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A synagogue (from Greek: συναγωγή, transliterated synagogē, "assembly"; ‫ תסנכ תיב‬beyt knesset, "house of assembly"; ‫ לוש‬or ‫הליפת תיב‬ beyt t’fila, "house of prayer", shul; ‫ ,הגונסא‬esnoga) is a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogues usually have a large hall for prayer (the main sanctuary), smaller rooms for study and sometimes a social hall and offices. Some have a separate room for Torah study, called the beth midrash — ‫שרדמ תיב‬ ("House of Study"). Synagogues are often not consecrated spaces, nor is a synagogue necessary for collective worship. Jewish worship can be carried out wherever ten Jews (a minyan) assemble. A synagogue is not in the strictest sense a temple; it does not replace the true, long-since destroyed, Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Many Jews in English-speaking countries use the Yiddish term "shul" (cognate with the German schule, school) in everyday speech. Spanish and Portuguese Jews call the


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synagogue an esnoga. Persian Jews and Karaite Jews use the term Kenesa, which is derived from Aramaic, and some Arabicspeaking Jews use knis. Reform and some Conservative congregations in the United States sometimes use the word "temple."

that had already established congregations); and by any like-minded group of Jews. Eastern European Jewish communities were characterized by the presence of kloizen (literally, "gathering places") in which worshippers belonging to the same profession prayed together. Thus there was the tailors’ kloiz, the water-carriers’ kloiz, etc. One kloiz that still bears that name today is the Breslov synagogue in Uman, Ukraine, which accommodates thousands of worshipers at the annual Breslover Rosh Hashana kibbutz (prayer gathering). It is called the "New Kloiz" to distinguish it from the "Old Kloiz", which was built by Nathan of Breslov in 1834.[5]

Although synagogues existed well before the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 CE, communal worship in the time while the Temple still stood centered around the korbanot ("sacrificial offerings") brought by the kohanim ("priests") in the Holy Temple. The all-day Yom Kippur service, in fact, was an event in which the congregation both observed the movements of the kohen gadol ("the high priest") as he offered the day’s sacrifices and prayed for his success. During the Babylonian captivity the Men of the Great Assembly began the process of formalizing and standardizing Jewish services and prayers that did not depend on the functioning of the Temple in Jerusalem. Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, one of the leaders at the end of the Second Temple era, promulgated the idea of creating individual houses of worship in whatever locale Jews found themselves. This contributed to the saving of the Jewish people by maintaining a unique identity and a portable way of worship despite the destruction of the Temple, according to many historians. Synagogues in the sense of purpose-built spaces for worship, or rooms originally constructed for some other purpose but reserved for formal, communal prayer, existed long before the destruction of Solomon’s Temple.[1] The earliest archaeological evidence for the existence of very early synagogues comes from Egypt, where stone synagogue dedication inscriptions dating from the third century BCE prove that synagogues existed by that date.[2] A synagogue dating from between 75 and 50 BCE has been uncovered at a Hasmonean-era winter palace near Jericho.[3] [4] More than a dozen Second Temple era synagogues have been identified by archaeologists.[1] Throughout Jewish history, synagogues have been constructed by all types of people. They have been constructed by wealthy patrons; by ethnically-bound groups of people (such as the Sephardic synagogues established by Sephardi refugees to large cities

Architectural design

The Sardis Synagogue in Manisa, Turkey. The synagogue was a section of a large bathgymnasium complex, which was in use for 450–500 years. There is no set blueprint for synagogues and the architectural shapes as well as interior designs of synagogues vary greatly. In fact, the influence of other local religious buildings can often be seen. Historically, synagogues were built in the prevailing architectural style of their time and place. Thus, the synagogue in Kaifeng, China looked very like Chinese temples of that region and era, with its outer wall and open garden in which several buildings were arranged. The styles of the earliest synagogues resembled the temples of other sects of the eastern Roman Empire. The surviving synagogues of medieval Spain are embellished with mudéjar plasterwork. The surviving medieval synagogues in Budapest and Prague are typical Gothic structures.


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In the post-war era, synagogue architecture abandoned historicist styles for modernism.

