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Table of Contents
The First Synagogues
The shift from Temple to Synagogue
Synagogues during the Middle Ages
Personalities in the Synagogue
Ownership and disposal
Holiness of Ceremonial Objects
The Synagogue: A Place for all the needs of the community
Similarities between the synagogue and the Temple
Festivals in the Synagogue
The synagogue has been a vital and central institution in Jewish life. Throughout Jewish history, dating back to the destruction of the 1st Temple, Jews have come to synagogue to pray to G-d, to seek inspiration and to achieve and maintain their identity.
During the first Temple era, the major gathering place of public service to G-d was the Great Temple in Jerusalem. With the destruction of the 1st Temple in 586 B.C.E., and the Jewish exile to Babylonia, the synagogue became the focal point of Jewish community life. The Talmud finds a direct reference to the synagogues of Babylonia in Ezekiel 11:16: G-d said: �I have indeed removed them far among the nations and I have scattered them among the countries, and I have become to them a small sanctuary in the countries to which they have gone. The phrase: �small sanctuary�, was in the course of time applied to a synagogue. Without a Temple, the synagogue became the main place of public Jewish gathering and worship.
As we don�t hear about the building of synagogues until after the destruction of the first Temple, in the time of the Babylonian exile, the question of where the nation of Israel prayed prior to this time period arises. There are two answers to this question. Firstly, there was no reason to build houses of prayer outside the Great Temple. The Temple was the place where G-d made his presence manifest to the people. It was the symbol of national unity in Jerusalem, the holy city. Secondly, there was no need to build special houses of prayer at a time when the nation of Israel lived in their land, because in their dwelling areas, there were public gathering places which were used for all their needs, including communal prayer. In Writings and Prophets, public gathering places are mentions as being �Makhelot� (Psalms 68:27) (Deuteronomy 13:17) and Mikra�ah (Isaiah 4:5).
The people would gather to pray outside, under the sky. One should keep in mind that in the Temple itself, there was a place before the Eastern gate for public gatherings, including prayer. This place was called the Eastern Street. (Chronicles 2, 29:4. Mishnah in Taanit 2:5).
The �streets of the city� were also before the gates of every city. (�To the street of the gate of the city� (Chronicles 2, 32:6 Deuteronomy 13:17).
At the gate of the city the Court sat (Deuteronomy 21:19), and around it, in the �street of the city�, people came for general business needs, national gatherings and speeches. It is very likely that in these public streets, prayer gathering were held.
When the children of Israel were living on Gentile land, spread out amongst the nations, crying, remembering Jerusalem, they desired to pray to G-d, and pour out their hearts to him. But amongst the nations, the Jews couldn�t gather in the streets or in another public area, like they were accustomed to doing in their homeland Israel. Therefore, there was a need to create in every city a gathering place for prayer and the study of Torah. So was the synagogues built as a national spiritual center.
With the destruction of the First Temple, many Jews went to Egypt. In Egypt, many synagogues were built.
When the Jews returned to Israel, they brought with them the custom of building synagogues in all of their dwelling places. Even after the building of the second Temple, the Jews continued to go to synagogues. Even the Temple itself had a synagogue which people would attend on Sabbaths and holidays.
In Jerusalem, the holy city, in the time of the second Temple, there was a great number of synagogues and houses of study. In the Talmud (Ketubot 100a), it says that there were 394 synagogues in Jerusalem. In the Talmud Yerushalmi (Ketubot 8:1), it says that there were 460 synagogues in Jerusalem. The Yerushalmi (Megillah 3:1) further says that in Jerusalem, there were 480 synagogues and each of them had a house for the study of the written Torah, five books of Moses, a house for the study of the oral Torah, the Mishnah and the Talmud.
In the Talmud, synagogues for people with trades are mentioned. For example, there was a synagogue for workers who refine copper (Megillah 26a). There were also different synagogues for people who came to Israel from different countries. There is mention of synagogues in cities and villages (Megillah 26a). There is also mention of publicly and privately owned synagogues (Mishnah Megillah 3:1).
