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Eldridge Street Synagogue in New York City, U.S.
Princes Road Synagogue in Liverpool, England
Exterior of Helsinki Synagogue in Helsinki, Finland
Yusef Abad Synagogue in Tehran, Iran

A synagogue,[a] also called a shul[b] or a temple,[c] is a place of worship for Jews and Samaritans. It has a place for prayer (the main sanctuary and sometimes smaller chapels) where Jews attend religious services or special ceremonies such as weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, choir performances, and children's plays. They also have rooms for study, social halls, administrative and charitable offices, classrooms for religious and Hebrew studies, and many places to sit and congregate. They often display commemorative, historic, or modern artwork alongside items of Jewish historical significance or history about the synagogue itself.

Synagogues are consecrated spaces used for Jewish prayer, study, assembly, and reading of the Torah (read in its entirety once a year, or in some synagogues on a triennial cycle, in weekly Torah portions during religious services). However, a synagogue is not always necessary for Jewish worship, due to adaptations during times of Jewish persecution in countries and regions that banned Judaism, frequently destroying and/or reappropriating synagogues into churches or even government buildings. Halakha (Jewish law from the Mishnah – the "Oral Torah") states that communal Jewish worship can be carried out wherever a minyan, a group of at least 10 Jewish adults, is assembled, often (but not necessarily) led by a rabbi. Worship can also happen alone or with fewer than ten people, but certain prayers are considered by halakha as solely communal; these can be recited only by a minyan. In terms of its specific ritual and liturgical functions, the synagogue does not replace the symbol of the long-destroyed Temple in Jerusalem.

Any Jew or group of Jews can build a synagogue. Synagogues have been constructed by ancient Jewish leaders, by wealthy patrons, as part of a wide range of human institutions including secular educational institutions, governments, and hotels, by the entire Jewish community of living in a particular village or region, or by sub-groups of Jewish people arrayed according to occupation, ethnicity (e.g., the Sephardic, Yemenite, Romaniote or Persian Jews of a town), style of religious observance (e.g., Reform or Orthodox synagogue), or by the followers of a particular rabbi, such as the shtiebelekh (Yiddish: שטיבעלעך, romanizedshtibelekh, singular שטיבל shtibl) of Hasidic Judaism.


The Hebrew term is bet knesset (בית כנסת) or "house of assembly" The Koine Greek-derived word synagogue (συναγωγή) also means "assembly" and is commonly used in English, with its earliest mention in the 1st century Theodotos inscription in Jerusalem. Ashkenazi Jews have traditionally used the Yiddish term shul (from the Greek schola, which is also the source of the English "school") in everyday speech, and many continue to do so in English.[2]

Sephardi Jews and Romaniote Jews generally use the term kal (from the Hebrew qahal "community"). Spanish and Portuguese Jews call the synagogue an esnoga and Portuguese Jews may call it a sinagoga. Persian Jews and some Karaite Jews also use the term kenesa, which is derived from Aramaic, and some Mizrahi Jews use kenis or qnis.[citation needed]


El Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia

In the earliest period, communal worship focused mostly on the Temple in Jerusalem. Some communities had their own Temples, such as the Temple at Elephantine established by refugees from the Kingdom of Judah during the Twenty-seventh Dynasty of Egypt.

The first synagogues were established in the Hellenistic period in Alexandria in Ptolemaic Egypt, the most important Greek-speaking city of the time. There, the first proseukhái (Koinē Greek: προσευχαί, lit.'places of prayer'; singular προσευχή proseukhē) were built to provide a place for communal prayer and reading and studying the Torah.[3] The earliest archaeological evidence is stone dedication inscriptions from the third century BCE prove that proseukhái existed by that date.[4][5][6] Philo and Josephus mention lavishly-adorned synagogues in Alexandria and in Antioch, respectively.[7]

Alexandrian Jews also made a Koine Greek translation of the Torah, the Septuagint.

More than a dozen Second Temple period synagogues in use by Jews and Samaritans have been identified by archaeologists in Israel and other countries of the Hellenistic world.[8] In Roman Judaea, Yohanan ben Zakkai, one of the leaders who survived the destruction of the Second Temple, advocated creating individual houses of worship as the Temple was unavailable.

