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A synagogue (from Greek: συναγωγή, transliterated synagogē, "assembly"; בית כנסת beyt knesset, "house of assembly"; שול or בית תפילה beyt t'fila, "house of prayer", shul; אסנוגה, esnoga קהל kal) is a Jewish house of prayer.
Synagogues usually have a large hall for prayer (the main sanctuary), smaller rooms for study and sometimes a social hall and offices. Some have a separate room for Torah study, called the beth midrash—בית מדרש ("House of Study").
Synagogues are not consecrated spaces, nor is a synagogue necessary for worship. Jewish worship can be carried out wherever ten Jews (a minyan) assemble. Worship can also be carried out alone or with fewer than ten people assembled together. A synagogue is not in the strictest sense a temple; it does not replace the long-since destroyed Temple in Jerusalem.
In colloquial speech, Israelis use the term bet knesset (assembly house). Jews of Ashkenazi descent have traditionally used the Yiddish term "shul" (cognate with the German schule, school) in everyday speech. Spanish and Portuguese Jews call the synagogue an esnoga. Persian Jews and Karaite Jews use the term Kenesa, which is derived from Aramaic, and some Arabic-speaking Jews use knis. Some Reform and Conservative Jews use the word "temple".
Although synagogues existed well before the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 CE, communal worship in the time while the Temple still stood centered around the korbanot ("sacrificial offerings") brought by the kohanim ("priests") in the Holy Temple. The all-day Yom Kippur service, in fact, was an event in which the congregation both observed the movements of the kohen gadol ("the high priest") as he offered the day's sacrifices and prayed for his success.
During the Babylonian captivity (586–537 BCE) the Men of the Great Assembly began the process of formalizing and standardizing Jewish services and prayers that did not depend on the functioning of the Temple in Jerusalem. Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, one of the leaders at the end of the Second Temple era, promulgated the idea of creating individual houses of worship in whatever locale Jews found themselves. This contributed to the continuity of the Jewish people by maintaining a unique identity and a portable way of worship despite the destruction of the Temple, according to many historians.
Synagogues in the sense of purpose-built spaces for worship, or rooms originally constructed for some other purpose but reserved for formal, communal prayer, however, existed long before the destruction of the Second Temple. The earliest archaeological evidence for the existence of very early synagogues comes from Egypt, where stone synagogue dedication inscriptions dating from the third century BCE prove that synagogues existed by that date. A synagogue dating from between 75 and 50 BCE has been uncovered at a Hasmonean-era winter palace near Jericho. More than a dozen Second Temple era synagogues have been identified by archaeologists.
Any Jew or group of Jews can build a synagogue. Synagogues have been constructed by ancient Jewish kings, by wealthy patrons, as part of a wide range of human institutions including secular educational institutions, governments, and hotels, by the entire community of Jews living in a particular place, or by sub-groups of Jews arrayed according to occupation, ethnicity (i.e. the Sephardic, Polish or Persian Jews of a town), style of religious observance (i.e., a Reform or an Orthodox synagogue), or by the followers of a particular rabbi.
There is no set blueprint for synagogues and the architectural shapes as well as interior designs of synagogues vary greatly. In fact, the influence from other local religious buildings can often be seen in synagogue arches, domes and towers.
Historically, synagogues were built in the prevailing architectural style of their time and place. Thus, the synagogue in Kaifeng, China looked very like Chinese temples of that region and era, with its outer wall and open garden in which several buildings were arranged. The styles of the earliest synagogues resembled the temples of other sects of the eastern Roman Empire. The surviving synagogues of medieval Spain are embellished with mudéjar plasterwork. The surviving medieval synagogues in Budapest and Prague are typical Gothic structures.