There were not only synagogues in Israel. In every land that the Jews settled in the time of the Second Temple, there were synagogues. Josephus mentions synagogues in Greece, Rome, Egypt and other places in southern Africa.
We find that there was a synagogue for the Jews from Rome who were in Mechoza (Megillah 26b), a synagogue for Jews from Bavel (Babylonia) (Yerushalmi Yoma 7:1), and a synagogue for Jews from Alexandria (Yerushalmi Megillah 3:1).
In Beitar, there were 400 synagogues (Gittin 58a). In Tiberius there were 13 synagogues. (Brachos 8a)
We have already mentioned the great synagogue of Alexandria, which was the most glorious. The people of the Sanhedrin (Jewish Court) sat in golden chairs. The synagogue was so big that many people in the back of the synagogue couldn�t hear the prayer leader. Therefore, the person leading prayer services had to wave a cloth to indicate to these people that it was time to answer �Amen�.
After the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans, Yochanan the son of Zakkai requested that the Kaiser Aspifamus give him Yavneh and its sages. (Gittin 56b) According to Avot Di� Rabbi Natan, Rabbi Yochanan also said the following to the Kaiser: ��and there (in Yavneh), I will establish a place for prayer and I will fulfill G-d�s commandments�. During the time of the Second Temple, the great house of learning was in Yavneh, and the Sanhedrin was moved there after the destruction of the Second Temple.
After the destruction of the Second Temple, the center of serving G-d shifted from the Temple to the synagogue. The Tana�im (authors of the Mishnah) of the generation arranged anew the order of the prayer service, in a more expanded and firm manner. The synagogue and the house of learning became the focal points of Jewish life. So in Yavneh, there was the institution of the synagogue, house of learning and the Sanhedrin.
Service of G-d was not easy in Babylonia. The Persians only let the Jews build synagogues outside of the city. The Jews suffered from persecution from the Persians. The Persians put idols of kings in the synagogues.
During the 2nd Temple period, from 516 B.C.E. - 70 C.E., records show that there were numerous synagogues in existence. When the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. the central role of the synagogue in Jewish family life became firmly established. The Jews who left Israel and found refuge in Babylonia established synagogues and houses of study. Rabbi Yitzchak, one of the sages of the Talmud, commented on the verse in Ezekiel 11:16, �I will be for them a miniature sanctuary�, as a reference to synagogues and houses of prayer of Babylonia. The sages viewed the synagogue as a miniature Temple where Jewish congregations all over the world could gather, and to some extent, fill the void left by the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The synagogue became the unrivalled hub of the social and religious life of each community. It is mentioned in all literary sources of that period, from various parts of the world. Over 100 synagogues dating from the third to eighth century C.E. have been identified in Israel.
The Jewish population had shifted largely to the Galilee, in the North, where the earliest concentration of structures is to be found. These follow several different prototypes. Most common is the basilica form, consisting of a long hall, divided by two rows of pillars, into a central nave and two aisles. Benches line the internal walls, and the pillars probably supported a gallery. Exteriors tend to be impressively constructed and ornamented, making the synagogue the most imposing structure of the settlement. Whenever possible, the synagogue was situated at the town�s highest point or close to a water source. Interiors tend to be plain and unornamented, presumably to avoid distracting worshippers from the service. At a particular stage, mosaic floors were introduced, first with only geometrical designs, and later with representations of human and animal figures, depictions of Bible stories, the fruits of Israel and Temple implements.
During the Middle Ages, the synagogue was the center of Jewish life, and Jews tried to live as close to one as possible. The synagogue was in use at all hours. Many men attended services three times a day. Almost all of them came on Sabbaths and holidays. Prayers, with the exception of one silent prayer, the �amidah�, were recited in a loud voice. Conversation, although not sanctioned, was not uncommon. Children were given a fair amount of freedom. Worshipers felt that they were indeed carrying on a dialogue with the Creator, with Whom their relationship was close and familiar. All types of communal activity were pursued in the synagogue; the local rabbinic court might convene there. Communal offices, the ritual bath, a library, a hospice for travelers, and a social hall, might be located in synagogue rooms or adjacent structures.
