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I'm a practicing Christian getting my master's degree in education, and one of my classes (cultural foundations of education) calls for me to spend time in a culture other than my own.

I have a great respect for Judaism and would love to take this opportunity to immerse myself in the culture in order to better understand its rich history. I can imagine that this may be seen as disrespectful, and want to make sure that this isn't the case.

Is there a way for me to respectfully sit in on a service or otherwise immerse myself in the Jewish culture without making anyone uncomfortable or be distracting?

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    Your safest bet is probably to just contact the rabbi(s) of whatever congregation(s) you want to visit and ask what they think is appropriate. – Double AA Jul 3 '16 at 20:11
  • Yes, of course. If you're going somewhere Orthodox, dress appropriately and prepare not touch people of the opposite sex and don't sing (if you're a woman) or let yourself be counted for a minyan (if you're a man). (If you're going to be there on Shabbat, you might want to read up on the laws a little bit, too, so you don't conspicuously violate them: a matter of politeness more than anything else.) It's also better not to say the Hebrew versions of prayers that refer to G-d by name. In a non-Orthodox synagogue/temple I would think this last point is all that matters – SAH Jul 3 '16 at 20:34
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    Ye but still best to be in touch with the rabbi before hand – Dude Jul 3 '16 at 21:01
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We've had related questions from prospective converts and one that asks specifically how to behave in a particular group's shul. This answer will overlap with answers there, but I'm going to focus specifically on the "Christian visitor" aspect of your question, because even though prospective converts can visit, you might not automatically generalize that to people with no interest in conversion.

The general answer to your question is yes, you can attend services. Nobody's checking ID at the door,1 and the presumption in the vast majority of communities (perhaps all of them) is that people who show up belong there. As discussed in the linked questions, dress appropriately and make sure you don't do things in the service that only Jews are allowed to do; decline any honors you're offered, and if you're a man and there aren't at least a dozen men there, you should be concerned about being accidentally counted in the minyan (quorum).

As a Christian you should be careful of some additional things. Please don't wear a visible cross; it's not that it's forbidden, exactly, but it's going to be seen as kind of rude by some portion of the people there, because it's a symbol that has been used to oppress Jews for centuries. It's not equivalent to a Jewish man wearing a kippah or a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, both of which are signs of the person's religious identity; the cross is more powerful, more "assertive". If it's something you wear all the time for your own religious reasons, try to tuck it under your shirt or something.

Similarly, you probably want to avoid talking about Jesus, and if you do talk about him you shouldn't refer to him as a rabbi (let alone as divine).

On the other hand, saying that you're a student visiting from such-and-such church is fine. I live in a city with several universities; we get visitors doing research for classes sometimes. You don't have to hide your identity. In some synagogues, introducing yourself that way will get you an offer of somebody to sit with you and help you navigate the prayer book.

See also this general overview of what happens at Jewish services and how to behave.

1 One exception: on the high holy days (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur), seating is often very limited and thus restricted to members of the synagogue. Don't go then. Besides, if you do you're signing up for a 4+-hour service, which probably isn't what you wanted.

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    This is exactly what I needed. Thank you for the comprehensive answer! The similar posts I found seemed to be by people with the intent of conversion so I didn't know if that made a difference. – Emily P. Jul 3 '16 at 20:33
  • Great sensible answer. I generally agree with the concept of your footnote, esp. the service length. However, by example, one of my Gentile friends spec. wanted to attend Rosh Hashanna services, as he was curious about it, and, I gather, wanted to see / hear the shofar blown. I don't suggest the long service to Ms. Emily, as a starter, unless she is in the same position / reasoning as my friend. – DanF Jul 5 '16 at 15:59
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I have been frequently invited to Shabbat observance, synagogue by people I both know and don't. It's a matter of how you act and follow observed laws and customs. Ask ahead of time, and write it down. Make sure to dress conservatively if you are not told how- long dress/skirt, long sleeves. It is best if someone comes with you from a shul that you want to attend. Best ask before hand. If I have a question, I normally apologize for asking, say that I would like to ask something and, sorry, I may not know how to ask or act, so please clarify it for me.

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Reform or reconstructionist synagogues should be ok. Conservative I believe too. As far as orthodox synagogues go, I dont think it is a good idea.

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    Can you say more about why you think these are or aren't good ideas? With all due respect, we don't know you so your opinion alone doesn't carry much weight. One with an explanation, though, can be helpful. Thanks. – Monica Cellio Jul 3 '16 at 20:06
  • Just based off of my experience, conversations etc a non jewish student wanting to observe wouldnt be accepted at most orthodox shuls I know but would be just fine at all the reform and reconstructionist temples. – DHSF Jul 3 '16 at 20:30
  • I beg to differ, at least in the communities that I deal with there should not be a problem to enter to a service. This might be because I live in Israel. In the Halacha point of view there are views to here and there if the non jew is allowed to do Jewish Mizvot such as the study of Torah, but even in one of the holliest Mizvot such as the study of Torah many Orthodox Rabbi's will let a person study it (with restrictions for reference look in the book Tchumin). So letting a non-jew to join an Orthodox prayer probably will not be looked on by all as good but many will allow this. – Tomer Jul 3 '16 at 23:45
  • I agree that your answer really needs significant modification. Orthodx shuls span a massive variety; perhaps far more than Conservative or Reform. Within Orthodox minyanim, I have seen most of the gamut from allowing women to participate (e.g. giving Divrei Torah) to Chassidic shuls that don't have women in the building. Offhand, attending a "beginner's minyan" where many of the prayers are recited in English and there is often Q & A and responsive reading, done in an Orthodox shul, may actually be a fitting experience. – DanF Jul 5 '16 at 16:04

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