Interior elements
Orthodox synagogues
Orthodox synagogues usually contain the following features:

Aron Kodesh covered by dark blue parochet with decorative, embroidered design. Aerial view of the synagogue of the Kaifeng Jewish community in China. The emancipation of Jews in European countries not only enabled Jews to enter fields of enterprise from which they were formerly barred, but gave them the right to build synagogues without needing special permissions, synagogue architecture blossomed. Large Jewish communities wished to show not only their wealth but also their newly acquired status as citizens by constructing magnificent synagogues. These were built across Europe and in the United States in all of the historicist or revival styles then in fashion. Thus there were Neoclassical, Neo-Byzantine, Romanesque Revival Moorish Revival, Gothic Revival, and Greek Revival. There are Egyptian Revival synagogues and even one Mayan Revival synagogue. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century heyday of historicist architecture, however, most historicist synagogues, even the most magnificent ones, did not attempt a pure style, or even any particular style, and are best described as eclectic. Some synagogues used the swastika as a decorative element, usually without religious significance, before it took on sinister connotations in twentieth-century Nazi Germany. • An ark – called the Aron Kodesh – ‫,שדוק ןורא‬ the Holy Ark by Ashkenazim and heikhal – ‫[ לכיה‬temple] by Sephardim – where the Torah scrolls are kept. The ark in a synagogue is positioned in such a way that those who face it, face towards Jerusalem. Thus, sanctuary seating plans in the Western world generally face east, while those east of Israel face west. Sanctuaries in Israel face towards Jerusalem. Occasionally synagogues face other directions for structural reasons; in such cases, some individuals might turn to face Jerusalem when standing for prayers, but the congregation as a whole does not.

A typical Synagogue


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The ark is reminiscent of the Ark of the Covenant which contained the tablets with Ten Commandments. This is the holiest spot in a synagogue, equivalent to the Holy of Holies. The ark is often closed with an ornate curtain, the parochet - ‫ ,תכורפ‬which hangs outside or inside the ark doors. • A large, raised, reader’s platform called the bimah (‫ )המיב‬by Ashkenazim and tebah by Sephardim, where the Torah scroll is read and from where the services are conducted in Sephardi synagogues. • A continually-lit lamp or lantern, usually electric, called the ner tamid (‫ ,)דימת רנ‬the "Eternal Light," used as a reminder of the western lamp of the menorah of the Temple in Jerusalem, which remained miraculously lit always. • A candelabrum specifically lit during services commemorating the full Menorah. • A pulpit facing the congregation for the use of the rabbi, and a pulpit or amud ‫( דומע‬Hebrew for "post" or "column") facing the Ark where the Hazzan stands while leading the prayer service. • A partition (mechitzah) dividing the men’s and women’s seating areas, or a separate women’s section located on a balcony. A synagogue may be decorated with artwork, but in the Rabbinic and Orthodox tradition, three-dimensional sculptures and depictions of the human body are not allowed, as these are considered akin to idolatry. Synagogue windows are sometimes curved at the top and squared at the bottom, recalling the popular depiction of the shape of the Tablets of Stone that held the Ten Commandments which Moses received from God at Mount Sinai. There is also a tradition to install twelve windows around the main sanctuary to recall the Twelve Tribes of Israel, underscoring the importance of unity and brotherhood as a result of the communal prayers. Until the 19th century all synagogue interiors were laid out with both a spiritual and a communal focus. In an Ashkenazi synagogue, all seats faced the aron kodesh (Ark) in which the Torah scrolls were housed. In a Sephardi synagogue, seats were arranged around the perimeter of the sanctuary, but when the worshippers stood up to pray, everyone faced the Ark. The Torah was read on a reader’s table located in the exact center of each sanctuary, echoing the manner in


Interior of a "caravan shul" (synagogue housed in a trailer-type facility) in Neve Yaakov, Jerusalem, Israel. which the Children of Israel stood around Mount Sinai when they received the Torah. The leader of the prayer service, the Hazzan, stood at his own lectern or table, facing the Ark. The United States has well over 1200 Orthodox congregations, including over 1000 affiliated with the Orthodox Union (OU), and 150 with the National Council of Young Israel, as well as many associated with Agudath Israel of America, a widespread movement especially identified with Haredim.

Reform synagogues and temples
The German Reform movement which arose in the early 1800s made many changes to the traditional look of the synagogue, keeping with its desire to simultaneously stay Jewish yet be accepted by the host culture. The first Reform synagogue, which opened in Hamburg in 1811, introduced changes that made the synagogue look more like a church. These included: the installation of an organ to accompany the prayers (even on Shabbat, when musical instruments are proscribed by halakha), a choir to accompany the Hazzan, and vestments for the synagogue rabbi to wear [1]. In following decades, the central reader’s table, the bimah, was moved to the front of the Reform sanctuary — previously unheardof in Orthodox synagogues. The rabbi now delivered his sermon from the front, much as the Christian ministers delivered their sermons in a church. The synagogue was renamed a "temple," to emphasize that the


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The New Synagogue in Berlin, Germany. The Synagogue in the Gerard Doustraat in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. movement no longer looked forward to the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Conservative synagogues
The Conservative movement, which also developed in Europe and America in the 1800s, rejected Reform as being too liberal and Orthodoxy as being too outdated. However, like other varieties of Judaism, its synagogue design is not consistent. Some Conservative synagogues resemble Reform temples, complete with organ[2]. Others resemble Orthodox synagogues, but usually without a mechitza, the dividing barrier between men and women. There are approximately 750 Conservative synagogues in the United States today. Many Conservative synagogues contain a ner tamid (Eternal Light).