Throughout the Middle Ages, synagogue architecture continued to reflect prevalent styles, particularly influential being the Romanesque and Gothic. During this period, the use of representational art diminished. Special sections for women became standard. The reader’s platform (Bimah), at the center of the synagogue, took on greater significance and together with the ark on the wall facing Jerusalem, constituted the architectural and artistic focus. In Ashkenazi communities, seating arrangements changed; the surrounding benches, in the style of the ancient synagogues, were abandoned, for the arrangement of parallel seating, facing forward. Impressive synagogue structures were built by Spanish Jewry, showing the influence of Moorish architecture. With the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, all Spanish synagogues were confiscated. In Italy, from the 16th century, the building of synagogues was limited, when the Jews were restricted to ghettos. However, within their somber surroundings, magnificent synagogues, reflecting the achievement of the Renaissance, were constructed. In Rome, where 14 communities originally existed, the Jews were allowed one synagogue building in the ghetto, but overcame the problem, by constructing five synagogues within the structure.
A unique phenomenon in synagogue architecture was the wooden synagogues of Poland. The interior decorations, covering every inch of wall and ceiling space, were a unique expression of Jewish folk-art.
Jewish history has always presented a mystery. What is the secret of Jewish survival? Why is this people so different from the other peoples which have disappeared from the stage of human history? The thinking person, who is pondering the mystery of Jewish existence, must take the synagogue into consideration.
1) Rabbi: head of the synagogue. The Rabbi sits on the Eastern end of the synagogue. The Rabbi must have a solid knowledge of Jewish law. The Rabbi frequently gives classes on varied Torah topics and Jewish law. He also must always be ready to answer the congregants� questions in Jewish law. On the Sabbath, he delivers a sermon related to the weekly Torah portion. Often he will address the proper Torah perspective on world current events and how it relates to the Jewish people.
2)Reader of the Law: The ancient practice of reading the Torah publicly on Mondays, Thursdays and Sabbaths, was initially carried out by each of the congregants who were so honored. First a Cohen, then a Levite, followed by other Israelites. In almost all communities, however, with the gradual deterioration of Torah learning among the lay people, not everyone was able to read his own portion. This has therefore become the task of a special synagogue official, the ba�al keri�ah, or reader, while the person called to the reading recites the accompanying blessings.
3) The Shammash or Gabbai: He is in charge of synagogue maintenance and organization. Often he can be seen walking around the synagogue with a coin box, collecting money for the synagogue. He is in charge of distributing the various honors which come about in prayer services, such as the opening and closing of the Torah ark, being called to the Torah for an Aliyah, or to lift the Torah up after the reading and wrapping up the Torah scroll in a special cover. The Gabbai or another helper must places prayer books and other Torah books back in their proper places.
Decades ago in Europe, the Shammash was the tax collector, secretary, messenger and all-round handyman. In addition, he sometimes acted as shulklaper, knocking his mallet to a distinctive rhythm on window shutters, to summon villagers to prayer, to communal meetings, and to funerals. In the days before alarm-clocks, he wakened people by making a knocking sound and announcing that the prayer services would begin soon. It was also the task of the Shammash to announce the arrival of Sabbath and festivals.
4) The Chazzan: The chazzan in Talmudic times was the communal official who among other duties, brought out the Torah scrolls for readings, and blew the ram�s horn to announce the inauguration of the Sabbath and festivals. He was not regularly required to chant the synagogue service, but could do so by request, taking turn, side by side, with any other congregant who might be asked to act as sheliach tzibbur, literally: �envoy of the congregation�. This function became the prerogative of the chazzan only in the pre-medieval period of the geonim, with the increasing complexity of the liturgy and a decline in the knowledge of Hebrew, together with a desire to employ music to enhance the beauty of the service. The chazzan, who traditionally was the guardian of the correctness of the texts, and who selected new prayers, was a natural choice for this task. When the liturgy came to include piyyutim or hymns, it was likewise the chazzan who would compose and recite them and provide suitable melodies.
