SYNAGOGUE – JewishEncyclopedia.com

Posted By on May 24, 2023

These episodes in the history of the synagogue in Christian countries have had very few parallels in Mohammedan lands, although the rule of Islam also began with an edict against the synagogue. It was decreed in the "pact of Omar" (see Jew. Encyc. vi. 655, s.v. Islam) that in those countries which should be conquered no new synagogues might be built, nor old ones repaired. The calif Al-Mutawakkil confirmed this decree in the ninth century, and commanded all synagogues to be transformed into mosques. The Egyptian calif Al-akim (d. 1020) also destroyed synagogues, and many were razed inAfrica and Spain by the fury of the Almohades (after 1140). The great synagogue of Jerusalem was destroyed in 1473, although the Jews were soon permitted to rebuild it. In eastern Mohammedan countries the names of Biblical personages or of representatives of tradition (e.g., a tanna or amora) were given to many synagogues. The following examples are taken from Benjamin of Tudela ("Itinerary"), from the list of tombs compiled for R. Jehiel of Paris (1240), and from a similar list entitled "Eleh ha-Massa'ot"; the two last-named sources are appended to Grnhut's edition of Benjamin of Tudela (pp. 140-160). Some examples are found also in Pethahiah's itinerary, and in Sambari's chronicle of the year 1682, printed in Neubauer, "M. J. C." i. In the following list the name "Sambari" precedes the page numbers of citations from this latter source; all other references are to the pages of Grnhut's edition of Benjamin of Tudela's "Itinerary."

In the village of Jaujar, in Egypt, there was a synagogue named in honor of the prophet Elijah, since Phinehas b. Eleazar was born there (Sambari, p. 121; Phinehas = Elijah; see Jew. Encyc. v. 122). The synagogue of the Palestinians at Fostat was also called after Elijah; the prophet Jeremiah was said to have prayed there (Sambari, p. 118; p. 137); and there were other synagogues of Elijah at Damascus (p. 157, "between the gardensa very splendid edifice "), Byblus (p. 158, "an extraordinarily splendid edifice "), Laodicea (p. 158), and ama (p. 159), while Grtz believed ("Gesch." 1st ed., v. 53) that there was a synagogue of Elijah also in Sicily, at the time of Pope Gregory I. Benjamin found a "Keneset Mosheh" outside the city of Fostat (p. 94). According to Sambari (p. 119; comp. p. 137), the name of "Kanisat Musa" was given to the synagogue of Damwah (see Jew. Encyc. v. 64, s.v. Egypt), in which Moses himself was said to have prayed (comp. Ex. ix. 29), and in which, on the 7th of Adar, the Jews of all Egypt assembled, during the period of the Nagids, for fasting and prayer. One of the three synagogues of Aleppo was called after Moses (p. 158). Benjamin mentions synagogues named in honor of Ezra at Laodicea (= Kalneh; comp. Sambari, p. 158), Haran, and Jazirat ibn Omar, on the upper Tigris, the first one having been built, he was told, by Ezra himself (pp. 47 et seq.). Pethahiah mentions two synagogues built by Ezra at Nisibis. There was a synagogue at Ezra s tomb, and one near the grave of the prophet Ezekiel; the latter was said to have been built by King Jehoiachin ("Itinerary," ed. Benisch, pp. 61, 68). In the province of Mosul (Ashur), Benjamin (p. 48) saw the synagogues of the three prophets Obadiah, Jonah, and Nahum. The tomb of Daniel at Susa and the graves of Mordecaiand Esther (pp. 68, 75, Pethahiah) were placed in front of synagogues, and Benjamin (p. 41) mentions a synagogue near Tiberias named in honor of Caleb, the son of Jephunnehapparently the synagogue built, according to Pethahiah's itinerary, by Joshua, the son of Nun.

At Ramlah (Rama) the Christians found the tomb of Samuel beside the synagogue (p. 39, Benjamin), while at Kafr Jubar, near Damascus, there was a synagogue built, according to legend, by Elisha (Sambari, p. 152). Among the Tannaim the name of Simeon b. Yoai was given to two synagogues, one at Meron (pp. 141, 154) and the other at Kafr Bir'im (p. 154, "a very splendid edifice, built of large stones with great pillars"; see above). At Damascus, according to Benjamin, there was a synagogue of Eleazar b. 'Arak (Pethahiah says Eleazar b. Azariah), and at Nisibis one of Judah b. Bathyra. Several Babylonian synagogues mentioned by Benjamin were named in honor of amoraim: the synagogues of Rab, Samuel, Isaac, Nappaa, Rabba, Mar ashisha, Ze'era b. ama, Mari, Mer (at Hillah), Papa, Huna, Joseph, and Joseph b. ama (pp. 60, 61, 63, 65). All these synagogues stood at the graves of the amoraim whose names they bore.