Reconstructionist synagogues
The Reconstructionist movement, which arose in America in the latter half of the 20th century, counts fewer than 100 synagogues worldwide. In keeping with a Reconstructionist Jewish spirit of liberalism, the movement’s The Choral Synagogue in Moscow, Russia. synagogues are not as traditionalist in design as are synagogues of Conservative Judaism, and do not use the mechitza, but most do


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have a ner tamid (Eternal Light). The congregation decides communally how much traditional Judaic imagery and symbols are appropriate. Reconstructionist Jews generally do not call their houses of worship "temples".

elaborate synagogues of this type, albeit smaller than the synagogues of Vienna and New York. They are often designated The Great Synagogue of..., or, in Russia, The Choral synagogue. Notable Cathedral synagogues include Temple Emanu-El of New York, a Reform Temple located in New York City, with an area of 3,523 m², seating 2,500. The Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary; which seats 3,000 and was long considered the largest synagogue in the world. The New Synagogue (Berlin), the Leopoldstädter Tempel, the Great Synagogue of Rome, the Grand Choral Synagogue, the Moscow Choral Synagogue, the Great Synagogue of Florence, the Great Synagogue, Plzen, the Great Synagogue (Warsaw), the Košice Orthodox Synagogue, the Novi Sad Synagogue, the Szeged Synagogue,[7] the Sofia Synagogue and the Great Synagogue of Oran.

Synagogue as community center
Synagogues often take on a broader role in modern Jewish communities and may include additional facilities such as a function hall, kosher kitchen, religious school, library, day care center and a smaller chapel for daily services.

Synagogue offshoots
A related place of worship is the shtiebel (‫ ,לביטש‬pl. shtiebelekh or shtiebels, Yiddish for "little house") that is frequently used by and preferred by Hasidic and Haredi Jews. A shtiebel may sometimes be a room in the private home of a Hasidic Rebbe, or a place of business which is set aside for the express purpose of prayer. It may or may not offer the communal services of a synagogue. Another type of communal prayer group, favored by some contemporary Jews, is the Chavurah (‫ ,הרובח‬pl. chavurot, ‫ ,)תורובח‬or prayer fellowship. These groups meet at a regular place and time, usually in a private home. In antiquity, the Pharisees lived near each other in chavurot and dined together to ensure that none of the food was unfit for consumption.[6] Orthodox Jews, who must collect a minyan or quorum of ten men before certain communal prayers can be recited, do not require a consecrated space and commonly assemble at pre-arranged times in offices, living rooms, or other spaces when these are more convenient than formal synagogue buildings.

World’s largest synagogues
• The largest synagogue in the world is probably the Belz World Center, in Jerusalem, Israel; whose main Sanctuary seats 6,000. Construction on the edifice lasted for over 15 years.

Cathedral synagogues
During the nineteenth and early twentieth century, almost every Jewish community constructed a very large, showpiece synagogue. Called "cathedral synagogues" by architectural historians, these buildings were intended not simply to accommodate worshipers, but to serve as emblems of Jewish participation in modern society. For this purpose they were built to be not merely large, but architecturally impressive. Even small cities had

The Belz World Center in Jerusalem, a modern building faced in Jerusalem stone and probably the largest synagogue in the world • The next largest may be the Satmar synagogue in Kiryas Joel, New York; which is said to seat "several thousand." [8] • The largest synagogue in Europe is the newly constructed Bratzlav Center at the graveside of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav in Uman, Ukraine; which seats up to 5,000.


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• Congregation Shaare Zion, an Orthodox Sephardic synagogue located in Brooklyn, New York; which is the largest Syrian Jewish congregation in New York City. It is attended by over 1,000 worshipers on weekends. • Kehilas Yetev Lev D’Satmar (Williamsburg, Brooklyn); seating between 2,000 to 4,000 congregants.


World’s oldest synagogues
• The oldest Samaritan synagogue, the Delos Synagogue dates from between 150 and 128 BCE, or earlier and is located on the island of Delos. [9] • The Jericho Synagogue, the oldest, securely dated, mainstream Jewish synagogue in the world was built between 70 and 50 BCE at a royal winter palace near Jericho.[10] • The oldest synagogue fragments are stone synagogue dedication inscriptions stones found in middle and lower Egypt and dating from the third century BCE.[2]

