain Aboth Synagogue at Waterloo Street.