I have studied Judaism for five years privately but also with the assistance of friends. There isn't a shul in the city where I live so most Shabbats I pray at home. Occasionally I have driven into a near by city about 35 minutes away to pray at a Conservative Synagogue. I would like to visit a Modern Orthodox synagogue and perhaps pray there regularly when I can go. What is the best course of action when visiting a MO shul? Naturally people have questions when a new person shows up out of no where; I am not Jewish, I would have to drive, etc. Should I contact the Rabbi first to explain? Would it go over well to just show up? If it matters, I am a man.

I'll go ahead and answer some obvious questions up front. To be clear, I realize I am not Jewish, and I do not have delusions that I am a member. Simply put I wish to join alongside Israel and worship the one Creator and G-d of all, if I could meet a few nice people along the way who are willing to tolerate my presence that would be great as well.

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    Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/20281/472 Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 2:22
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    Similar: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/18995
    – msh210
    Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 4:21
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    @AdamMosheh, I looked at both of those when the question showed up, but this seems different enough from both to warrant its own question. Just my opinion; others are welcome to weigh in. Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 4:16
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    I have reviewed these related posts. There are specific questions I posed about visiting a MO shul specifically which are not addressed in the other posts such as driving. Also a discussion of when it's appropriate to introduce yourelf and meet with the rabbi wasn't discussed in the related posts. However the related posts were also helpful.
    – Hashamyim
    Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 4:47
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    @user4579 what will you be praying? if you are going to be praying straight out of an english siddur assuming you dont know hebrew, in the 3amidho you should switch the word our with their as in their forefathers instead of our forefathers. i think thats how it goes not sure though, second opinion anyone? Commented Dec 11, 2013 at 6:19

2 Answers 2


I'm not widely traveled, but I've been to a bunch of different synagogues of all the major flavors, often as one-offs, including C and MO, so I'm answering on the basis of that experience.

First visit

You can just show up.

Many of the factors that affect you are the same between Conservative and Modern Orthodox synagogues. The Conservative synagogue you've been going to might or might not be egalitarian, which would make more of a difference if you were a woman.

In either, as a man you would count for the minyan if you were Jewish, so take a look around when you get there. If there are more than about a dozen men you probably don't need to worry (I'm fudging that number because, hey, you might not be the only non-Jew there). If the number is close, look around for the gabbai, the person who seems to be coordinating logistics like handing out aliyot, and tell him you don't count. Since you're new he may approach you first; if he offers you any honor, like an aliyah, decline. If he inquires, just tell him you aren't Jewish and that will take care of it. Optionally you can also tell him that you've been going to such-and-such Conservative shul (if it's near enough that people would know it), which tells him that you aren't a complete newbie (you don't need to have the service explained to you).

At the kiddush, if wine has been put out for everybody it will probably be in individual cups. If so you can freely take one. If there's a bottle and people are pouring their own, you should skip it or wait to be offered a filled cup. It's probably mevushal, meaning that being touched by a gentile won't be a problem, but you never know. There are wines that can be made ritually invalid if handled by gentiles. (Sorry about that.)

In my experience any newcomer at any type of synagogue gets asked "new in town?" or the like. You can say you're just visiting; you might be asked who you're visiting as people try to play "Jewish geography". You can say you're shul shopping (if you are). Most people won't want to know details of your personal status.

When mingling with people (like at the kiddush), don't offer handshakes to women. More generally, take your social cues from the other men there.

As a non-Jew you are not forbidden to drive on Shabbat, but it will be less awkward for you if you park a block or so away instead of right in front of the building.

Recurring visits

If you decide to go to this synagogue on a regular basis, it's a good idea to talk with the rabbi. (Call during the week and make an appointment; don't try to do it at the kiddush.) Explain your intentions (I can't tell if you're considering conversion, for example) and ask him if he has any problem with you coming there. Not only is this polite -- if you're going to join a community it's good to introduce yourself -- but he may be able to connect you with others, e.g. for meals.

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    You don't even have to say that you're not Jewish. Judaism has a Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, and so it's not like you're nullifying their mitzvah of having a quorum if you don't chime in and say, I'm not Jewish. If you feel that an aliyah would be inappropriate, then just decline for personal reasons. For a first time visit, you don't have to scream, "I'm a goy!" Also, assuming that he's a bnei noach, touching the wine should be fine for him. However; yeah, you never know.
    – rosenjcb
    Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 8:42
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    @rosenjcb telling the gabbai he's not Jewish is relevant if the gabbai might count him for the minyan. In general yeah, you don't need to tell anybody -- but you do need to do your part to prevent violations of halacha (which includes declining aliyot, which are restricted to Jews). I think the wine situation is more complicated than you do, but either way, I wouldn't expect a gentile to navigate that -- better to just avoid the situation. Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 13:30
  • @Monica Cellio How you've broken out first vs recurring visits is very helpful. Realisitically I will only be able to attend once each month at most right now maybe even once every 6 weeks on average. Would it still be appropriate to schedule time with the Rabbi in that case? It seems strange that I might not show up for a month and a half yet I'm discussing the with Rabbi my intentions to attend regularly. I suppose it comes down to how we define "regularly"?
    – Hashamyim
    Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 15:28
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    @user4579 this is a gut feeling, but I'd say don't worry about it until you've been there 4 or 5 times. When people start recognizing you or greeting you by name, it's probably time to think about it. But play it by ear; visitors are welcome, so when you start thinking of yourself less as a visitor and more as a (semi-)regular, maybe it's time to introduce yourself to the head of the community. Does that help? Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 15:32
  • Monica, and @user4579, I'd go one further. If you're really interested in having a Jewish prayer experience, whether or not you ever plan to convert, it would probably be a good idea to talk to the rabbi as a means of having a communal connection and a teacher. Maybe you'll go every six weeks; maybe you'll go once and never return. Whatever happens, your experience may be enhanced by a follow-up (or preliminary - or both) conversation with the rabbi of the Shul.
    – Seth J
    Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 3:03

Regarding driving to Shul on Shabbos: Do it. Every time.

Not only are you not required to keep Shabbos, because you are not Jewish, but you are also forbidden to keep Shabbos, for the same reason.

Also, keep in mind that unlike most Conservative temples, most Orthodox shuls have services every day of the week. If you really want to get a feel for things, go every day.

If you do go during the week, you will notice people putting on Tefillin. Some might even offer to let you use theirs. You should decline, and optionally explain that you're not Jewish.

Hope this helps.

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    -1 As long as the OP doesn't keep Shabbat fully every week, there's no reason to avoid walking to shul rather than driving. I think this answer is a little misleading.
    – user3318
    Commented Dec 11, 2013 at 5:08

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