The Great Synagogue of Santiago, Chile. Alhambra palace in Granada as well as the Mosque of Cordoba. Since 1964, this site has hosted a Sephardi museum. The Hurva Synagogue, located in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, was Jerusalem’s main Ashkenazi synagogue from the 16th century until 1948, when it was destroyed by the Arab Legion several days after the conquest of the city. After the Six-Day War, an arch was built to mark the spot where the synagogue stood. A complete reconstruction is now underway in keeping with plans drawn up by architect Nahum Meltzer. The Great Synagogue of Oran. The Barbados Nidhe Israel Synagogue ("Bridgetown Synagogue"), located in the capital city of Bridgetown, was first built in 1654. It was destroyed in the hurricane of 1831 and reconstructed in 1833[3]. The Amsterdam Esnoga is a Sephardic synagogue in Amsterdam built on pilings. It was founded by ex-Marranos (Portuguese Crypto-Jews) in 1675. The Snoa in Willemstad, Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles was built by Sephardic Portuguese Jews from Amsterdam and Recife, Brazil. It is

Oldest synagogues in the United States
• Congregation Shearith Israel, 1655, is the oldest congregation in the United States, its present building dates from 1897. • The Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, is the oldest Jewish house of worship in North America that is still standing. It was built in 1759 for the Jeshuat Israel congregation, which was established in 1658. •

Other famous synagogues
• The Rashi Shul, built in 1175 and razed on Kristallnacht in 1938, was painstakingly reconstructed using many of the original stones. It is still in use as a synagogue. • The Synagogue of El Transito of Toledo, Spain, was built in 1356 by Samuel HaLevi, treasurer of King Pedro I of Castile. This is one of the best examples of mudejar architecture in Spain. The design of the synagogue recalls the Nasrid style of architecture that was employed during the same period in the decorations of the

• •




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modeled after the Esnoga in Amsterdam. Congregation Mikvé Israel built this synagogue in 1692; it was reconstructed in 1732. • The Bialystoker Synagogue on New York’s Lower East Side, is located in a landmark building dating from 1826 that was originally a Methodist Episcopal Church. The building is made of quarry stone mined locally on Pitt Street, Manhattan. It is an example of Federalist architecture. The ceilings and walls are hand-painted with zodiac frescos, and the sanctuary is illuminated by 40-foot (12 m) stained glass windows. The bimah and floor-to-ceiling ark are handcarved. • The Great Synagogue of Florence, Tempio Maggiore, Florence, 1874-82, is an example of the magnificent, cathedrallike synagogues built in almost every major European city in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Selected images of synagogues

The Amsterdam Esnoga Synagogue in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

The Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary.

The Great Synagogue The main of Plzeň, synagogue of Czech Republic. the city of Frankfurt am Main (Germany) before the Kristallnacht.

The Roonstrasse Synagogue in Cologne, Germany.

The Bobowa Synagogue The Lesko Synagogue in in Bobowa, Lesko, Poland. Poland.

The Belzer The Cymsynagogue of balista SynBelz, Ukraine. agogue and

The synagogue of

The Baal Shem Tov’s shul in Medzhybizh, Ukraine (c. 1915). The shul no longerThe synexists. agogue no The dome of longer exists. the Hurva Synagogue

Jewish Herit- Kherson, age Center Ukraine. at Tel Aviv University.

dominated the skyline of the Jewish Quarter of


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• Synagogue architecture Jerusalem for centuries.



Scenes from the The remains Book of of the Hurva Esther Synagogue as from the they appeared The Durafrom 1977 to Ashkenazi Synagogue of Europos 2003. The synagogue synagogue is Istanbul, Tur(244 CE). currently be- key. The synagogue was ing reconstructed. founded in the year 1900.

The interior of a Karaite • Levine, Lee (October 24 2005) [2000]. synagogue Ancient Synagogue - The First The (kenesa). Thousand Years (2nd. ed. ed.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-10628-9. [1] ^ Second Temple Synagogues [2] ^ Egypt [3] Israel’s Oldest Synagogue [4] module/displaystory/story_id/8390/ edition_id/159/format/html/ displaystory.html [5] Rosh Hashanah in Uman [6] Alan F. Segal, Rebecca’s Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World, Harvard University Press, 1986, 125. [7] 1340 seats, the synagogue is 48 meters long, 35 meters wide and 48.6 meters The Grand high, Choral Syn[8] Jewish Professionals Institute (JPI) agogue ofHolocaust Thesis Chapter 7 St. Petersburg, [9] Delos Russia [10] Jericho


Temple Beth-El, the oldest Congregation synagogue Emanu-El of in Florida, New York on which was The Central Fifth Avenue built in Art Synagogue on in ManhatDeco style. Lexington Av- tan, New enue in Man- York City, is hattan, New the largest York City, Un- synagogue ited States of outside of America. Israel.

External links
• Guide to synagogues and other Jewish heritage sites in Slovakia • B’Nai Israel Synagogue on GuidepostUSA • Joseph Tabory, A list of articles on Synagogues (in various languages), in the DAAT site • Eldridge Street Synagogue • picture of Aron Kodesh in Rav Pealim Beit Knesset

See also
• • • • Beth midrash Jewish services Shtiebel Siddur

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