The goal of this ritual is to enable a congregation to let go of its building and the Lit. Holiness within, so that the building ultimately can be sold, repurposed, or demolished. The congregation may need to give expression to a range of emotions, especially depending on what comes next. There may be joy, especially if a new building is being built. There may be sadness and fear of the unknown, especially if the congregation is merging into another or still searching for a new home. Leaders of this ritual should calibrate the tone accordingly, and might choose different psalms or be intentional about what melodies are sung.
Setting: The congregation gathers in the sanctuary for the last time. At least one The Five Books of Moses, and the foundation of all of Jewish life and lore. The Torah is considered the heart and soul of the Jewish people, and study of the Torah is a high mitzvah. The Torah itself a scroll that is hand lettered on parchment, elaborately dressed and decorated, and stored in a decorative ark. It is chanted aloud on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat, according to a yearly cycle. Sometimes "Torah" is used as a colloquial term for Jewish learning and narrative in general. remains in the Ark. One The mezuzah is a small box containing parchment on which are written the words of the Shema (Judaism's most central prayer). It is affixed to the doorpost of a Jewish home in order to fulfill the commandment to "inscribe [the words of God] upon the doorposts of your house and on your gates." remains on the outdoor of the sanctuary or the building itself, and has been loosened in preparation for removal. Congregants may be invited to gather, and/or a livestream video link may be established. A last prayer service may be led, if the time of day and the safety of the space are appropriate. Clergy and lay leaders gather near the Ark. At least three members of the leadership (e.g., clergy, president, educator) are designated as the Rabbinic court consisting of three rabbis or learned members of the Jewish community. for the ritual.
1: Opening with A wordless melody. and song: “Mah Tovu”
מַה־טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ יַעֲקֹב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל
How good are your tents, O Lit. heel Jacob is the third patriarch, son of Isaac and Rebecca, and father to the twelve tribes of Israel. More than any of the other patriarchs, Jacob wrestles with God and evolves from a deceitful, deal-making young man to a mature, faithful partner to God. His Hebrew name is Yaakov., and your dwellings, O Lit. ''the one who struggles with God.'' Israel means many things. It is first used with reference to Jacob, whose name is changed to Israel (Genesis 32:29), the one who struggles with God. Jacob's children, the Jewish people, become B'nai Israel, the children of Israel. The name also refers to the land of Israel and the State of Israel..
2: Words of Welcome
Clergy introduces the purpose of the ritual, to release the kedushah from within these walls, as the congregation transitions into a new space and the Shekhinah travels with us.
Example: “There is goodness that grows and holiness that accumulates in every place where we gather in prayer, Torah study, and community. We are here today to honor and release the kedushah that has filled this space over the years. This building, which has been holy to us, will now become chol — ordinary. We know that wherever we go, the Divine Presence, the The feminine name of God, expounded upon in the rabbinic era and then by the Kabbalists in extensive literature on the feminine attributes of the divine., travels with us.”
3: Liturgy for Consent and Release by the Beit Din — Al Da’at Hamakom (adapted from the introduction to A prayer recited Yom Kippur evening, widely known for its mournful, haunting melody.)
(recite in English, one time)
By consent of the Divine Presence, and by consent of this community,
by consent of the council above, and by consent of this council below,
We release the sanctity of this synagogue.
(sing in Hebrew with familiar melody from Kol Nidrei service, repeat three times):
עַל דַּֽעַת הַמָּקוֹם וְעַל דַּֽעַת הַקָּהָל.
בִּישִׁיבָה שֶׁל מַֽעְלָה וּבִישִׁיבָה שֶׁל מַֽטָּה.
אָֽנוּ מַתִּירִין לְהַתִּירִ אֶת קְדֻשַּׁת בֵּית הַכְּנֶסֶת הַזֶּה.
4: Liturgy for Memories
“One thing I ask of God, only that do I seek: to live in the house of God all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of God, to return to God’s Sacred Space.”
אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת־ה’ אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית־ה’ כׇּל־יְמֵי חַיַּי לַחֲזוֹת בְּנֹעַם־ה’ וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלוֹ
Clergy and/or lay leaders share reflections and reminiscences of the life of the congregation in this space.
