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soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Worship, Conversion, Intermarriage (5/12)
Section - Question 9.8: What will I find in a synagogue?

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   Prayer services are normally performed in a "sanctuary" (although some
   congregations use a general meeting room, which is configured as a
   sanctuary). Synagogues are generally arranged so that the front of the
   sanctuary is facing Jerusalem, which is the direction Jews face when
   reciting certain prayers (probably because the original Temple was in
   The most important feature of the sanctuary is the Ark, which is an
   acrostic of the words "Aron Kodesh," ("holy cabinet"). The Ark holds
   the Torah scrolls, and is generally placed in the front of the room,
   on the side towards Jerusalem. These Scrolls contain the first five
   books of the Bible. The Ark is in place of the Ark that had at one
   time been in the most Holy place of the Temple (which was in the
   Eastern part). In the Bible we are told that the tablets of the Ten
   Commandments had been placed in this Ark, hence we place the Torah
   Scroll in an ark on the Eastern side of the shul.
   The Ark has doors as well as an inner curtain called a "parokhet",
   which is in imitation of the curtain in the Sanctuary in The Temple.,
   and is named for it. During certain prayers, the doors and/or curtain
   of the Ark may be opened or closed. Opening or closing the doors or
   curtain is performed by a member of the congregation, and is
   considered an honor. One stands when the doors of the Ark are open.
    Ner Tamid
   In front of and slightly above the Ark, you will find the ner tamid,
   the Eternal Lamp. This lamp symbolizes the commandment to keep a light
   burning in the Tabernacle outside of the curtain surrounding the Ark
   of the Covenant. (Ex. 27:20-21).
   Many synagoguges have a menorah (candelabrum), symbolizing the menorah
   in the Temple. The menorah in the synagogue will generally have six or
   eight branches instead of the Temple menorah's seven, because exact
   duplication of the Temple's ritual items is improper. Note the
   distinction between a menorah, which has seven branches, and a
   chanukiah, which is used on Chanukkah and has nine branches.
   In the center of the room or in the front, is a pedestal or lectern
   called the bimah. The bimah holds the Torah scrolls when they are
   read, as well as serving as a podium for leading services. There is an
   additional, lower lectern in some synagogues called an amud. The
   tables/seats surrounding the bimah are facing towards Jerusalem. This
   is based on Jewish law, but also appears in the Bible. (1 Kings 8
   where King Solomon instructed to pray towards the place of the Holy
   In traditional synagogues, you will also find a separate section where
   the women sit. This may be on an upper floor balcony, or in the back
   of the room, or on the side of the room, separated from the men's
   section by a wall or curtain called a mechitzah. Traditionally, men
   are not permitted to pray in the presence of women, because they are
   supposed to have their minds on their prayers. The source for this is
   ancient. In the holy temple that was in Jerusalem, they seperated men
   from women during prayer and services to reduce frivolity.
    Synagogue Attire
   People going to a synagogue dress in a manner as to show respect for
   G-d, that is nicely, formally, and modestly. Men should wear a kippah
   if that is the custom of that congregation; such congregatins often
   make them available by the door. Men also often wear Tallit; these are
   often also available by the door (these should not be worn by
   non-Jews). In progressive congregations, women also wear kippahs and
   tallit. In some synagogues, married women also wear a head covering,
   such as a piece of lace. If you are in an traditional synagogue, be
   careful to sit in the right section: men and women are seated

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Top Document: soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Worship, Conversion, Intermarriage (5/12)
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