Old Testament

What goes on in a Jewish synagogue?



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Prayer, reading of the Torah, celebration of Sabbaths, Festivals; some social activity, meetings, etcetera according to participation

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Synagogues are where Jews hold services of public worship, three times a day, every day of the year. Anyone may lead the prayers, but on Sabbath and festivals this is traditionally done by a specially trained chazan. In addition to worship, synagogues may be used for the occasional communal function, and have always been used for teaching Torah.

In the front stands the holy ark, which is a tall, heavy, fancy cabinet with a curtain in front and double doors and in which the Torah-scrolls are stored.

The Torah-scroll is placed upon a low, heavy cabinet called a bima, when it is to be read from.

Many synagogues have an "eternal lamp". This is alluded to in Exodus 27:20 and represents God's unceasing presence.

In Europe, the earliest known synagogues date back around one thousand years. For example, Rashi's house of study and public prayer (11th century CE) still stands in Troyes, France.

In Israel, the remains of tens of synagogues are known to date back around 2,000 years; most of these can be seen in the upper Galilee region.

The earliest use of synagogues goes back for over 3,000 years. Jews always worshiped in synagogues, even when the Holy Temple stood. Even within the Temple premises, there were several synagogues. During the Second Temple era, ancient Greek authors attest to the large synagogues that stood in all the countries where Jews lived. The Dioploston in Alexandria, for example, was famous for its size (Talmud, Tosefta Sukkah 4:6). In First Temple times also, synagogues served the same function (of daily prayer and study) that they do today (Talmud, Megillah 26b and Berakhot 31a).

According to our tradition, we can pray privately when necessary, but communal prayer has a much stronger effect (Talmud, Berakhot 7b-8a). It also strengthens the spiritual level and the bonds within the community.

While praying, Jews either sit, or stand, depending on the prayer. There is also some bowing forward (in the Amidah and Aleinu), but Jews today do not kneel except once a year on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).
In between the prayers, Kaddish is said; and the Torah is read on many occasions (over two hundred times a year).
While formal prayer services are held in the synagogue three times each day throughout the year, many other blessings (such as those over meals) are said in the home.

More information:

The Jewish prayer-book has a structured order. Prayers are ancient, and often are sung or chanted. Some prayers are said in unison (such as Shir Hakavod), and some are not. Some prayers are said more than once per day (such as the Shema), some once a day (such as Yotzer Ohr), and others are said only on Sabbath, festivals or certain occasions. Some prayers are said aloud (such as Kaddish), some are sung (such as Lekha Dodi) and some are to be whispered (the Amidah). Most of the services are in Hebrew, but a couple of prayers are in Aramaic (such as Brikh Shemei).

Prayer services are part of halakha (Jewish law) and tradition (Talmud, Berakhot 26a); and the Torah records several prayers of our forefathers.

Prayer is an important form of communicating with God, and maintaining a relationship with Him; and it is also good for the health of the soul, to which Torah, prayer and religious observances are a form of nourishment. Judaism sees it as centrally important to thank God, to recognize that He is the source of prosperity, and to be close to Him.

See also the other Related Links.
Link: What is the Jewish prayerbook?

Link: How are synagogues and rabbis related?
Link: What is the purpose of Jewish swaying during prayer?