Dimensions (2.1.3) — Messianic Judaism & LDS Culture Juxtaposed: Worship Meetings

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series Dimensions
We have learned a great deal about LDS doctrine and ultimately about ourselves from our experiences worshiping with the Messianic Jews.

Though perhaps mundane, let us begin with a comparison of the schedule of weekly meetings. If you don’t want to see the details, jump to “opinion,” below.

LDS calendar of meetings

For the LDS, a typical, weekly schedule includes:

  • Sunday (Sabbath)
    • Sacrament Meeting (9:00 – 10:10)
      • Entire ward (i.e., congregation) meets together to partake of the sacrament, and listen to “talks” that are usually given by ward members. Generally there is an opening congregational hymn, an opening prayer, brief announcements and/or business, a congregational sacrament hymn, the sacrament, two talks, an optional congregational intermediate hymn or special musical number, a third talk, a closing congregational hymn, and a closing prayer. (See more complete/detailed/accurate description at: LDS Handbook 2: Meetings)
      • “Talks” are similar to sermons, but typically less sophisticated than sermons prepared by professional clergy.
      • Prayers are generally simple and brief. (See: LDS Handbook 2: Prayers)
    • Sunday School (10:20 – 11:05)
      • Classes are held for those 12 years of age and up. When demographics allow, separate 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18 year old, adult Gospel Doctrine, and adult Gospel Essentials classes are conducted.
    • Priesthood, Relief Society, and Young Women (11:15 – 12:00)
      • All men ages 12 and up attend a combined Priesthood opening exercise with hymn, prayer, and announcements. When demographics allow, the group breaks up into separate Deacons (ages 12-13), Teachers (ages 14-15), Priests (ages 16-17), Elders, and High Priests Quorums for lessons (and quorum business).
      • All woman 18 and up attend a combined Relief Society meeting having hymn, prayer, announcements, and lesson.
      • All women ages 12 to 18 attend a combined Young Woman’s opening exercise with hymn, prayer, and announcements. When demographics allow, the group breaks up into separate Beehives (ages 12-13), MiaMaids (ages 14-15), and Laurals (ages 16-17) classes for lessons (and class business).
    • Primary – children ages 18 months to 12 years. (10:20 – 12:00)
      • Primary is generally divided into junior and senior groups. One group will have a combined opening exercise including prayer, songs, and group lesson, and then separate into individual classes for lessons. The other group does the opposite.
  • Week night (typically one of: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday)
    • Young Men / Boy Scout Activity (ages 12-18)
    • Young Women Activity (ages 12-18)
    • Cub Scouts (boys ages 8-11)
    • Activity Day (girls ages 8-11)
  • Seminary
    • Young Men and Woman who are high school freshman, sophomores,  juniors, and seniors attend seminary on each school day for about an hour.
Messianic Jewish calendar of meetings

Note: worship meetings include a substantial amount of time reciting siddurs in both Hebrew and then in English translation. These are liturgical prayers led by one of the church leaders and recited by the congregation. In the description below, “prayer” is intended to indicate other kinds of prayers, typically offered by a single individual in English.

Note: Most all of the meetings identified below are live streamed and archived online.

For the Messianic Jews a typical weekly schedule includes:

  • Friday (6:00 p.m. – 8:xx) — Erev Shabbat
    • Traditional home observance of the beginning of the Shabbat is practiced as a group with siddurs and prayer, musical worship, more siddurs and prayer, Kiddush (including bread), congregational oneg (fellowship meal), and closing siddur.
  • Saturday (10:00 a.m. – 3:xx) — Shabbat Shacarit, Full Shabbat Service includes:
    • Welcome and scripture reading (frequently from Psalms).
    • Traditional liturgy with siddurs. This includes a blessing on the children. (~10:00 – ~11:00)
    • Worship in song, prayer and dance. (~11:00 – ~11:45)
    • Torah portion reading in Hebrew (canted) and then English, Tanakh reading in English. This segment includes additional siddurs and the presentation of the Torah scroll. (~11:45 – ~12:15)
    • Shabbat teaching by the Rabbi based on the weekly Torah portion (~12:15 – ~1:20)
    • Conclusion liturgy with general announcements, siddurs, and prayer (~1:20 – ~1:30)
    • Congregational oneg (fellowship meal), including siddur (and prayer) for food. (~1:30 – ~2:30)
    • Concluding siddur thanking God for food just partaken, and
    • Congregational prayer meeting (a wireless microphone is brought to those many individuals in the leadership and congregation wishing to voice public prayers; individual, personal prayers are interleaved during the quiet moments). (~2:30 – ~3:00)
  • Monday (6:00 p.m. – 7:30) — Conversational Hebrew study
  • Tuesday (6:30 p.m. – 8:00) — Old Testament Hebrew study
  • Wednesday (6:30 p.m. – 8:00) — Torah study
  • Thursday (6:30 p.m. – 7:30) — New Testament study
  • Sunday – Friday (7:00 a.m.) — Morning prayer service (includes group, open, and personal prayer time)

There are a number of substantial differences that are quite interesting.


The amount of time that the Messianic Jewish members spend in both congregational worship and study is significantly greater than their LDS counterparts. This is true even though the number of members attending the weekday classes in person is less than 30% of those attending the Shabbat service.


LDS sacrament meetings are held weekly and include the sacrament as the primary focus. While this is consistent with most Christian churches, the LDS take specific direction from the Book of Mormon:

And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.

And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus.

(Moroni 6:5–6)

It is not unreasonable that “meet together oft” is understood to mean “every Sabbath.” Though, might it be equally reasonable to have this mean every day?

The Messianic Jews partake of the sacrament only during their Passover feast, when it was originally instituted, believing this to be most consistent with the direction given in the bible. The savior administered the sacrament in conjunction with the Passover meal. They do also.


The amount of time that the Messianic Jews spend in prayer (including the siddurs) is so much greater than that of the LDS that it is absurd to even make a comparison. LDS doctrine deprecates “vain repetitions,” and the average LDS would probably classify the prescribed siddurs as such (I would have done the same until recently).

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. (Matthew 6:7)

This attitude actually poses a couple of problems. First, to quote Inigo Montoya (a fictional character), “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” The words in the King James Bible originate from the Greek, ßατταλογήσητε, which does not translate to vain repetition. Many scholars believe the meaning is closer to stammer, or to babble nonsense. Others claim it better approximates to blubber nonsensical repetitions. Nevertheless, even if you reject these translations and prefer to stick with vain, according to the 1844 Webster Dictionary, in context vain is defined as:

(1) Empty; worthless; having no substance, value or importance.

(2) Fruitless; ineffectual.

(4) Empty; unreal.

(5) Showy; ostentatious.

(6) Light; inconstant; worthless.

(7) Empty; unsatisfying.

(8) False; deceitful; not genuine; spurious.

(9) Not effectual; having no efficacy.

To discredit the siddurs for delivering on any of the above criteria, one must also demonstrate that this is true for every person reciting the siddurs. I contend that this isn’t possible. In fact, I contend that the opposite is true.

As a child in the Catholic Church, I memorized a few prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer (which I learned by listening to a recording by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir). These prayers meant nothing to me at the time. They were truly vain. I might as well have been babbling nonsense. When I joined the LDS church, I found it ironic that the very prayer that was the example supporting the Savior’s admonition against ßατταλογήσητε epitomized ßατταλογήσητε.

When I first attended a Messianic Jewish worship service, that is how the siddurs sounded. My opinion gradually reversed.

  1. I quickly realized that the siddurs were an effective means to help the congregation learn Hebrew.
  2. Somewhat later I realized that the siddurs teach a broad spectrum of essential gospel principals on a weekly basis.
  3. More recently, I began to recognize that these siddurs have positively affected my personal prayers by establishing the acceptability of praying for things I had never before considered important as an LDS member (e.g., praising and blessing God). This is opposed to the narrow spectrum of experiences/subjects/concepts that comprised my rote prayers (“…please bless the refreshments and, bless us to travel home in safety….”).
  4. Most recently, I have begun to personalize these siddurs, to voice them as my own, and to love them for amplifying the voicing of my personal feelings of love and gratitude for my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. 