The emancipation of Jews in European countries not only enabled Jews to enter fields of enterprise from which they were formerly barred, but gave them the right to build synagogues without needing special permissions, synagogue architecture blossomed. Large Jewish communities wished to show not only their wealth but also their newly acquired status as citizens by constructing magnificent synagogues. These were built across Europe and in the United States in all of the historicist or revival styles then in fashion. Thus there were Neoclassical, Neo-Byzantine, Romanesque Revival Moorish Revival, Gothic Revival, and Greek Revival. There are Egyptian Revival synagogues and even one Mayan Revival synagogue. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century heyday of historicist architecture, however, most historicist synagogues, even the most magnificent ones, did not attempt a pure style, or even any particular style, and are best described as eclectic.
In the post-war era, synagogue architecture abandoned historicist styles for modernism.
All synagogues contain a Torah Ark, a table from which the Torah is read, and a desk for the prayer leader.
The ark in a synagogue is positioned in almost always such a way that those who face it, face towards Jerusalem. Thus, sanctuary seating plans in the Western world generally face east, while those east of Israel face west. Sanctuaries in Israel face towards Jerusalem. Occasionally synagogues face other directions for structural reasons; in such cases, some individuals might turn to face Jerusalem when standing for prayers, but the congregation as a whole does not.
The ark is reminiscent of the Ark of the Covenant which contained the tablets with Ten Commandments. This is the holiest spot in a synagogue, equivalent to the Holy of Holies. The ark is often closed with an ornate curtain, the parochet פרוכת, which hangs outside or inside the ark doors.
A large, raised, reader's platform called the bimah (בימה) by Ashkenazim and tebah by Sephardim, where the Torah scroll is placed to be read. Is a feature of all synagogues. In Sephardi synagogues it is also used as the prayer leader's reading desk.
Other traditional features include a continually-lit lamp or lantern, usually electric in contemporary synagogues, called the ner tamid (נר תמיד), the "Eternal Light," used as a reminder of the western lamp of the menorah of the Temple in Jerusalem, which remained miraculously lit always. Many have an elaborate chair named for the prophet Elijah and only sat upon during the ceremony of Brit milah. Many synagogues have a large seven-branched candelabrum commemorating the full Menorah. Most contemporary synagogues also feature a lectern for the rabbi.
A synagogue may be decorated with artwork, but in the Rabbinic and Orthodox tradition, three-dimensional sculptures and depictions of the human body are not allowed, as these are considered akin to idolatry.
Until the 19th century, an Ashkenazi synagogue, all seats most often faced the 'Torah Ark. In a Sephardi synagogue, seats were usually arranged around the perimeter of the sanctuary, but when the worshippers stood up to pray, everyone faced the Ark. In Ashkenazi synagogues The Torah was read on a reader's table located in the center of the room, while the leader of the prayer service, the Hazzan, stood at his own lectern or table, facing the Ark. In Sephardic synagogues, the table for reading the Torah was commonly placed at the opposite side of the room from the Torah Ark, leaving the center of the floor empty for the use of a ceremonial procession carrying the Torah between the Ark and the reading table.
Orthodox synagogues feature a partition (mechitzah) dividing the men's and women's seating areas, or a separate women's section located on a balcony.
The German Reform movement which arose in the early 1800s made many changes to the traditional look of the synagogue, keeping with its desire to simultaneously stay Jewish yet be accepted by the host culture.
The first Reform synagogue, which opened in Hamburg in 1811, introduced changes that made the synagogue look more like a church. These included: the installation of an organ to accompany the prayers (even on Shabbat, when musical instruments are proscribed by halakha, a choir to accompany the Hazzan, and vestments for the synagogue rabbi to wear.
In following decades, the central reader's table, the bimah, was moved to the front of the Reform sanctuary—previously unheard-of in Orthodox synagogues. The rabbi now delivered his sermon from the front, much as the Christian ministers delivered their sermons in a church. The synagogue was renamed a "temple", to emphasize that the movement no longer looked forward to the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Synagogues often take on a broader role in modern Jewish communities and may include additional facilities such as a catering hall, kosher kitchen, religious school, library, day care center and a smaller chapel for daily services.
Since Orthodox Jews prefer to collect a minyan (a quorum of ten) rather than pray alone, they commonly assemble at pre-arranged times in offices, living rooms, or other spaces when these are more convenient than formal synagogue buildings. A room or building that is used this way can become a dedicated small synagogues and prayer room. Among Ashkenazi Jews they are traditionally called shtiebel (שטיבל, pl. shtiebelekh or shtiebels, Yiddish for "little house". and are found in Orthodox communities worldwide.
