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The Meaning of the Word Synagogue

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The Meaning of the Word Synagogue


i) A synagogue is the Jewish place of worship. Equivalents of other
religions are churches and temples. The word Synagogue comes from the
Greek Language, as Hebrew has no word meaning synagogue. The greek
word 'synagein' is translated to mean 'to bring together'. It is
called this because this is where the jewish community is brought
together to worship. However, the Hebrew language refers to the
synagogue as the 'Beit Haknesset', which again means 'house of
assembly'. This again shows the idea of assembling and worshipping
together.

The origin of synagogues has never been certain, and the actual truth
is unknown, however the general belief has come to be that synagogues
originated during the Babylonian Exile which began in 586 B.C. It is
said that because they were deprived of the Temple (Beit ha-Midkash),
which was the most important institution in the Jewish religion; the
Jews would meet sometimes to read from the scriptures together. During
the first century of the Common Era the Second Temple was destroyed by
the Romans in 70 A.D. After this destruction it seemed that the
synagogue became common place among many Jewish communities to provide
a place for them to worship.

It seems that synagogues came into existence as part of retaliation to
the Romans for the destruction caused by them to the Jewish community.
Nowadays Synagogues are the most important institutions in every
Jewish community, notably Jews face their Synagogues towards Jerusalem
and pray towards there to symbolise their wish to someday return to
Jerusalem.

ii) The appearance of synagogues varies, on the outside and in the
interior. On the outside, they deem it unnecessary to make it look
elaborate on the outside. This is because the Jewish community do not
try to convert outsiders. The synagogue is for themselves, so the
exterior is fairly ordinary. One thing that is essential in every
synagogue is that it must be facing towards Jerusalem. This is so they
can pray towards Jerusalem. The interior has a few things that are
essential to every synagogue, so this will be similar in each.

[IMAGE]

This is a picture of the outside of a synagogue. It is fairly ordinary
and bland, also even this is fairly elaborate compared to usual low
key synagogues.

The interior has more care taken into it. One of the essential things
is the area where the torahs are kept. It is an area that is usually
concealed by a curtain to keep the torahs sacred, and is only
uncovered during worship. There are usually many torahs in one
synagogue, so when they've finished reading one, they will use
another. As well as being important, they are expensive, so they are
handled with care. They are kept in the Ark of the Covenant (which is
also known as the Aron Kodesh)

[IMAGE]

Another feature that every synagogue must have is a 'bimah'. This is a
raised platform usually situated in the middle. It is where the torah
is read from, and prayers are said. There is a table on it where the
torah is placed. This is central so the whole congregation can see it
well and be

[IMAGE]

[IMAGE] This is the table from which the torah is being read.

[IMAGE]


This is the raised platform

[ Nozyk Synagogue Floor Plan ]

As shown in the diagram above, men and women must sit separately in
the synagogue. Jews believe that the men will be distracted if the
women sit nearby, and this will turn the focus away from God and the
worship. They don't believe this of the women, as women are considered
more naturally holy. So generally there are seats on the ground for
the men, and a gallery above for the women. The women are put upstairs
as opposed to the men because in Orthodox synagogues women play no
part. This is due to the traditional way of worship undertaken by all
Orthodox Jews. This is mainly because in Orthodox Judaism the men are
not permitted to pray with women as their minds are supposed to be
solely on prayer and God. The men work and do all the hard labour
whilst the women look after the children, cook and prepare for Shabbat
every week. The women, if married, must wear a head scarf so that only
their husbands see them fully. However in Reform Judaism some
traditional aspects are still undertaken, although the Ten
Commandments have been "adjusted" to suit modern day needs, they also
allow for equality amongst men and women and the woman's desire to
also work. Some could argue that there is a lot more freedom in Reform
Judaism for women; others argue that they shouldn't change the
'rules'.

Part B

The synagogue is thought of as many different things.

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