During the Middle Ages, the professional prayer leader began to enjoy longer tenure and higher status, including communal tax exemptions, and his office has since proved to be the most continuous of all synagogue positions. By no means were all chazzanim eminent rabbis (though this was the case in medieval Northern Europe), but certain qualifications came to be expected. The chazzan was required to have a pleasant voice and appearance, to be married (�so that his prayer should rise from the very walls of his heart�), to have a beard, to be fully familiar with the liturgy, to be of blameless character, and acceptable in all other respects to the members of the community. Though modified occasionally, these strict requirements have commonly been rigorously enforced on the High Holy Days. Hence, ironically, the growing popularity of his position often made the cantor the community�s most controversial official. Chazzanim vied with each other in displaying their musical virtuosity, to the point that the sixteenth-century Code of Jewish Law found it necessary to warn sternly against ostentation, and some cantors were castigated for the needless repetition of words.
Jewish law prefers that the site of the synagogue should be the highest spot in the city, and the synagogue the highest building. For practical reasons and because of restrictive decrees, Jews have not always been able to fulfill this. In the Middle Ages, Jews made their point by erecting on the roof of the humbled synagogue a pole or a rod that rose a little higher than the surrounding buildings.
�My heart is in the east, while I am at the remotest west.� (Judah Halevi, Spain, twelfth century). - Solomon�s inaugural prayer on the centrality of the Temple, and the fact that Daniel prayed facing Jerusalem, are the sources for the requirement that synagogues be oriented toward Jerusalem, and that those in the Holy City itself face the direction of the Temple. This orientation is particularly prescribed by the Talmud for the recitation of the Amidah prayer.
When possible, it is required that one should pass through a vestibule, to the main sanctuary, to preclude entering directly from the street. Judah Loew ben Bezalel (the Maharal of Prague), explains that in the anteroom, one has an opportunity to shed the thoughts and cares of the outer world, before entering the holiness of the inner sanctuary.
The synagogue must have windows, a requirement stemming from the verse which describes how Daniel prayed by windows, facing the direction of Jerusalem. The Talmud warns against praying in a windowless room, and ideally there should be twelve windows, symbolic of the twelve tribes. This stipulation is rarely fulfilled, because of architectural and other problems. Rashi, the French luminary of the eleventh century, commented that windows are required, because they allow the supplicant a glimpse of the sky, the sight of which inspires reverence and devotion, during prayer.
In its description of the festivities held on the second evening of the feast of Sukkot the Talmud states that men and women were allotted separate space. From this passage, the origin of the mechitza is derived. The mechitza is the partition screen in synagogues, between the space reserved for men and that generally in the rear, or upstairs, for women. Further sources for the separation of the sexes during prayer are to be found in midrashic literature, where it is stated that men and women stood separately, when the Israelites assembled at Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah. Following the Crossing of the Red Sea, Miriam led the women separately, to sing the song of the sea, the exuberant prayer of triumph and gratitude, which had just been sung by Moses and the Children of Israel. Remains of galleries discovered in ancient Palestine synagogues, are taken as having served the women worshipers.
Most European synagogues of the Middle Ages had a separate women�s gallery, called weibershul, fenced off by an iron grille or a non-transparent curtain. In synagogues where there was no balcony, the mechitza was made of latticework, serving as a partition between the seats of the men in front and those of the women in the rear. References to the mechitza in the Middle Ages can be found in the Rabbinic responsa literature of that period, where it is stated: �On the Sabbath, we are permitted to erect the partition-curtain between men and women, during the time of the sermon.�
Although not possessing the same holiness as the Temple, the Rabbis have ascribed to the synagogue a holiness patterned after that of the Temple. In the synagogue, one must conduct oneself in a manner that respects the sanctity of the place. One may not engage in any major conversation outside of Torah topics, sleep, enter with an unsheathed knife, use the synagogue as a shortcut, or transact business (other than charity and the redemption of captives).