Another type of communal prayer group, favored by some contemporary Jews, is the Chavurah (חבורה, pl. chavurot, חבורות), or prayer fellowship. These groups meet at a regular place and time, usually in a private home. In antiquity, the Pharisees lived near each other in chavurot and dined together to ensure that none of the food was unfit for consumption.
During the 19th and early 20th century, it was fairly common for Jewish communities, particularly in Europe, to construct very large, showpiece synagogues. These edifices were intended not simply to accommodate worshipers, but to serve as emblems of Jewish participation in modern society. For this purpose, they were built to be not merely large, but architecturally impressive. Even small cities had elaborate synagogues of this type, albeit smaller than the synagogues of Vienna and New York. They are often designated as The Great Synagogue of..., or, in Russia, The Choral Synagogue. These notable synagogues include; the Great Synagogue of Rome, the New Synagogue (Berlin), the Leopoldstädter Tempel, the Grand Choral Synagogue, the Great Synagogue (Sydney), the Moscow Choral Synagogue, the Great Synagogue of Florence, the Great Synagogue, Plzen, the Great Synagogue (Warsaw), the Košice Orthodox Synagogue, the Novi Sad Synagogue, the Szeged Synagogue, the Sofia Synagogue and the Great Synagogue of Oran.
The remains of the Hurva Synagogue as they appeared from 1977 to 2003. The synagogue is currently being reconstructed.
A synagogue is a place of Jewish worship.
This learning project offers learning activities to allow motivated self-learners to be able to pray in a synagogue with its congregation, properly pronounce the Hebrew words of the prayers and understand what those words mean.
Each activity has a suggested associated background reading selection.
Active participants in this Learning Group
SYNAGOGUE (avvayo yi 7), literally "assemblage," is the term employed to denote either a congregation of Jews, i.e. a local circle accustomed to meet together for worship and religious instruction, or the building in which the congregation met. In the first sense the word is a translation of ran; keneseth (assemblage), in the second of n03:n rr;, beth hakkeneseth (house of assemblage). Further the term is often used to denote the system of Judaism, as when the "Synagogue" is contrasted to the "Church." The germ of the synagogue, that is, of religious assemblages dissociated from the ancient ritual of the altar, may be found in the circle of the prophets and their disciples (see especially Isa. viii. 16 seq.); but the synagogue as an institution characteristic of Judaism arose after the work of Ezra, and is closely connected with the development of Judaism, to which his reformation gave definite shape. From the time of Ezra downwards it was the business of every Jew to know the law; the school (beth hammidrash) trained scholars, but the synagogue, where the law was read every Sabbath (Acts xv. 21), was the means of popular instruction. Such synagogues existed in all parts of Judaea in the time of Ps. lxxiv. 8 (probably a psalm of the Persian period); in Acts xv. 21 it appears that they had existed for many generations "in every city." This held good not only for Palestine, but for the Dispersion; in post-Talmudic times the rule was that a synagogue must be built wherever there were ten Jews. In the Dispersion the synagogue filled a greater place in the communal life, for on Palestinian soil the Temple enjoyed a predominant position. In this sense the synagogue is a child of the Dispersion, but this does not imply that it was a product of the Hellenic diaspora. For the Aramaic papyri discovered at Assuan show that in the 5th century B.C. the Egyptian Jews had their place of worship in Syene long before Greek influences had begun to make themselves felt. The fact that the Books of the Maccabees never refer to synagogues is not evidence that synagogues were unknown in Judaea in the Maccabean period. These books refer mostly to a time of war, when assemblages in the cities were impossible; their interest, moreover, is concentrated in the Temple and the restoration of its services. During the second Temple there is no doubt but that public worship was organized in the provinces as well as in the Jewish settlements outside the Holy Land. And though the name "synagogue" varies with 7rpocrEvxr7 ("place of prayer"), it appears that everywhere the assemblage was