Dohány Street Synagogue
The Dohány Street Synagogue, the biggest Synagogue in Europe. Budapest is known to be a central location in Jewish enlightenment.

It has been theorized that the synagogue became a place of worship in the region upon the destruction of the Second Temple during the First Jewish–Roman War; however, others speculate that there had been places of prayer, apart from the Temple, during the Hellenistic period. The popularization of prayer over sacrifice during the years prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE[9] had prepared the Jews for life in the diaspora, where prayer would serve as the focus of Jewish worship.[10]

Despite the certain existence of synagogue-like spaces prior to the First Jewish–Roman War,[11] the synagogue emerged as a focal point for Jewish worship upon the destruction of the Temple. For Jews living in the wake of the Revolt, the synagogue functioned as a "portable system of worship". Within the synagogue, Jews worshipped by way of prayer rather than sacrifices, which had previously served as the main form of worship within the Second Temple.[12]

Second Temple period[edit]

In 1995, Howard Clark Kee argued that synagogues were not a developed feature of Jewish life prior to the First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 CE).[13] Kee interpreted his findings as evidence that the mentions of synagogues in the New Testament, including Jesus's visitations of synagogues in various Jewish settlements in Israel, were anachronistic. However, by 2018, Mordechai Aviam reported that there were now at least nine synagogues excavated known to pre-date the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE, including in Magdala, Gamla, Masada, Herodium, Modi‘in (Kh. Umm el-‘Umdan), Qiryat Sepher (Kh. Bad ‘Issa), and Kh. Diab. Aviam concluded that he thought almost every Jewish settlement at the time, whether it was a polis or a village, had a synagogue.[14]

  • Gamla – a synagogue was discovered near the city gate at Gamla, a site in the Golan northeast of the Sea of Galilee.[15] This city was destroyed by the Roman army in 67 CE and was never rebuilt.
  • Masada – a synagogue was discovered on the western side of Masada, just south of the palace complex at the northern end of the site. One of the unique finds at this synagogue was a group of 14 scrolls, which included biblical, sectarian, and apocryphal documents.[16]
  • Herodium – a synagogue from the 1st century was discovered in Herod's palace fortress at Herodium.[17]
  • Magdala – also known as the Migdal Synagogue, this synagogue was discovered in 2009. One of the unique features of this synagogue, which is located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, is an intricately carved stone block that was found in the center of the main room.[18]
  • Modi'in – Discovered between Modi'in and Latrun is the oldest synagogue within modern Israel that has been found to date, built during the second century BCE. It includes three rooms and a nearby mikve.[19]

Late Antiquity[edit]

During Late antiquity (third to seventh century CE), literary sources attest to the existence of a large number of synagogues across the Roman-Byzantine and Sasanian Empires.[20] Archaeological evidence indicates the presence of synagogues in at least thirteen places across the diaspora, spanning from Dura-Europos in Syria to Elche in Hispania (modern-day Spain). An especially sizable and monumental synagogue dating from this period is the Sardis Synagogue. Additionally, many inscriptions pertaining to synagogues and their officials have been discovered.[20]

In the Land of Israel, late antiquity witnessed a significant increase in synagogue construction, in Galilee and Golan in the north and the southern hills of Judea, in the south. Each synagogue was constructed according to the means and religious customs of the local community. Notable examples include Capernaum, Bar'am, Beth Alpha, Maoz Haim, Meroth and Nabratein in the north, and Eshtemoa, Susya, Anim, and Maon in the south.[20]

Middle Ages[edit]

Rabbi and philosopher Maimonides (1138–1204) described the various customs in his day with respect to local synagogues:

Synagogues and houses of study must be treated with respect. They are swept and sprinkled [with water] to lay the dust. In Spain and the Maghreb, in Babylonia and in the Holy Land, it is customary to kindle lamps in the synagogues and to spread mats on the floor upon which the worshippers sit. In the lands of Edom (Christendom), they sit in synagogues upon chairs [or benches].[21]

Samaritan synagogues[edit]

Interior of the Samaritan synagogue in Nablus circa 1920

Name and history[edit]

