The Synagogue

The Synagogue

Understanding Synagogues

  • Synagogues are Jewish houses of worship and community. They can be found all over the world and range in size, depending on the size of the Jewish community in that area.
  • Synagogues are used for worship, study and community. They are central to Jewish religious practise and community life.

Key Features of Synagogues

  • The Bimah is a raised platform in the centre or front of the synagogue from where the Torah is read. This is symbolic of the practise being central to Jewish worship.
  • The Torah Ark is the holiest part of the synagogue. This is a cupboard that houses the Torah scrolls. It represents the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple.
  • Seating usually separates men and women during Orthodox services but in Reform and Liberal synagogues seating is often mixed.
  • A menorah or seven-branched candlestick, a symbol of Judaism since ancient times, is often displayed prominently.
  • A Ner Tamid, Eternal Light, is kept burning in front of the Ark, symbolising God’s eternal presence.

Worship at the Synagogue

  • Regular daily prayer services are held at synagogue. Jewish law requires communal prayer three times a day.
  • The most significant of these services is the Shabbat (Sabbath) service. Communal worship, rest and family life are focal points on this day.
  • Festivals like Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah and Passover are important communal occasions observed at the synagogue.
  • The synagogue is a place for life-cycle ceremonies such as Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and wedding blessings.

Synagogue Administration

  • Synagogues are often managed by a governing body usually made up of lay members of the congregation. This highlights the democratic nature of synagogue governance.
  • Chosen Rabbi leads the congregation in worship, provides spiritual guidance and is often involved in the wider community.
  • The Rabbi is assisted by a Cantor who often leads the congregation in song during services, showcasing the importance of music and song within Jewish worship.