primarily one for instruction in the law; the synagogue, as Philo puts it, was a &6ao-KaXE70v. Prayer, in the more restricted sense, invariably accompanied the instruction, and several parts of the extant liturgy go back to the 3rd century B.C. A formed institution of this sort required some organization: he general order of the service was directed by one or more "rulers of the synagogue" (apxcvvveycoyoc, Luke xiii. 14; Acts xiii. 15), who called on fit persons to read, pray and preach; alms were collected by two or more "collectors" (gabbae sedaga); and a "minister" (hazzan, i r p T?7S, Luke iv. 20) had charge of the sacred books (preserved in an "ark") and of other ministerial functions, including the teaching of children to read. The discipline of the congregation was enforced by excommunication (herem) or temporary exclusion (niddui), and also by the minor punishment of scourging (Matt. x. 17), inflicted by the hazzan. The disciplinary power was in the hands of a senate of elders (lrpEVj3U7-EpoL, yepovo ia), the chief members of which were tipxovms. The principal service of the synagogue was held on Sabbath morning, and included, according to the Mishnah, the recitation of the shema` (Deut. vi. 4-9, xi. 13 -21; Num. xv. 37-41), prayer, lessons from the law and prophets with Aramaic translation, a sermon (derashah) based on the lesson (Acts xiii. 15), and finally a blessing pronounced by the priest or invoked by a layman. On Sabbath afternoon and on Monday and Thursday there was a service without a lesson from the prophets; there were also services for all feastdays. Synagogues were built by preference beside water, in order to avoid proximity to the idol temples, rather than, as some think, for the convenience of the ceremonial ablutions (cf. Acts xvi. 13). Remains of very ancient buildings of this class exist in several parts of Galilee; they generally lie north and south, and seem to have had three doors to the south, and sometimes to have been divided by columns into a nave and two aisles.
Modern synagogues are mostly built of oblong shape, with a gallery for women. Since the middle ages, Renaissance and Moorish types of decoration have been generally favoured, but, there is nowadays a great variety of types. The ancient synagogue of Alexandria (destroyed by Trajan) was a basilica. A number of recent synagogues have been built in octagonal form. The main interior features of the synagogue are the "ark" (a cupboard containing the scrolls of the law, &c.) and the almemar (or reading-desk, from the Arabic al-minbar, pulpit). This is sometimes in the centre, sometimes at the eastern end of the building. The Talmud prescribed an elevated site for the synagogue, but this rule has been impossible of fulfilment in modern times. The synagogues are theoretically "orientated" - i.e. the ark (which worshippers face during the principal prayer) is on the eastern side. But this rule, too, is often ignored under the stress of architectural difficulties.
Jewish tradition has a great deal to say about a body called "the great synagogue," which is supposed to have been the supreme religious authority from the cessation of prophecy to the time of the high priest Simeon the Just, and is even said to have fixed the Old Testament canon (cf. v. 3 seq.). But Kuenen in his essay "Over de Mannen der Groote Synagoge" (Verslagen of the Amsterdam Academy, 1876) has powerfully argued that these traditions are fiction, and that the name keneseth haggadola originally denoted, not a standing authority, but the great convocation of Neh. viii. - x. Some more recent scholars are, however, more willing to attach credence to the older tradition.
Compare, in general, Schiirer, Geschichte des jiidischen Volkes, § 27, where the older literature is catalogued. For some unconventional views the reader may refer to M. Friedlander, Synagoge and Kirche in ihren Anfcingen (Berlin, 1908). For the usages of the synagogue in more recent times, see Buxtorf, Synagoga judaica (Basel, 1641). On the history of synagogue services the works of Zunz are the chief authorities; there is also a good article on Liturgy in the Jewish Encyclopedia. Useful summaries in English are to be found in Dembitz, Jewish Services in Synagogue and Home (Philadelphia, 1898); and Oesterley and Box, The Religion and Worship of the Synagogue (London, 1907). The article "Synagogue" in the Jewish Encyclopedia is illustrated with numerous pictures of buildings and plans.