The Samaritan house of worship is also called a synagogue.[22] During the third and second centuries BCE, the Hellenistic period, the Greek word used in the Diaspora by Samaritans and Jews was the same, proseukhē Koinē Greek: προσευχή, lit.'place of prayer', plural προσευχαί prosukhái); a third or fourth century inscription uses a similar term, εὑκτήριον euktērion.[22]

The oldest Samaritan synagogue discovered so far is from Delos in the Aegean Islands, with an inscription dated between 250 and 175 BCE, while most Samaritan synagogues excavated in the wider Land of Israel and ancient Samaria in particular, were built in the fourth to seventh centuries at the very end of the Roman Empire and throughout the Byzantine period.[22]

Distinguishing elements[edit]

The elements which distinguish Samaritan synagogues from contemporary Jewish ones are:

  • Alphabet: the use of the Samaritan script[22]
  • Orthography. When the Samaritan script is used, there are some Hebrew words which would be spelled in a way typical only for the Samaritan Pentateuch, for instance, "forever" is written ʿlmw instead of lʿlm.[22] When Greek is the language used in inscriptions, typically, Samaritans may contract two Hebrew words into one, such har "mountain" and Gerizim becoming Άργαρίζειν. This is an archaic practice that was primarily maintained by Samaritans.[22]
  • Orientation: the façade, or entrance of the Samaritan synagogue, is typically facing towards Mount Gerizim, which is the most holy site to Samaritans, while Jewish synagogues would be oriented towards Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.[22]
  • Decoration: the mosaic floor and other architectural elements or artifacts are sometimes decorated with typical symbols.[22] As the Samaritans have historically adhered more strictly to the commandment forbidding the creation of any "graven image", they would not use any depictions of man or beast.[22] Representations of the signs of the zodiac, of human figures or even Greek deities such as the god Helios, as seen in Byzantine-period Jewish synagogues, would be unimaginable in Samaritan buildings of any period.[22]
  • A representation of Mount Gerizim is a clear indication of Samaritan identity.[22] On the other hand, although the existence of a Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim is both mentioned by Josephus and confirmed by archaeological excavation at its summit, the temple's early destruction in the second century BCE led to its memory disappearing from Samaritan tradition. No temple-related items would be found in Samaritan synagogue depictions.[22] Religious implements, such as are also known from ancient Jewish synagogue mosaics (the temple menorah, shofar, showbread table, trumpets, incense shovels, and specifically the façade of what looks like a temple or a Torah shrine) are also present in Samaritan ones, but the objects are always related to the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant within the Tabernacle, or the Torah shrine in the synagogue itself.[22] Samaritans believe that at the end of time, the Tabernacle and its utensils will be recovered from the place they were buried on Mount Gerizim, and as such play an important role in Samaritan beliefs.[22] Since the same artists, such as mosaicists, worked for all ethno-religious communities of the time, some depictions might be identical in Samaritan and Jewish synagogues, Christian churches, and pagan temples, but their significance would differ.[22]
  • Missing from Samaritan synagogue floors would be images often found in Jewish ones: the lulav (palm-branch) and etrog (citron fruit) have a different ritual use by Samaritans celebrating Sukkot and do not appear on mosaic floors.[22]

Archaeological finds[edit]

Ancient Samaritan synagogues are mentioned by literary sources or have been found by archaeologists in the Diaspora, in the wider Holy Land, and specifically in Samaria.[22]


  • Delos Synagogue: a Samaritan inscription has been dated to between 250 and 175 BCE.[22]
  • Rome and Tarsus: ancient literature offers hints that Samaritan synagogues may have existed in these cities between the fourth and sixth centuries CE.[22]
  • Thessaloniki and Syracuse: short inscriptions found there and using the Samaritan and Greek alphabet may originate from Samaritan synagogues.[22]

The wider Holy Land[edit]

  • Synagogue of Salbit (now Sha'alvim), excavated by Eleazar Sukenik in 1949 northwest of Jerusalem. It was about 8 by 15.5 metres (26 by 51 ft) in size, was two stories tall, and was oriented towards Mount Gerizim. Two mosaics remain, one atop the other; one contained the Samaritan version of the Song of the Sea in Exodus 15:18.[23] It was probably built in the 4th or 5th century and destroyed in the 5th or 6th.[22]
  • The synagogue at Tell Qasile, which was built at the beginning of the seventh century.[22]
  • Synagogue A at Beisan was a room added to an existing building in the late 6th or early 7th century and served as a Samaritan synagogue.[22] Beisan is famous for Synagogue B, the Beth Alpha synagogue, which faced Jerusalem and was not a Samaritan synagogue.


