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“Build a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell amongst them. This verse serves as the basis for the mitzvah of building the Tabernacle and the Holy Temple. The Zohar tells us that also included in this mitzvah is the obligation to build synagogues. In a similar vein, the Talmud states that synagogues and study halls in the Diaspora are considered “miniature sanctuaries.” For this reason, we find that some of the physical characteristics of the Holy Temple are to be incorporated in the building of a synagogue. Many of the laws dictating our respect for the Holy Temple also apply to how we must respect a synagogue. This article illustrates several examples of these similarities as well as some of the other laws that apply to the building and structure of a synagogue.
A Communal Obligation
The funding for building a synagogue should come from the community members The responsibility of building a synagogue rests collectively on all members of a Jewish community. The obligation devolves on a community when there are ten adult Jewish men of Bar Mitzvah age. The funding for building a synagogue should come from the community members and should be collected on the basis of each individual’s financial means. If the community can’t afford to purchase or build a synagogue, they must rent a space for prayer. Conversely, if they can afford to buy or build a synagogue, they should not suffice with renting.
Structure of Building
As appropriate for a home devoted to worshipping G‑d, the synagogue should be built in a very beautiful manner.
Technically, the synagogue should be the tallest building in the city. In modern cities, however, this is not practical. As such, it’s permitted for one to build one’s house taller than the synagogue—though it’s preferable to refrain from doing so when possible.
The synagogue should have windows that face Jerusalem. Ideally, there should be (at least) twelve windows, but it’s not necessary for all of them to face Jerusalem.
A room or hallway should separate the door to the street from the door to the actual sanctuary. This allows the congregants the opportunity to compose themselves before entering the sanctuary.
The entrance to the sanctuary should be on the opposite side of the direction in which people pray (e.g., in countries west of Israel, in which people pray facing east, the entrance to the synagogue should be in the west).
Contents of a Jewish Synagogue
Aron Kodesh – The Sanctuary should include an ark (known as the Holy Ark, or Aron Kodesh) which houses the Torah scrolls. The Ark should be on the side towards which people pray.
The Ark should have a door as well as a curtain (parochet). Preferably, the curtain should hang outside the door of the Ark. This resembles the Ark in the Temple, which had a curtain hanging outside of it, screening the entrance into the Holy of Holies. Preferably, the Holy Ark should be on a higher level than the rest of the Sanctuary with a step or steps leading up to it. The priests stand on this platform when reciting the Priestly Blessing.
Bimah.- Some of the characteristics of the Holy Temple are to be incorporated in the building of a synagogue. The bimah is the table which is used for the Torah reading. The bimah should be in the center of the Sanctuary. This is similar to the way it was in the Holy Temple, where the Altar was in the center of the courtyard. Preferably, there should be some steps leading up to the bimah.
Amud -The chazzan (leader of the services) should stand at a lectern which is referred to as the amud. The amud should face the Holy Ark but should not be directly in front of it. Customarily, it is placed slightly to the right of the Ark.
In the Sephardic tradition, the chazzan leads services while standing at the bimah.
Mechitzah -There should be a partition between the men’s and women’s sections. This allows for concentration in prayer without distraction. This partition is called a mechitzah. This resembles the Holy Temple, in which there were separate sections for men and women when large groups of people were in attendance. The mechitzah should be high enough to prevent the men from seeing the women. The mechitzah should ideally be at least the height of an average person.
The inside of the sanctuary should not have pictures or paintings on the eastern wall. This prevents the worshipers from being distracted during their prayers.
Every Jewish community is obligated to have a Torah library. This should include a Tanach (Bible), Talmud, Code of Jewish Law, and other essential Torah books. Often, this library is housed in the synagogue.
A Jewish synagogue, also spelled synagog (from Greek transliterated synagogē, meaning “assembly”; בית כנסת beyt knesset, meaning “house of assembly”; בית תפילה beyt t’fila, meaning “house of prayer”; שול shul; אסנוגה esnoga; קהל kal) Jewish house of prayer. When broken down, the word could also mean “learning together” (from the Greek syn, together, and agogé, learning or training).
Synagogues have a large hall for prayer (the main sanctuary), and can also have smaller rooms for study and sometimes a social hall and offices. Some have a separate room Torah study, called the beth midrash—בית מדרש (“House of Study”).
Synagogues are consecrated spaces that can be used only for the purpose of prayer, however a synagogue is not necessary for worship. Communal Jewish worship can be carried out wherever ten Jews (a minyan) assemble. Worship can also be carried out alone or with fewer than ten people assembled together. However there are certain prayers that are communal prayers and therefore can be recited only by a minyan. The synagogue does not replace the long-since destroyed Temple in Jerusalem.
Israelis use the Hebrew term bet knesset (assembly house). Jews of Ashkenazi descent have traditionally used the Yiddish term “shul” in everyday speech. Spanish and Portuguese Jews call the synagogue an esnoga. Persian Jews and Karaite Jews use the term Kenesa, which is derived from Aramaic, and some Arabic-speaking Jews use knis. The Greek word “Synagogue” is a good all-around term, used in English (and German and French), to cover the preceding possibilities.
Jewish synagogues often take on a broader role in modern Jewish communities and may include additional facilities such as a catering hall, kosher kitchen, religious school, library, day care center and a smaller chapel for daily services.
Living Torah Center/Chabad Synagogue has served the Jewish community in Santa Monica and the Westside since 1992. The center was founded, with the bracha (blessing) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, by a handful of families who were searching for traditional Jewish affiliation, in a Chabad House close to their homes.
Living Torah Center Chabad in Santa Monica started on Montana Avenue and is now located in the heart of Santa Monica, on Wilshire Blvd. Living Torah Center Chabad serves the Jewish community in Santa Monica from its current center with a Jewish Synagogue, Gift Shop, acclaimed Preschool, Hebrew School and other programs, including Adult Education, Women’s Torah Study, lifecycle officiation, hospital chaplaincy and social and humanitarian outreach programs.
We welcome you and your family to look through www.livingtorahcenter.com and note the various activities and educational and social programs being offered by our Jewish Synagogue in Santa Monica. We personally invite you to join us for any or all of these meaningful programs at Living Torah Center/Chabad.
The weekly oasis in time – Shabbos, from Friday evening until Saturday night – is celebrated with song, joyous togetherness, engaging prayers, and the blessings of community.
- Erev Shabbos -Sabbath Eve: Friday Evenings-Mincha / Maariv – at Candle lighting time (See our Calendar Page)
- Shabbos (Saturday) Morning Services – 9:30 a.m., followed by a delicious Kiddush Luncheon
- Mincha / Maariv -one hour before Shabbos ends
We look forward to welcoming you at Services!
Sunday Morning Services – 8:00 a.m. with coffee and Video of the Rebbe and Freshly Baked, Warm Pastries!
Monday thru Friday mornings- Shacharis begins at 6:30a.m
We welcome you and your family to look through www.livingtorahcenter.com and note the various activities and educational and social programs being offered by one of the few Jewish Orthodox Synagogues serving Santa Monica. We personally invite you to join us for any or all of these meaningful synagogue services in Santa Monica at Living Torah Center/Chabad.
Chabad of Santa Monica Synagogue – Living Torah Center
1130 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, Ca 90401
For more information contact: 310-394-5699 or Rabbi@LivingTorahCenter.com.