(Gr. sunagoge, i.e., "an assembly"), found only once in the Authorized Version of Ps 748, where the margin of Revised Version has "places of assembly," which is probably correct; for while the origin of synagogues is unknown, it may well be supposed that buildings or tents for the accommodation of worshippers may have existed in the land from an early time, and thus the system of synagogues would be gradually developed.
Some, however, are of opinion that it was specially during the Babylonian captivity that the system of synagogue worship, if not actually introduced, was at least reorganized on a systematic plan (Ezek 8:1; 14:1). The exiles gathered together for the reading of the law and the prophets as they had opportunity, and after their return synagogues were established all over the land (Ez 8:15; Neh 8:2). In after years, when the Jews were dispersed abroad, wherever they went they erected synagogues and kept up the stated services of worship (Acts 9:20; 13:5; 17:1; 17:17; 18:4). The form and internal arrangements of the synagogue would greatly depend on the wealth of the Jews who erected it, and on the place where it was built. "Yet there are certain traditional pecularities which have doubtless united together by a common resemblance the Jewish synagogues of all ages and countries. The arrangements for the women's place in a separate gallery or behind a partition of lattice-work; the desk in the centre, where the reader, like Ezra in ancient days, from his 'pulpit of wood,' may 'open the book in the sight of all of people and read in the book of the law of God distinctly, and give the sense, and cause them to understand the reading' (Neh 8:4, 8); the carefully closed ark on the side of the building nearest to Jerusalem, for the preservation of the rolls or manuscripts of the law; the seats all round the building, whence 'the eyes of all them that are in the synagogue' may 'be fastened' on him who speaks (Lk 4:20); the 'chief seats' (Mt 23:6) which were appropriated to the 'ruler' or 'rulers' of the synagogue, according as its organization may have been more or less complete;", these were features common to all the synagogues.
Where perfected into a system, the services of the synagogue, which were at the same hours as those of the temple, consisted, (1) of prayer, which formed a kind of liturgy, there were in all eighteen prayers; (2) the reading of the Scriptures in certain definite portions; and (3) the exposition of the portions read. (See Lk 4:15, 22; Acts 13:14.)
The establishment of synagogues wherever the Jews were found in sufficient numbers helped greatly to keep alive Israel's hope of the coming of the Messiah, and to prepare the way for the spread of the gospel in other lands. The worship of the Christian Church was afterwards modelled after that of the synagogue.
To be "put out of the synagogue," a phrase used by John (9:22; 12:42; 16:2), means to be excommunicated.
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In Hebrew, a synagogue is called beit knesset, which means, a "house of gathering". The word "synagogue" comes from sunagoge, which is a Greek word. In a synagogue, Jews do the Jewish services, which are prayers, sometimes with special actions.
A synagogue will always have a big room for prayers. There might be some smaller rooms for studying. There will be some offices. There will also usually be a big room for special events.
The front of a synagogue faces towards Jerusalem in Israel. In the front is the holiest part of the synagogue, the Ark. This is a closet which has the Torah scrolls inside. The Torah scrolls have the holy writings of Judaism on them. The Ark usually has a curtain in front of it.
On top of the Ark is light which is always lit, called the “Eternal Lamp”. It is a symbol which means that God is always there. Every synagogue has a raised platform called the “Bimah”. The person who reads the Torah scroll stands there when he reads. The Bimah is either in the middle of the hall, or in front of the Ark.
In some synagogues men and women sit in different places. Some synagogues even have a short wall so that they can not see each other. This is so that the people will think about the prayers better.
Jews may call synagogues by different names. Many Orthodox and Conservative Jews living in English-speaking countries use the name "synagogue" or "shul." Jews who speak Spanish or Portuguese call synagogues esnoga. Some Jews call the synagogue a temple.
Jewish worship does not have to be carried out in a synagogue it can be wherever ten jews Some synagogues have a separate room or torah study, this room is called the beth midrash meaning house of study assemble. Jewish worship can be done alone or with less than ten people assembled together aswell.
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