Example: “Each place we call a beit-Hashem, a House of God, becomes so. Our community came here in [year] and has called this space our sacred home since then. We gathered in good times and in difficult times, recognizing the beauty of life, celebrating and grieving together, and bearing witness to God’s presence. [Speaker describes events that are specific to the life of the kahal]. We’d like to invite [members] to share memories of our time here.”
5: Liturgy for Gratitude — Misheberakh for the kahal (from Shabbat-morning liturgy)
Example: “We chant the misheberach with gratitude and acknowledgement for all that our members, past and present, have done for God and for our community in this space, and for all that our members of the future will do in [new space].”
(adapted from Koren Sacks Lit. Order of prayers. The prayer book., p. 519; Siddur Lev Shalem for Shabbat is the Sabbath day, the Day of Rest, and is observed from Friday night through Saturday night. Is set aside from the rest of the week both in honor of the fact that God rested on the seventh day after creating the world. On Shabbat, many Jews observe prohibitions from various activities designated as work. Shabbat is traditionally observed with festive meals, wine, challah, prayers, the reading and studying of Torah, conjugal relations, family time, and time with friends. and Festivals, p. 176.)
מִי שֶׁבֵּרַךְ אֲבותֵינוּ אַבְרָהָם יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקב שָׂרָה רִבְקָה רָחֵל וְלֵאָה, הוּא יְבָרֵךְ אֶת כָּל הַקָּהָל הַקָּדושׁ הַזֶּה עִם כָּל קְהִלּות הַקּדֶשׁ. הֵם וּמִשְׁפְּחֹתֵיהֶם וְכָל אֲשֶׁר לָהֶם. וּמִי שֶׁמְּיַחֲדִים בָּתֵּי כְנֵסִיּות לִתְפִלָּה. וּמִי שֶׁבָּאִים בְּתוכָם לְהִתְפַּלֵּל. וּמִי שֶׁנּותְנִים נֵר לַמָּאור וְיַיִן לְקִדּוּשׁ וּלְהַבְדָּלָה וּפַת לְאורְחִים וּצְדָקָה לָעֲנִיִּים. וְכָל מִי שֶׁעוסְקִים בְּצָרְכֵי צִבּוּר בֶּאֱמוּנָה. הַקָּדושׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא יְשַׁלֵּם שכָרָם וְיָסִיר מֵהֶם כָּל מַחֲלָה וְיִרְפָּא לְכָל גּוּפָם וְיִסְלַח לְכָל עֲונָם. וְיִשְׁלַח בְּרָכָה וְהַצְלָחָה בְּכָל מַעֲשה יְדֵיהֶם עִם כָּל יִשרָאֵל אֲחֵיהֶם. וְנאמַר אָמֵן:
“May the One who blessed our ancestors Abraham is the first patriarch and the father of the Jewish people. He is the husband of Sarah and the father of Isaac and Ishmael. God's covenant - that we will be a great people and inherit the land of Israel - begins with Abraham and is marked by his circumcision, the first in Jewish history. His Hebrew name is Avraham., Abraham and Sarah's much-longed-for son and the second Jewish patriarch. Isaac is nearly sacrificed by his father at God's command (Genesis 22). He is married to Rebecca and is the father of Esau and Jacob. His Hebrew name is Yitzchak., and Jacob, The first matriarch, wife of Abraham, and mother of Isaac, whom she birthed at the age of 90. Sarah, in Rabbinic tradition, is considered holy, beautiful, and hospitable. Many prayers, particularly the Amidah (the central silent prayer), refer to God as Magen Avraham – protector of Abraham. Many Jews now add: pokehd or ezrat Sarah – guardian or helper of Sarah., The second Jewish matriarch, Isaac's wife, and mother to Jacob and Esau. Rebecca is an active parent, talking to God when she is pregnant and learning the fate of her children, then ultimately manipulating Isaac and the children to ensure Jacob's ascendancy. Her Hebrew name is Rivka., Lavan's younger daughter and Jacob's beloved wife second wife (after he is initially tricked into marrying her older sister, Leah). Rachel grieves throughout her life that she is barren while Leah is so fertile. Ultimately, Rachel gives birth to Joseph and dies in childbirth with Benjamin. Rachel is remembered as compassionate (she is said to still weep for her children), and infertile women often invoke Rachel as a kind of intercessor and visit her tomb on the road to Bethlehem., and The third of the Jewish matriarchs, Lead is the eldest of Lavan's daughters and one of the wives of Jacob. She is the daughter whom Lavan tricks Jacob into marrying instead of his younger daughter Rachel, whom Jacob has requested to marry. Leah is mother to six of the the twelve tribes and to one daughter, Dinah., bless all this holy congregation, together with all other holy congregations, they and their families, and all that is theirs. May the Holy One bless those who unite to form synagogues for prayer and those who come there to pray; those who provide lamps for light and wine for The prayer recited over wine on Shabbat, holidays, and other joyous occasions. and Lit. Separation A ceremony performed on Saturday night to mark the end of Shabbat and the beginning of the week, using wine, a braided candle, and sweet-smelling spices., food for visitors and charity for the poor, and all who faithfully occupy themselves with the needs of the community. May the Holy One give them their reward, and remove from them all illness, and grant them complete healing, and forgive all their sins. May God send blessing and success to all the work of their hands, together with all their fellow Jews of the people Israel, and let us say Amen.”