Holiness of Ceremonial Objects
All objects in the synagogue acquire sanctity by virtue of the sacred purposes that they serve and therefore, Jewish Law governs their use. Jewish law specifies that book-cases which have held sacred books, the ark in which the Torah has stood, and the parochet, which has hung in front of the ark, are endowed with sanctity, and hence, when no longer usable, must be stored away, rather than destroyed.
The holiness of objects is determined by their proximity in space and use, to the Torah scroll, the most sacred object in the synagogue. Jewish law forbids using synagogue objects in a way that would cause them to decline in sanctity. Thus, a discarded ark may not be used to make a chair on which to set the Torah scroll; the chair�s holiness being considered less than that of the ark. The reverse order of appropriation, to elevate an object in holiness, is permissible.
The synagogue is owned by the congregation and those who contributed toward its construction. The concept of synagogue ownership differs in a small village and in a large town or city. In the former, it is assumed that there are no donations from outsiders and therefore a decision of the congregation or their representatives, is sufficient, in order to sell the synagogue building. But in the city, the sale of the building is more difficult, it being unclear whether strangers contributed to the building, and selling without their consent, would deprive them of what is in part, rightfully theirs. Jewish law suggests ways to resolve this difficulty, such as selecting at the time of construction, either a specific rabbi whose decision would be accepted by all, or reserving this power to whichever rabbi is serving when the decision must be made.
It is forbidden to demolish a synagogue until another is provided to take its place, to preclude the possibility of a congregation being without a synagogue, should the construction of the second building be delayed or interrupted. In the event that the first synagogue is in such a state of disrepair, that it is in danger of collapsing, it is permitted to demolish the building and to begin construction of the new one immediately.
If a congregation decides to divide into two, the sacred objects must be divided between the two congregations, in proportion to their membership. The rabbis, however, debated whether women and children are to be included when calculating the proportions.
Those who donate articles to the synagogue, have the right to have their names inscribed on them. Such inscriptions are permitted only for the persons who actually give money or contribute personal service for synagogue construction, maintenance, or beautification. Synagogue officers, during whose term alteration or expansion is undertaken or completed, are forbidden to inscribe their names on the improvements or additions.
The synagogue was not only a place for prayer. In fact, the Hebrew word for synagogue is �Bait Knesset�, which literally means; �a house of gathering�. The synagogue is a house of gathering for prayer and other communal activities and events.
For Prayer - �Seek out G-d where he can be found.� (Isaiah 55:6). Where is G-d to be found? In houses of prayer, synagogues, and in houses of Torah study. (Talmud Yerushalmi, Brachos 5:1)
Note: the following sayings about synagogue must be understood in their context and they are not all meant to be taken literally. The reason that these teachings are being mentioned is to stress the importance and greatness of the synagogue.
Abba Binyamin said: A person�s prayer is only heard by G-d in a synagogue. (Brachos 6a).
Resh Lakish said: Whoever has a synagogue in his city and doesn�t enter there to pray is called a �bad neighbor�. (Brachos 8a)
Rabbi Chelbo said in the name of Rav Huna: �Whoever establishes himself a place to pray, will receive the help of the G-d of Abraham�.
For Sermons- Throughout the history of synagogues, the synagogue has been a place where rabbis would deliver sermons and lecture on various Torah topics. Rabbi Meir used to address the congregation on the Eve of the Sabbath. (Yerushalmi Sotah 1:4.) Rabbi Ashi used to deliver a sermon during the Sabbath morning prayers. (Yerushalmi Sotah 30:1) Rabbi Joseph would give a Torah lecture before the Mussaf (added) prayer, on the Sabbath. (Yerushalmi Sotah 28:2). There were also sermons in the synagogue on Sabbath afternoons. (Shabbos 116:2)
For Learning Torah- Sometimes, the synagogue was used as a house of learning. Abaye said: �In the beginning, they used to learn at home and pray in the synagogue��and since I heard what David said: �G-d, I love your house�, I learn in the synagogue.� (Megillah 29a).