The point? There is nothing vain about them. In point of fact, they are significantly more profound than the prayers I’ve said for the last 40 years. They are an excellent school master to teach one how to pray in a meaningful way.

Curiously, even if siddurs are excluded, the time and effort expended in prayer by the Messianic Jews far exceeds the LDS community. This is by design, on the part of both parties. The paradox is that the LDS doctrine is clearly to “pray always” with “real intent” while the practice is to “keep it short” and “simple.” Said differently, there is probably nothing more ßατταλογήσητε than our LDS, sound-bite prayers. If you are inclined to object to this characterization, ponder about the prescribed prayers said within LDS temples. Or, if you prefer, find the hidden instructions to keep it short and sweet in this account:

And it came to pass that when they had all knelt down upon the earth, he commanded his disciples that they should pray.

And behold, they began to pray; and they did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God.

And it came to pass that Jesus departed out of the midst of them, and went a little way off from them and bowed himself to the earth, and he said:

Father, I thank thee that thou hast given the Holy Ghost unto these whom I have chosen; and it is because of their belief in me that I have chosen them out of the world.

Father, I pray thee that thou wilt give the Holy Ghost unto all them that shall believe in their words.

Father, thou hast given them the Holy Ghost because they believe in me; and thou seest that they believe in me because thou hearest them, and they pray unto me; and they pray unto me because I am with them.

And now Father, I pray unto thee for them, and also for all those who shall believe on their words, that they may believe in me, that I may be in them as thou, Father, art in me, that we may be one.

And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus prayed unto the Father, he came unto his disciples, and behold, they did still continue, without ceasing, to pray unto him; and they did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire.

And it came to pass that Jesus blessed them as they did pray unto him; and his countenance did smile upon them, and the light of his countenance did shine upon them, and behold they were as white as the countenance and also the garments of Jesus; and behold the whiteness thereof did exceed all the whiteness, yea, even there could be nothing upon earth so white as the whiteness thereof.

And Jesus said unto them: Pray on; nevertheless they did not cease to pray.

And he turned from them again, and went a little way off and bowed himself to the earth; and he prayed again unto the Father, saying:

Father, I thank thee that thou hast purified those whom I have chosen, because of their faith, and I pray for them, and also for them who shall believe on their words, that they may be purified in me, through faith on their words, even as they are purified in me.

Father, I pray not for the world, but for those whom thou hast given me out of the world, because of their faith, that they may be purified in me, that I may be in them as thou, Father, art in me, that we may be one, that I may be glorified in them.

And when Jesus had spoken these words he came again unto his disciples; and behold they did pray steadfastly, without ceasing, unto him; and he did smile upon them again; and behold they were white, even as Jesus.

And it came to pass that he went again a little way off and prayed unto the Father;

And tongue cannot speak the words which he prayed, neither can be written by man the words which he prayed.

(3 Nephi 19:17–32)

Find it? Yeah, neither did I. And, yeah, I do take this personally. I can’t help but think what I have missed out on for the better part of 60 years because no one showed me how to pray — really pray. And my kids. And their kids.


Recently, the hymns in one LDS ward were described to me as being more like funeral dirges. Even the most upbeat and lively hymns were beat into submission by an uninspired congregation singing them at the slowest of tempo. The description made me think of Camille Saint-Saëns satirical adaptation of Offenbach’s “Galop Infernal” (a.k.a. the Can-can). See: Carnival of the Animals — Tortoise. I grant you that this is a bit “under the top,” but the point is well taken.

Even without some hyperbole, there is a dramatic difference between the LDS and Messianic Jewish music. The LDS proscribe the use of many musical instruments, probably to encourage a certain reverential attitude. The Messianic Jews adopt a more contemporary, if not evangelistic style. In the local synagogue, the musical worship team usually includes two guitars, a mandolin, conga style drums, additional percussion and the rabbi singing. While very different in flavor, a good LDS ward choir (note that I shifted focus from congregational to choir) and the Messianic Jewish musical worship can both be intensely inspiring.

