The Synagogue / Messianic Synagogue & Services
Synagogue come from the Greek word for House of Assembly. It is typically called a Shul in Orthodox & Chasidic Judaism. The synagogue has served the Jewish community as a House of prayer (Beit Tefilah), study (Beit Mid-rash), and assembly (Beit Knesset) since the destruction of the Second Temple in 69/70 C.E. Its roots lie in the exile of the Jewish people in Babylonia following the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E. Throughout the generations it has taken many shapes and forms, from tiny to grand, conforming to the spiritual, social, and political needs of Jewish community around the world.
Below are relevant topics related to the Synagogue:
History of the Synagogue
King Solomon built a magnificent Temple, dedicated to God, in Jerusalem. It was paneled in cedar wood imported from Lebanon and required the efforts of tens of thousands of workers to complete. In 586 B.C.E., the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar. Thousands were killed, and of those who survived, the vast majority of the priesthood, nobility, and artisan classes were exiled to Babylonia.
During the exile in Babylon, which lasted for 70 years, Jews settled and built homes, started businesses and raised families. They faced a religious crisis: Exiled from their homeland and unable to offer sacrifices to God, since offering could only be made in the central sanctuary in Jerusalem, the Jews in Babylon wrestled with whether their covenant with God was still in effect. The prophet Ezekiel, who had gone into exile with them, confirmed the covenant was eternal, and that God would some day return them to their Land. Ezekiel prophesied a vision of a valley of dry bones which God would bring back to life, covered with muscles, sinews, and flesh, a divine sign that the nation Israel would one day be resurrected from exile to live again as a nation in her own Land. To preserve their traditions, the Jews in Babylon gathered together on market days (Mondays and Thursdays) and participated in worship and study. Scholars believe that these gatherings gave rise to worship services, and that prayers were composed for use at this time which were eventually brought back to the Land of Israel when some of the exiles returned, and incorporated into worship when the 2nd Temple was eventually built.
Babylon was conquered by King Cyrus of Persia, who gave the Jews permission to return to their land and rebuild their sanctuary. Most of the Jews in Babylon, however, remained in Babylon. Most of the Jews had been born in Babylon; some were even the children of Jews born in Babylon. They had built homes, businesses, and lives in Babylon. While sacrifices could be offered only from the altar in Jerusalem, prayers could be offered anywhere. The focal point was still Jerusalem, however, as we know from Daniel's prayer -- he faces Jerusalem when praying to God. In time, schools of study grew in Babylon, especially in the aftermath of the Destruction of the 2nd Temple by the Romans in 69/70 C.E., where prayer and study were full-time activities for the learned class. By the first century, synagogues emerged as the central institution of Jewish life once the Temple was destroyed. Providing a place where study, worship, celebrations, and civic meetings take place. There were synagogues not only in Babylon, but in Alexandria and throughout the Land of Israel. The Talmud tells us that, at the time of the Destruction of the 2nd Temple, there were over 300 synagogues in Jerusalem alone.
Once the Temple no longer stood, however, the worship service in the synagogue came to be a substitute for the sacrificial system by non-Messianic Jews, an alternative means of serving God.
In its most important function, however, the synagogue was a Beit Midrash, a House of Study. Here, scholars and students would gather to study the sacred texts of Jewish tradition, interpreting their meaning for each new generation, and applying these interpretations toward the aim of living in covenant with God and improving the world in which they lived. It is important to point out that throughout Jewish history, the vast majority of synagogues have been simple, unprepossessing structures. The synagogue, itself, is not what was considered important nor worthy of lavishing time and resources upon; rather, what made the synagogue a holy place was the fact that it contained the Ark in which The TORAH resides. Moreover, it was the activities which took place there -- chiefly study and prayer -- which marked the place as important. Thus most synagogues were small, modest buildings, barely discernible as houses of worship from the outside. In many communities, the "synagogue" might be no more than the bottom floor of a rabbi's house. In others, a simple wooden structure sufficed. In large cities, with abundant Jewish populations, larger structures were needed, and when the community had the resources, sometimes large, majestic structures were built. Florence, for example, is renowned for her synagogues.
Synagogues have, for over two thousand years, served as the focus of Jewish life. Combining the functions of House of Worship, House of Study, with those of philanthropy, social services, socializing, and community gathering place. Even in the dark times: in the ghettos, and in Concentration Camps during the Holocaust, synagogues have enabled Jews to come together for prayer and study, that they might honor the G-d of Israel.
SYNAGOGUE WORSHIP SERVICES
A quorum, called a minyan, is required for a complete religious service. Ten adults (aged 13 years plus a day) constitute a minyan. In the absense of a minyan, the Barchoo and Kaddish are not recited aloud, and the Torah is not read from the scroll.
BASIC STRUCTURE OF THE SYNAGOGUE WORSHIP SERVICE
While there is great variety in the prayers, moods, and liturgies of the various Jewish worship services, there are common elements which mark them as distinctly Jewish.
Shema and its Blessings (Beginning with the Barchoo, the Call to Worship, and including prayers on the themes of Creation, Revelation, and Redemption. These prayers establish the common ground of belief and identity of the congregation: We are created by God, Who created the universe; God gave our people the Torah, which was revealed at Mount Sinai and which serves as our guide; and we look forward to a future redemption -- the messianic age -- which we understand from our past experience of redemption from slavery in Egypt, and which we expect will encompass the world with peace and justice.)
Amidah (Also known as Ha-Tefillah or Shemona Esrei, the Amidah is the worshiper's opportunity to approach God in private prayer, reciting both the words in the siddur as well as whatever prayers his/her heart may prompt. Because the recitation of this prayer is a central religious obligation, and has always been public by nature, it is often repeated in full by the chazzan after the congregation has been given time to recite the prayer privately. The weekday version of the Amidah is considerably longer than the Shabbat/holy day version. Both have a tripartite structure: (1) praises of God; (2) petitions on weekdays, and sanctification of the day on holy days; (3) prayers of thanksgiving.
Concluding Prayers (The concluding prayers begin with Aleinu, and include Kaddish and a song on Shabbat -- usually Yigdal in the evening and Adon Olam in the morning -- at the end of the service. The Aleinu bespeaks a time when idolatry will have vanished from our world and hence God will be acknowledged by all humanity, sometimes considered a prelude to the messianic age. Kaddish is a prayer which expresses the desire for, and belief in, such a time and is recited in memory of those who have died.)
WHAT ELSE HAPPENS IN A SYNAGOGUE?
In addition to prayer services, some of the other important functions which take place in a synagogue include:
2004-2013 Yeshua Ha'Mashiach Ministries, Inc.