These examples show that the synagogues bearing the names of Biblical or Talmudic celebrities were often similar in character to the "ubbah" (vault; Hebr. ) regularly built over the grave of a Mohammedan saint, and serving as an oratory for the pilgrims to the tomb. Similar ubbahs were erected, according to Benjamin (p. 63), over the graves of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, the three friends of Daniel, near the tomb of Ezekiel. In his commentary on Job xxi. 32 Ibn Ezra states that Hai Gaon explained the word "gadish" as the "ubbah over the grave, according to the custom in Mohammedan countries."

Some of the synagogues mentioned in the sources quoted above are described as buildings of exceptional beauty, although statements to that effect are rarely found elsewhere. It is also quite noteworthy that Benjamin of Tudela does not praise the architecture of any synagogue in the European countries through which he traveled; but it must be borne in mind that the cities of Spain were not included in his descriptions. According to Judah al-arizi, there were several magnificent synagogues at Toledo, second to none, among them being the splendid edifice built by Joseph b. Solomon ibn Shoshan (Grtz, "Gesch." 3d ed., vi. 189). The synagogue of Samuel Abulafia at Toledo and other Spanish synagogues still standing have been mentioned above. Bagdad contained twenty-eight, according to Benjamin of Tudela (Pethahiah says thirty), in addition to the synagogue of the exilarch, which is described by Benjamin as a "building resting on marble columns of various colors and inlaid with gold and silver, with verses from the Psalms inscribed in golden letters upon the pillars. The approach to the Ark was formed by ten steps, and on the upper one sat the exilarch together with the princes of the house of David." The anonymous itinerary mentioned above, in referring to the synagogue which the author saw at Tyre, describes it as "a large and very fine building" (Benjamin of Tudela, ed. Grnhut, p. 158).

The synagogue of Worms, built in the eleventh century (see A. Epstein, "Jdische Alterthmer in Worms und Speier," Breslau, 1896), and the Altneue Synagogue of Prague are the two oldest structures of their kind which still exist in Europe, and are of interest both historically and architecturally. The five Roman synagogues built under one roof formed until recently a venerable architectural curiosity. The great synagogue of Amsterdam, dedicated in 1675, is a monument both to the faith of the Hispano-Portuguese Maranos and to the religious freedom which Holland was the first to grant to the modern Jews; a similar monument is the Bevis Marks Synagogue, London, which was dedicated in 1701 (see Gaster, "History of the Ancient Synagogue," London, 1901).

Special reference must be made to the wooden synagogues built in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in some Polish cities, many of them being markedly original in style. They also attest the wealth and culture of the Polish Jews before the year 1548 (see M. Bersohn, "Einiges ber die Alten Holzsynagogen in Polen," in "Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft fr Jdische Volkskunde," 1901, viii. 159-183; 1904, xiv. 1-20). Bodenschatz, in the middle of the eighteenth century, stated that "rather handsome and large synagogues are found in Germany, especially in Hamburg, and also among the Portuguese, as well as in Prague, particularly in the Polish quarter, besides Frth and Bayersdorf; but the Dutch synagogues are more splendid than all the rest" ("Die Kirchliche Verfassung der Juden," ii. 35).

In the nineteenth century the great changes which ushered in a new epoch in the history of the civic and intellectual status of the European Jews affected also the style and the internal life of the synagogue, especially as religious reform proceeds primarily from that institution, and is chiefly concerned with synagogal worship. A private synagogue at Berlin (1817) became the first "seminary for young Jewish preachers" (Grtz, "Gesch." xi. 415); while the synagogue of the Reform-Tempel-Verein at Hamburg (1818) was the first to introduce radical innovations in the ritual of public worship, thereby causing a permanent schism in Judaism, both in Germany and elsewhere. These reforms likewise influenced the arrangement of the synagogue itself. The introduction of the organ, the shifting of the almemar from the center of the building to a position just in front of the Ark, the substitution of stationary benches for movable desks, and the abolition of the high lattices for women, were important from an architectural point of view. The chief factors which promoted and determined the construction of new synagogues were the emancipation of the Jews from the seclusion of the ghetto, their increasing refinement of taste, and their participation in all the necessities and luxuries of culture. Internal causes, however, which were not always unmixed blessings, were the prime agents in the increased importance of the synagogue. As the external observances of religion and the sanctity of tradition lost in meaning and often disappeared entirely within the family and in the life of the individual, the synagogue grew in importance as a center for the preservation of Judaism. It thus becomes explicable why the religious attitude of both large and small communities in Europe and America appears most of all in the arrangement and the care of the synagogues; and it is not mere vanity and ostentation, which lead communities on both sides of the Atlantic to make sacrifices in order to build splendid edifices for religious purposes, such as are found in many cities.

