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The word synagogue means a meeting place the synagogue is a Greek word
for meeting or an assembly.
The synagogue can also be called shul, which is a Yiddish word for
school, because the synagogue is also a place to learn as well as meet
and socialise and pray. The synagogue also helps Jews to share their
problems and talk about their issues with their community and discuss
Other names reflect its function too, for example it may also be
called a Beth hatefilla (house of prayer) as it is also a place to go
to worship and stick to the commandments of the torah. It is also
known as Beth ha-hneset (house of assembly) and Beth ha-midrash (house
of study) as Jews go to the synagogue mostly to study the torah.
Jews also go to the synagogue for celebration, for example a lot of
festivals and prayers, such as Yom Kippur.
The first evidence of the synagogue is as far back as the third
century BCE, this was not a synagogue but a temple founded in Egypt in
Palestine. After the destruction of the first temple, Jews were taken
into exile in Babylon, but even the Jews gathered and met in secret
confinements to keep there faith alive.
“Thus said the lord: though I have removed them far away among the
nations and though I have scattered them along the lands, yet I have
been for them a small sanctuary (synagogue) in the lands where they
arrived” Ezekiel 11:16
There was then a temple in Jerusalem but many Jews did not want to
return, so as Jews spreaded out all over the world more and more
synagogues were being build as the command to visit the temple 3 times
a day was impossible so then came the synagogues and they grew more
and more important.
The synagogues became even more prominent due to the destruction of
the second temple in 70CE, by this time most Jewish communities had a
synagogue for all services and also a place to go to celebrate
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Modern synagogues carry on the traditions of teachings and worship,
but they are also very important community centres, the only practice
not done in the synagogue, which was done in the temple were the
sacrifices of animals and so this was replaced with prayer.
Describe the main features of the synagogue
In the synagogue you will find the ark - the focal point of any
synagogue is the Ark, a big cupboard covered by a curtain, within the
ark safely and securely lays the torah, the torah is the main feature
and centre peace of the synagogue.
The Sefer Torah is so sacred a Yad stick is used when reading from it
as the torah is not aloud to be touched, A Yad is usually a fancy
metal or wood "stick" with a hand and a pointing finger on the end.
A Ba'al Koray will chant the Torah reading. He uses additional
symbols, called Trop or Ta’ameem. Like vowel points, they appear above
or below the letters, and they act as musical symbols, indicating
which of the several melodies should be used. The symbols can found in
many printed editions of the Torah. There are different tunes for the
Torah (Books of Moshe) and Haftarah (Prophets), and each of the
When not in use the torah is wrapped up in either silk or a velvet
cover to protect it and symbolise its great importance.
The Sefer torah includes the first five books of the Jewish scriptures
of Moshe Rabaynu (Moses our teacher), which are:
Genesis - Bereishit
Exodus - Shmot
Leviticus - Vayikra
Numbers - Bamidbar
Deuteronomy - Devarim
The torah is written by hand with a special pen called quills many
quills are used, A special quill is used only for G-d's four letter
The ink is made up of a blend of powdered gallnuts, copper sulphate
crystals, gum Arabic, and water.
The torah is written on large peaces of Kosher Parchment called Klaf,
the parchment comes from a kosher animal, this normally being a goat,
bull, cow or deer.
The Sefer torah can only be written by a professional scribe (Sofer).
The Sefer torah is written in Hebrew and Hebrew is read and written
from right to left.
The Sefer Torah usually contains 248 columns, and one rectangle of
parchment yields space for three or four columns.
When the writing is complete, the Sofer sews the individual pieces of
parchment together using a thread called giddin, which is made from
the leg sinews of a kosher animal, most commonly a cow, a sheep, or an
ox. The Sofer makes one stitch every six lines of text, sewing the
backs of the parchment sheets, so that the stitches are not visible
from the front. Then the scroll is sewn onto wooden rollers called
The tops of the wooden rollers of the Sefer Torah are often decorated
with silver or gold crowns, which covers both rollers, symbolizing
When preparing for bat/bar mitzvah a Jewish child will learn parts of
the torah at the synagogue.
The Sefer torah is read only from the bimah, the bimah is a centrally
positioned reading platform (dais) with a reading desk.
The bimah is where sacrifices used to be made in the temple but today
is just used for the readings of the torah
The bimah is a raised platform and always in the centre of a synagogue
so that when readings are made Jews all around can hear and see.
Above the ark a lamp called Ner Tamid (eternal light) burns as a
symbol of God's constant presence.
The light is everlasting (never goes out), this light is placed above
the ark because of a teaching in the torah saying there must be
Exodus 27 “now you shall command the children of Israel that they
shall take for you pure, pressed oil for illumination, to kindle the
lamp continually. In the tent of meeting”.
Inside the synagogue you will also find the mikveh, the mikveh is like
a big pool of water or ritual bath inside the synagogue, the water
contained in it is only that of natural water from the rain or rivers
the water does not come from a tap, this is so as to feel like the
water is alive and pure.
The women only mostly use the mikveh, a women will use the mikveh at 3
occasions these being:
· Before the women gets married to purify herself ready for the holy
· After a period before the women can have sex again with her husband,
this is because a woman’s period is thought to be dirty and unhygienic
so she has to purify and cleanse herself and rid herself from all the
· A women also uses the mikveh after the birth of a baby as the women
feels dirty due to a lot of people touching and looking at her during
child birth, so she attends the mikveh to purify herself.
A man shall use the mikveh on Yom Kippur (day of atonement) but also a
male orthodox Jew shall also attend a mikveh on the day of the
When in the mikveh the person must be fully naked and have there body
totally submerged into the water.
The whole set up of the synagogue is based on how things were set up
in the temple before its destruction.