Religions – Judaism: The Synagogue – BBC

Posted By on September 7, 2023

Synagogue layout and services Inside the synagogue

The synagogue is the Jewish place of worship, but is also used as a place to study, and often as a community centre as well.

Orthodox Jews often use the Yiddish word shul (pronounced shool) to refer to their synagogue. In the USA, synagogues are often called temples.

In Orthodox synagogues men and women sit separately, and everyone (except young girls) has their head covered. In a Reform synagogue men and women can sit together.

Synagogue services can be led by a rabbi, a cantor or a member of the congregation.

Traditional Jewish worship requires a minyan (a quorum of ten adult males) to take place.

In an Orthodox synagogue the service will be conducted in ancient Hebrew, and the singing will be unaccompanied.

Few British synagogues now have a choir, but they are more common in the USA.

In a progressive (Reform, Liberal) synagogue the service will be at least partly in English, there may a choir and instruments, and men and women can sit together.

Everyone except unmarried women wears a hat in synagogue in order to show reverence to God. (And once unmarried women pass a certain age they usually wear a hat too.)

Jewish men always wear hats when they are saying prayers which mention God's name.

Observant Jewish men wear a hat almost all the time.

The most common hat for men in the synagogue is a small round cap called a yarmulke (Yiddish) or a kippah (Hebrew), but an ordinary homburg or street hat will be accepted.

Hats are always available for visitors, but a hair grip comes in handy to keep a kippah on.

Adult men (i.e. those over the age of 13) often wear a Tallit or prayer shawl for morning prayer. A Tallit has fringes (called tzitzit) on the edges to remind the wearer to observe God's commandments - as commanded by God in the Bible.

Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel.

You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.

Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God.

Numbers 15:38-40

There are several times in synagogue services when people kiss these fringes - for example when the tzitzit are mentioned.

Every synagogue contains an Ark, which is a cupboard where the Torah Scrolls, which contain the text of the Hebrew Bible, are kept, and a desk from which to read the Torah.

The Hebrew words of the Ten Commandments are usually written somewhere above the ark.

The Ark is named after the wooden chest which held the stone tablets of the Covenant that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai.

The search for that original Ark formed the plot of the movie Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

An Eternal Light (called Ner Tamid) hangs above the Ark.

This light is always burning, as a symbol of God's presence.

It also represents the pillar of fire that guided the Jewish people on their early journey.

The platform and the desk for Torah readings are called the Bimah (pronounced beemar), and in an Orthodox synagogue are in the centre of the building. (In a Reform synagogue, the Bimah is usually close to the Ark.)

At the proper moment in the service the Ark is ceremonially opened, and the Torah scroll is carried in procession to the reading desk, unrolled to the reading chosen for the day and laid on the reading desk.

It is normal for everyone to stand whenever the doors of the ark are open.

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Religions - Judaism: The Synagogue - BBC

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