There are additional, and perhaps more obvious differences. While somewhat redundant with this post on praise, it is worth mentioning in the current context that LDS hymns tend more towards mini-sermons, while the Messianic Jews tend more towards praise. Yes, I understand that we have songs of praise in the LDS hymnal, and some of these are authored by LDS members. For example,

Come, O Thou King of Kings

1. Come, O thou King of Kings!
We’ve waited long for thee,
With healing in thy wings,
To set thy people free.
Come, thou desire of nations, come;
Let Israel now be gathered home.

2. Come, make an end to sin,
And cleanse the earth by fire,
And righteousness bring in,
That Saints may tune the lyre
With songs of joy, a happier strain,
To welcome in thy peaceful reign.

3. Hosannas now shall sound
From all the ransomed throng,
And glory echo round
A new triumphal song;
The wide expanse of heaven fill
With anthems sweet from Zion’s hill.

4. Hail! Prince of life and peace!
Thrice welcome to thy throne!
While all the chosen race
Their Lord and Savior own,
The heathen nations bow the knee,
And ev’ry tongue sounds praise to thee.

Text: Parley P. Pratt, 1807-1857

This is very much addressed to God. The King of Kings is the intended audience. Most often though, the intended audience of the LDS hymn is the congregation. The congregation is basically singing to themselves. This is clear just from the titles. Since the prior song is in the “C” group, let’s use that as an example:

  • Called to Serve
  • Carry On
  • Cast Thy Burden upon the Lord
  • Children of Our Heavenly Father
  • Choose the Right
  • Christ the Lord Is Risen Today
  • Come Along, Come Along
  • Come Away to the Sunday School
  • Come unto Him
  • Come unto Jesus
  • Come, All Whose Souls Are Lighted
  • Come, All Ye Saints of Zion
  • Come, All Ye Saints Who Dwell on Earth
  • Come, All Ye Sons of God
  • Come, Come, Ye Saints
  • Come, Follow Me
  • Come, Let Us Anew
  • Come, Let Us Sing an Evening Hymn
  • Come, Listen to a Prophet’s Voice
  • Come, O Thou King of Kings
  • Come, Rejoice
  • Come, Sing to the Lord
  • Come, Thou Glorious Day of Promise
  • Come, We That Love the Lord
  • Come, Ye Children of the Lord
  • Come, Ye Disconsolate
  • Come, Ye Thankful People
  • Count Your Blessings

The Messianic Jews’ songs most often have God has the intended audience. I wish there was a web site I could reference to demonstrate.

The difference in style is also pretty obvious. Usually, the LDS congregation sings a four verse hymn (even if there are more verses written). The Messianic Jews will frequently sing a single verse, albeit in Hebrew, then English, then Hebrew, then English again. This is perhaps an oversimplification. Let us compare two of my favorite hymns/songs, first one adopted by the LDS.

A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief

1. A poor, wayfaring Man of grief
Hath often crossed me on my way,
Who sued so humbly for relief
That I could never answer nay.
I had not pow’r to ask his name,
Whereto he went, or whence he came;
Yet there was something in his eye
That won my love; I knew not why.

2. Once, when my scanty meal was spread,
He entered; not a word he spake,
Just perishing for want of bread.
I gave him all; he blessed it, brake,
And ate, but gave me part again.
Mine was an angel’s portion then,
For while I fed with eager haste,
The crust was manna to my taste.

3. I spied him where a fountain burst
Clear from the rock; his strength was gone.
The heedless water mocked his thirst;
He heard it, saw it hurrying on.
I ran and raised the suff’rer up;
Thrice from the stream he drained my cup,
Dipped and returned it running o’er;
I drank and never thirsted more.

4. ‘Twas night; the floods were out; it blew
A winter hurricane aloof.
I heard his voice abroad and flew
To bid him welcome to my roof.
I warmed and clothed and cheered my guest
And laid him on my couch to rest,
Then made the earth my bed and seemed
In Eden’s garden while I dreamed.

