When Jews speak of The Temple, we speak of the place in Jerusalem that was the center of Jewish religion from the time of Solomon to its destruction by the Romans in 70 C.E. This was the one and only place where sacrifices and certain other religious rituals were performed. It was partially destroyed at the time of the Babylonian Exile and rebuilt. The rebuilt temple was known as the Second Temple. The famous Wailing Wall is the western retaining wall of that Temple, and is as close to the site of the original Sanctuary as Jews can go today. The site of The Temple is currently occupied by a Muslim Mosque, the Dome of the Rock.
Jews believe that “The Temple” will be rebuilt when the Moshiach (Messiah) comes. They eagerly await that day and pray for it continually.
The synagogue is the center of the Jewish religious community: a place of prayer, study and education, social and charitable work, as well as a social center.
Throughout this site, we have used the word “synagogue,” but there are actually several different terms for a Synagogue and you can tell a lot about people by the terms they use.
The Hebrew term is beit k’nesset (literally, House of Assembly), although you will rarely hear this term used in conversation in English. Chasidim typically use the word “shul,” which is a Yiddish term . The word is derived from a German word meaning “school,” and emphasizes the synagogue’s role as a place of study.
Some Jews usually use the word “synagogue,” which is actually a Greek translation of Beit K’nesset and means “place of assembly” (it’s related to the word “synod”).
Why do some Jews use the word “Temple” instead of Synagogue?
The use of the word; Temple is sometimes used to describe a Jewish houses of prayer. The word “shul,” on the other hand, is unfamiliar to many Jews in the United States. When in doubt, the word “synagogue” is the best bet, because everyone knows what it means.
What is a synagogue?
At a minimum, a synagogue is a beit tefilah, a house of prayer. It is the place where Jews come together for community prayer services. Jews can satisfy the obligations of daily prayer by praying anywhere; however, there are certain prayers that can only be said in the presence of a minyan (a quorum of 10 adult men), and tradition teaches that there is more merit to praying with a group than there is in praying alone. The sanctity of the synagogue for this purpose is second only to The Temple. In fact, in rabbinical literature, the synagogue is sometimes referred to as the “little Temple.”
A synagogue is usually also a beit midrash, a house of study. Contrary to popular belief, Jewish education does not end at the age of bar mitzvah. The study of sacred texts is a life-long task. Thus, a synagogue normally has a well-stocked library of sacred Jewish texts for members of the community to study. It is also the place where children receive their basic religious education.
Most synagogues also have a social hall for religious and non-religious activities. The synagogue often functions as a sort of town hall where matters of importance to the community can be discussed.
In addition, the synagogue functions as a social welfare agency, collecting and dispensing money and other items for the aid of the poor and needy within the community.
Synagogues are generally run by a board of directors composed of lay people. However, the rabbi is a critical member of the community, providing leadership, guidance and education.
Synagogues are financed sometimes through membership dues paid annually, through voluntary donations, and through the purchase of reserved seats for services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the holidays when the synagogue is most crowded). It is important to note, however, that you do not have to be a member of a synagogue in order to worship there. If you plan to worship at a synagogue regularly and you have the financial means, you should certainly pay your dues to cover your fair share of the synagogue’s costs, but no Chabad synagogue checks membership cards at the door (except possibly on the High Holidays mentioned above, if there aren’t enough seats for everyone).
Synagogues are, for the most part, independent community organizations. In the United States, at least, individual synagogues generally do not answer to any central authority. There are central organizations for the various movements of Judaism, and synagogues are often affiliated with these organizations, but these organizations have no real power over individual synagogues.
What things will you’ll find in a Synagogue?
The portion of the synagogue where prayer services are performed is commonly called the sanctuary. Synagogues in the United States are generally designed so that the front of the sanctuary is on the side towards Jerusalem, which is the direction that we are supposed to face when reciting certain prayers.
Probably the most important feature of the sanctuary is the Ark. The name “Ark” is an acrostic of the Hebrew words Aron Kodesh, which means “holy cabinet.” The word has no relation to Noah’s Ark, which is the word “teyvat” in Hebrew. The Ark is a cabinet or recession in the wall, which holds the Torah scrolls. The Ark is generally placed in the front of the room; that is, on the side towards Jerusalem. The Ark has doors as well as an inner curtain called a parokhet. This curtain 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. 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
In addition to the “ner tamid,” you may find a menorah in many synagogues, 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.
In the center of the room or in the front you will find a pedestal called the bimah. The Torah scrolls are placed on the bimah when they are read. The bimah is also sometimes used as a podium for leading services. There is an additional, lower lectern in some synagogues called an amud.
In a 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. Men are not permitted to pray in the presence of women, because they are supposed to have their minds on their prayers, not on anything else.
What if you’re a Non-Jew Visiting a Synagogue?
Non-Jews are always welcome to attend services in a synagogue, so long as they behave as proper guests. Proselytizing and “witnessing” to the congregation are not proper guest behavior. Would you walk into a stranger’s house and criticize the decor? But we always welcome non-Jews who come to synagogue out of genuine curiosity, interest in the service or simply to join a friend in celebration of a Jewish event.
When going to a synagogue, you should dress nicely, formally, and modestly. A man should wear a yarmulke (skullcap) if Jewish men in the congregation do so; yarmulkes are available at the entrance for those who do not have one. Non-Jews should not, however, wear a tallit (prayer shawl) or tefillin, because these items are signs of our obligation to observe Jewish law.
Chabad of Santa Monica Synagogue Services
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.
Everybody is Welcome
We welcome everyone come visit our synagogue in Santa Monica- Living Torah Center. For more than 20 years has been a center of activity for every facet of the Jewish community and beyond in Santa Monica. It is here that people of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities and religions come to learn, socialize, exchange ideas, learn, laugh and live. We invite your participation and support – and please, let us hear from you with your suggestions and comments. Remember, it’s your Jewish Community in Santa Monica.
Chabad Santa Monica Synagogue – Living Torah Center
1130 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, Ca 90401
For more information contact: 310-394-5699 or Rabbi@LivingTorahCenter.com.