The increasing importance which the synagogue has thus acquired in modern Jewish life is, consequently, justified from a historical point of view, both because it is a development of the earliest institution of the Diasporaone which it has preserved for two thousand yearsand because it is the function of the synagogue to maintain the religious life and stimulate the concept of Judaism within the congregation. The synagogue has in the future, as it has had in the past, a distinct mission to fulfil for the Jews.

No mention is made in the Talmud of any tax for the building of synagogues; but the Tosefta to B. B. i. 6, as reported by Alfasi, says: "The men of a city urge one another to build a synagogue [] and to buy a book of the Law, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa" (see "Yad," Tefillah, xi.; Shulan 'Aruk, Ora ayyim, 150, 151). The codes teach, further, on the strength of a saying ascribed to Rab (Shab. 11a), that the building should stand in the highest part of the town (comp. Prov. i. 21) and rise above all surrounding edifices. Of course, this rule can not always be carried out where the Jews live as a small minority in a town of Gentiles; but a synagogue should never occupy the lower part of a house which contains bedrooms in an upper story. According to a tosefta, the doors of the synagogue should be in the east; but the opinion has prevailed that they should be opposite the Ark and in that part of the room toward which the worshipers face in prayer. The Ark is built to receive the scrolls of the Law. "They put a platform in the middle of the house," says Maimonides, "so that he who reads from the Law, or he who speaks words of exhortation to the people, may stand upon it, and all may hear him" (see Almemar). According to the same author, the elders sit facing the people, who are seated in rows one behind the other, all with their eyes turned toward the elders and toward the Holy Place (neither code speaks in this connection of the women's gallery). When the "messenger of the congregation" arises in prayer he stands on the floor before the Ark (this, however, is not the custom among the Sephardim of the present time). In the Holy Land, in Syria, Babylonia, and North Africa, etc., the floor is spread with matting, on which the worshipers sit; but in the countries of Christendom they occupy chairs or benches.

Honor should be paid to synagogues and houses of study. People must not conduct themselves lightly nor laugh, mock, discuss trifles, or walk about therein; in summer they must not resort to it for shelter from the heat, nor in winter should they make it serve as a retreat from the rain. Neither should they eat or drink therein, although the learned and their disciples may do so in case of an emergency. Every one before entering should wipe the mud from his shoes; and no one should come in with soiled body or garments. Accounts must not be cast in the synagogue or house of study, except those pertaining to public charity or to religious matters. Nor should funeral speeches be delivered therein, except at a public mourning for one of the great men of the time. A synagogue or house of study which has two entrances should not be used as a thoroughfare; this rule was made in analogy with that in the Mishnah (Ber. ix. 5) forbidding the use of the Temple mount as a thoroughfare.

Some honor is to be paid even to the ruins of a synagogue or house of study. It is not proper to demolish a synagogue and then to build a new one either on the same spot or elsewhere; but the new one should be built first (B. B. 3b), unless the walls of the old one show signs of falling. A synagogue may be turned into a house of study, but not viceversa; for the holiness of the latter is higher than that of the former, and the rule is (Meg. iii. 1): "They raise up in holiness, but do not lower in holiness."

The synagogue of a village, being built only for the people around it, may be sold on a proper occasion; but a synagogue in a great city, which is really built for all Israelites who may come and worship in it, ought not to be sold at all. When a small community sells its synagogue, it ought to impose on the purchaser the condition that the place must not be turned into a bath-house, laundry, cleansing-house (for vessels), or tannery, though a council of seven of the leading men in the community may waive even this condition (ib. 27b).

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SYNAGOGUE - JewishEncyclopedia.com

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