5. Stript, wounded, beaten nigh to death,
I found him by the highway side.
I roused his pulse, brought back his breath,
Revived his spirit, and supplied
Wine, oil, refreshment—he was healed.
I had myself a wound concealed,
But from that hour forgot the smart,
And peace bound up my broken heart.

6. In pris’n I saw him next, condemned
To meet a traitor’s doom at morn.
The tide of lying tongues I stemmed,
And honored him ‘mid shame and scorn.
My friendship’s utmost zeal to try,
He asked if I for him would die.
The flesh was weak; my blood ran chill,
But my free spirit cried, “I will!”

7. Then in a moment to my view
The stranger started from disguise.
The tokens in his hands I knew;
The Savior stood before mine eyes.
He spake, and my poor name he named,
“Of me thou hast not been ashamed.
These deeds shall thy memorial be;
Fear not, thou didst them unto me.”

Text: James Montgomery, 1771-1854

Every once in a while, we are lucky enough to actually sing verse 7. Compare this to a song adopted by the Messianic Jews (I changed colors to make the repetition more obvious):

Take me past the outer courts
Into the holy place
Past the brazen altar
Lord, I want to see your face

Pass me by the crowds of people
The priests who sing your praise
I hunger and thirst for your righteousness
And it’s only found one place

Take me in to the holy of holies
Take me in by the blood of the lamb
Take me in to the holy of holies
Take the coal, cleanse my lips, here I am
Take the coal, cleanse my lips, here I am

Take me past the outer courts
Into the holy place
Past the brazen altar
Lord, I want to see your face

Pass me by the crowds of people
The priests who sing your praise
I hunger and thirst for your righteousness
And it’s only found one place

Take me in to the holy of holies
Take me in by the blood of the lamb
Take me in to the holy of holies
Take the coal, cleanse my lips, here I am
Take the coal, cleanse my lips, here I am

Take me past the outer courts
Into the holy place
Past the brazen altar
Lord, I want to see your face

Pass me by the crowds of people
The priests who sing your praise
I hunger and thirst for your righteousness
And it’s only found one place

Take me in to the holy of holies
Take me in by the blood of the lamb
Take me in to the holy of holies
Take the coal, cleanse my lips, here I am
Take the coal, cleanse my lips, here I am
Take the coal, cleanse my lips, here I am

Dave Browning

This song is sung in English, only. During this part of the worship service, the congregation may be sitting, standing, swaying, or even dancing.


A number of worshipers will frequently join in traditional Jewish dance in conjunction with the music worship. While the movements are relatively simple, it is clear that the point is to dance to the Lord. It is meditative, impassioned, and expressive of praise to God.

Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.

Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.

Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.

Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.

Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.

Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.

(Psalms 150:1–6)


The men (more so than the women) make a conscientious effort to greet each other with a sincere hug and expression of shalom. This is but an example. It goes much deeper. Where the LDS have a brotherhood in concept, the Messianic Jews have a brotherhood in fact. It is a beautiful thing to experience. In another example, they regularly and extensively pray for each other in public and private. Curiously, within the LDS community, the women appear to have a much closer bond than do the men. In the Messianic Jewish community, the men appear to have the closer bond. This perception may be biased by the fact that I am a man and/or because the contrast in brotherhood between the LDS men and Messianic Jewish men seems so stark.


The different ways that men, women, and children participate and interact within the two communities is dramatic and extensive. The problem is that this is not a topic that is readily painted with a broad brush, so I will provide but a single example. In the LDS community, during actual meetings, the children are closely managed. Among the Messianic Jews, individual and groups of children come and go, participate, play, chat, or fellowship with each other in unstructured activity (while there are mores managing behavior, these appear to be more governed by family than community). For the children, the environment is closer to that of a playground than it is to a funeral. Curiously, this energy does not appear to negatively impact adult worship.