6: Final Removal of the Torahs
Introduce mood and mindset for final Plural of "hakafah." The hakafah is the procession made with the Torah before the Torah service. The term "hakafot" is the plural and also generally refers to the seven circuits made with the Torah on Simchat Torah., and final goodbye to the sanctuary.
Example: “For one last time, we will circle the sanctuary with the Torahs, as we have done on Shabbat and holidays. From corner to corner, wall to wall, this space has been filled with the kedushah or our tefillot and limmud. With this final hakafah, this time, we will take the kedushah with us. We will pull the kedushah from the walls and the ceiling and the seats, so that this space can revert to chol, an ordinary physical place.”
The ark is opened, and all of the congregational Torahs are handed to clergy and lay members. Ark is closed. With the Torah in the lead, the congregation walks in a hakafah around the sanctuary. After a full loop in the usual counterclockwise direction, the Torahs go through the center aisle or middle of the space towards the doorway where the last mezuzah remains.
The hakafah may be conducted in silence, as participants listen to the sounds of their souls reverbating in the space; a leader should invite participants into this silence.
Alternately, ritual leaders may lead singing or instrumental music, whether reflective or festive, as befits the moment. One possibility is a medley of liturgical melodies from throughout the Jewish year. Another option is a reprise of the opening niggun, “Mah Tovu.”
If the livestream technology permits, those watching online may be invited to type blessings and memories into the “chat” function.
7: Removal of Mezuzah
Ritual leaders gather with the Torahs and community participants beside the remaining mezuzah (which should be loosened before the ritual for ease of removal).
Clergy or lay leaders make closing remarks, transitioning the congregation toward its next stages.
Example: “The mezuzah marks this space as our home, a place of study and growth and comfort. The Shekhinah travels with us, the Torahs travel with us, and the mezuzah, too, travels with us. [Take the mezuzah down.] These walls are now just walls, this space is just a room. We are taking our memories with us, to build new ones in our new home. May the connection and protection that we once felt here, comfort us and strengthen us in the next part of our journey as a congregation.”
8: Liturgy of Closure and Continuity
Option A: Hadran (adapted from liturgy for a A celebration at the conclusion of a unit of study, such as completing a tractate of Mishna or Talmud. for learning)
“We will return to you, and you will return to us.
Our thoughts are with you, and your thoughts are with us.
We will not forget you, and you will not forget us,
not in this world, and not in the world to come.” (3x)
הַדְרָן עֲלָךְ וְהַדְרָךְ עֲלָן,
דַעְתָן עֲלָךְ וְדַעְתָךְ עֲלָן,
לָא נִתְנְשֵי מִנָךְ וְלָא תִתְנְשִי מִנָן,
לָא בְעָלְמָא הָדֵין וְלָא בְעָלְמָא דְאָתֵי: (3x)
Option B: Hashivenu (Lamentations 5:21)
“Turn us back, Lit. The Name, referring to the ineffable name of God; used as a substitute for any of the more sacred names of God when not speaking in prayer. Particularly used in conversation., to You, and we will return. Renew our days as of old, as you have done before.”
הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ ה’ אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה, חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם
The Torahs should be taken immediately to their new home, escorted by as many community members as possible, whether by car or by foot, with singing and/or dancing as appropriate to the mood and logistically feasible.
Before leaving the building, and/or before placing the Torahs in their new home, all who are gathered may be invited to touch the Torahs and to send them off with a prayer or intention for the future.