Sometimes, they established a specified place for learning in the synagogue, or in a special building near the synagogue. Rabbi Levi the son of Chiya said: Somebody who leaves the synagogue and enters the Bais Midrash (The House of Learning), and learns Torah, merits to receive the Divine Presence, for it says �They will go from strength to strength.� (Psalms 84:8) This person goes from the strength of prayer, to the strength of learning Torah. (Brachos 64a)
From these points, we can see how connected the house of study was to the synagogue.
The synagogue has always been an ideal place for children to be taught Torah. On Sabbaths, youth leaders conduct study sessions with children in the synagogue. Especially on Sabbath afternoons, the synagogue has always been a great place for a father to teach Torah to his children.
Announcing a Lost Object- In the times of the Temple, it was the custom to announce lost objects at a special area in Jerusalem which was marked by a rock. Whoever lost something would go there. Whoever found a lost object would go there. The finder would announce what he found. If the person, who claimed that the object was his, was able to provide a few descriptions of the object, he would be able to retrieve it. Once the Temple was destroyed, the synagogues and houses of study became the place to announce and retrieve lost objects. (Bava Metziah 28a)
For Charity-In the time of the Temple, there was a special place where people could put money for poor people, without anyone knowing how much they gave. The poor people could privately collect their financial needs. (Mishnah, Shekalim 5:6) This set up was maintained in synagogues following the destruction of the Temple. (Tosefta Shekalim 2:9) To this day the synagogue is place where many people collect charity for various causes.
For eulogy- Eulogies are delivered in the synagogue. (Tosefta Megillah 2:11, Megillah 28b)
For the Needs of the Public- Rabbi Yochanan said: They would go to synagogues and houses of learning, on Shabbos, to discuss public matters. (Ketubot 5a) Josephus writes that they used to gather in the Great Synagogue of Teveriah to discuss issues regarding the rebellion.
Eating and Sleeping- People who traveled to Jerusalem would eat and sleep in the synagogue. On Friday night, Kiddush was made in the synagogue for the Shabbos guests who would be eating and sleeping in the synagogue. (Pesachim 101a, Yerushalmi Brachos 2)
Since people ate in the synagogue on the Eve of Passover, the Gabbai of the synagogue must search the synagogue for Chametz. (Items made from the five types of grain) (Yerushalmi Pesachim 1:1)
It was only for the mitzvah (Torah commandment) of providing food and board for guests, that eating and sleeping were permitted in the synagogue. In general, it is forbidden to eat and sleep in a synagogue. (Megillah 2:11)
The internal arrangement in the synagogue was modeled after the Temple. Just like in the Temple, the Parochet separated the Holy of Holies from the Hechal, so too, in the synagogue, the Parochet divides between the ark and the rest of the synagogue room. Just like in the Temple, the Kohanim (Priests) stood on a Duchan to bless the �blessings of the priests�, (Mishnah Middot 2:6) so too, in the synagogue, a Duchan was established, adjacent to the ark, where the Kohanim would conduct their blessing service. Just like in the Temple, the altar stood in the center, so too, the Bimah is situated in the middle of the synagogue.