In the LDS community, one might depict the ideal of reverence as a picture of a young child, eyes closed, arms folded, patiently sitting, and most definitely conforming. In the Messianic Jewish community, one must depict the ideal of reverence using praise. It may be quiet and solemn — as when during the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) Service/Celebration many will prostrate themselves on the floor as they petition for forgiveness. It may be ruckus and enthusiastic — as when the young children run around the periphery of congregation while the song “Shabbat Shalom” is sung. It may include the blowing of the shofar (i.e., trumpet, ram’s horn). It almost always involves passionate and sincere praise.


Reverence is demonstrated in both communities by their clothing. For an LDS worship service, members will generally wear their best (leaning towards formal business) attire, which typically includes a white shirt and tie for the men, and frequently includes a suit when weather permits. Women will wear their best dress or skirt and blouse combination. Some detractors quip of “Catwalk Sunday.” While this is clearly not what LDS doctrine teaches, there may be a thread of truth (no pun intended) in the cultural reality. You do not see the LDS wearing ceremonial clothing in their normal religious service; the obvious exception being that which is worn while participating in an LDS temple ordinance, where reverence and its associated modesty are at their pinnacle.

Dress at the Messianic Jewish services is substantially more casual. The rabbi and others leading the liturgical service will frequently wear a black suit with white shirt. Other men will typically wear a range of attire from business casual to casual. Women will frequently wear long dresses and or skirts. While the attire is biased in this direction, one would not feel out of place coming in whatever they had, as long as it was clean and modest. Here modest dress would compare more closely to LDS temple clothing or missionary standards than it would the typical LDS Sunday attire: full covering, unadorned, and unpretentious.

Another clear distinction is the wearing of heading coverings. This is strongly discouraged inside an LDS chapel. Conversely, it is required for LDS temple endowment and sealing ordinances, by both men and women. The Messianic Jewish married women are encouraged to wear head coverings — I believe — as a sign of respect to their husbands.

Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.

But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.

For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.

For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.

(1 Corinthians 11:4–7)

The Messianic men are encouraged to wear a kippah (yarmulke) both inside and outside the synagogue. As an aside, many will wear this under a baseball cap or other head covering while outside the synagogue. Additionally, the men are encouraged to cover their head with a tallit during siddurs and prayers. Men are also encouraged to wear beards. I’ll admit to having some difficulty understanding why the above scripture applies to women, but not to men. I’ll have to ask about that one day. I presume that this has much to do with incorporating aspects of Jewish culture that are considered important to identify with the community. I suspect it is more than just the brand. I sincerely doubt that it is in any way sexist.


While this may seem a bit non-sequitur, it fits as well here as anywhere, and shouldn’t be avoided. When we first attended a Messianic Jewish meeting, we were informed that the men will not approach a married woman, and will not touch (e.g., shake hands, hug) any woman who is not his wife.  Like the LDS, the Messianic Jewish men are strongly counseled to avoid being in the presence of a woman who is not his wife when others are not present. While this is generally adhered to in the public setting, there are some members of the fellowship that draw the line in a different place while in a more private setting. I log this under the category of boundaries between Torah observance and cultural interpretation, and the implicit personal interpretation and practice. This is a topic of intense interest, which I find most confusing both within the LDS and the Messianic Jewish communities. It deserves much discussion, but not here and now.


This last week my son and daughter-in-law were visiting for Thanksgiving. We attended the Friday night meeting at the synagogue as a family, and they attended the Saturday service while I stayed home to watch the grandchildren. When we debriefed, I was not surprised that the strongest impression they shared was that the Messianic Jews seem more sincere in many important respects than we are. Our LDS community tends to treat our worship, fellowship, and study in a more superficial manner. To be fair, this may well be because those dimensions of worship, fellowship, and study the LDS community excels at are not so obvious to us when compared in this manner.

Regardless, consistent with the overall theme of dimensions, it is clear that Joy and I may be able to incorporate many principles and practices of the Messianic Jews — which are consistent with LDS doctrine — to improve our personal worship.

Series Navigation<< Dimensions (2.1.2) — Messianic Judaism & LDS Culture Juxtaposed: BlessingDimensions (3) — The Epitome of Every Virtue >>

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