Just like in the Temple, the Kohanim wore holy garments to conduct their priestly service, (Mishnah Yoma 7:8) so too, Jewish males who are married, wrap their bodies in Talleisim, (prayer shawls) for the duration of the prayer service. Just like in the Temple, the Kohen Gadol didn�t wear golden garments for the service of Yom Kippur, rather, he appeared in the inner sanctuary, to request that G-d grant forgiveness to the nation of Israel, in white clothing, (Mishnah Yoma 3:6.) so too, on Yom Kippur, we wear white robes. (Midrash Tehillim 14:11)
The influence of the order of service in the Temple is felt in the Mishnah and Talmud, when talking about the order of prayer in the synagogue. Here are a few examples:
The Maftir (person who got called up for the final Torah reading) gives the Torah to the Chazzan, who brings the Torah towards two people, and these people stand with him, one person to his left and one person to his right. (Sofrim 14:14). Regarding the reading of the Torah by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur, in the Temple, it says in the Mishnah (Yoma 7:1) �The Chazzan takes the Torah and gives it to the president, who then gives it to the vice president, who gives it to the Cohen Gadol�.
Regarding the internal order of the Great Synagogue in Alexandria, we read: (Succah 51a) The Chazzan of the synagogue stands on the Bimah with a cloth in his hand, and when it is time to answer �Amen�, he waves the cloth and the entire nation answers �Amen�. Regarding the service in the Temple it says: (Mishnah Tamid 7:3), the vice-president stands on a corner, with a cloth in his hand. When he waved the cloth, the Levites began singing.
A final example: According to the Mishnah, (Brachos 9:5.) it is forbidden to use the Temple grounds as a short-cut. Using those same words, it says in the Mishnah (Megillah 3:3), regarding synagogue: �It is forbidden to use the synagogue as a short-cut.�
In contrast to the Temple in which the ritual was conducted inside the sanctuary by the priests only, while the other worshippers stood at a distance, the synagogue was a new type of religious building. It was based on the participation of all those assembled in a collective act of worship.
Besides the various changes in the text of prayers that accompany the festivals, for some of them, the synagogue takes on a different atmosphere, in keeping with the nature of the festival. Many synagogues use a different parochet (ark covering) for each festival, with ornamentation appropriate to the particular day. During the High Holy Day period, the parochet is white. For Tish�ah be-Av, the day of national mourning for the destruction of the Temple, the parochet is removed and the ark is left bare. For that day, the synagogue lighting is dimmed and the congregants sit on the floor or on low benches, rather than on regular seats. The joy of Shavuos, the festival commemorating the revelation at Sinai, is reflected in the synagogue decorations, consisting of flowers and plants, symbolic of the mountain on which the Torah was given.
On the festival of Succos, one can see the influence of the activities of Temple times on the order of service in the synagogue. The obvious example of this is regarding the mitzvah (Torah commandment) of the four species. Essentially, this commandment doesn�t have a connection to the Temple. The Torah commands us to take the four species on the Festival of Gathering. Through taking the four species, we express thanks to G-d who sent His blessings to the crops of the land. Our Rabbis made a connection between the commandment of the four species and the service in the Temple. The Rabbis taught that we must wave the four species. (Mishnah Succah 3:9.) The Talmud asks where waving the species comes into the picture, if the Torah only commanded to take the four species. The Talmud answers that we wave the four species like the wave offering was waved in the Temple. (Succah 47b) On Succos, the Jewish people have a custom to make circles around the Bimah in the center of the synagogue, just like the altar in the Temple was encircled.
On Simchas Torah, happy circuits are made around the Bimah (platform in the middle of synagogue), with the Torah scrolls, the dancing congregants taking turns at the honor of holding a scroll. On Purim, the quiet which attends the reading of the Scroll of Esther, is shattered every time the wicked Haman�s name is read; children and grown-ups, twirl rattles or shoot off cap-guns, to celebrate his well deserved downfall.
1) My Jewish World. The Encyclopedia Judaica for Youth. Editor in Chief: Rabbi Dr. Raphael Posner. 1975. Keter Publishing House, Jerusalem. P. 17-18.
2) The Synagogue. Compiled by Uri Kaploun. 1973. Keter Publishing House. Jerusalem. P. 10-27 P.60-109. 3)Yesodot HaTefilah-Foundations of Prayer. Eliezer Levy. Avraham Tzioni books. 1963. P.71-99)
(besides the sources on the list, material was taken from �The Encyclopedia of Judaism.�)
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