  • El-Khirbe synagogue, discovered c. 3 km from Sebaste, was built in the 4th century CE and remained in use into the Early Islamic period, with a break during the late 5th–early 6th century[22]
  • Khirbet Samara synagogue, c. 20 km northwest of Nablus and built in the 4th century CE[22]
  • Zur Natan synagogue, c. 29 km west of Nablus and built in the 5th century CE[22]


In the New Testament, the word appears 56 times, mostly in the Synoptic Gospels, but also in the Gospel of John (John 9:22; 18:20) and the Book of Revelation (Rev. 2:9; 3:9). It is used in the sense of 'assembly' in the Epistle of James (James 2:2). Alternatively, the epistle of James (in Greek, clearly Ἰάκωβος or יעקב, anglicized to Jacob) refers to a place of assembly that was indeed Jewish, with Jacob ben Joseph perhaps an elder there. The specific word in James (Jacob) 2:2 could easily be rendered "synagogue", from the Greek συναγωγὴν.

During the first Christian centuries, Jewish Christians are hypothesized to have used houses of worship known in academic literature as synagogue-churches. Scholars have claimed to have identified such houses of worship of the Jews who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah in Jerusalem[24] and Nazareth.[25][26]

Architectural design[edit]

Aerial view of the synagogue of the Kaifeng Jewish community in China

There is no set blueprint for synagogues and the architectural shapes and interior designs of synagogues vary greatly. In fact, the influence from other local religious buildings can often be seen in synagogue arches, domes and towers.

Historically, synagogues were built in the prevailing architectural style of their time and place. Thus, the synagogue in Kaifeng, China, looked very like Chinese temples of that region and era, with its outer wall and open garden in which several buildings were arranged. The styles of the earliest synagogues resembled the temples of other cults of the Eastern Roman Empire. The surviving synagogues of medieval Spain are embellished with mudéjar plasterwork. The surviving medieval synagogues in Budapest and Prague are typical Gothic structures.

With the emancipation of Jews in Western European countries in the 19th century—which not only enabled Jews to enter fields of enterprise from which they were formerly barred, but gave them the right to build synagogues without needing special permissions—synagogue architecture blossomed. Large Jewish communities wished to show not only their wealth but also their newly acquired status as citizens by constructing magnificent synagogues. These were built across Western Europe and in the United States in all of the historicist or revival styles then in fashion. Thus there were Neoclassical,Renaissance Revival architecture, Neo-Byzantine, Romanesque Revival, Moorish Revival, Gothic Revival, and Greek Revival. There are Egyptian Revival synagogues and even one Mayan Revival synagogue. In the 19th century and early 20th century heyday of historicist architecture, however, most historicist synagogues, even the most magnificent ones, did not attempt a pure style, or even any particular style, and are best described as eclectic.

In the post-war era, synagogue architecture abandoned historicist styles for modernism.

Interior elements[edit]

Bimah (platform)[edit]

All synagogues contain a Bimah, a large, raised, reader's platform (called teḇah (reading dais) by Sephardim), where the Torah scroll is placed to be read. In Sephardi synagogues and traditional Ashkenazi synagogues it is also used as the prayer leader's reading desk.[27]

Table or lectern[edit]

In Ashkenazi synagogues, the Torah was read on a reader's table located in the center of the room, while the leader of the prayer service, the hazzan, stood at his own lectern or table, facing the Ark. In Sephardic synagogues, the table for reading the Torah (reading dais) was commonly placed at the opposite side of the room from the Torah Ark, leaving the center of the floor empty for the use of a ceremonial procession carrying the Torah between the Ark and the reading table.[28] Most contemporary synagogues feature a lectern for the rabbi.[29]

Torah Ark[edit]

The Torah Ark, called in Hebrew ארון קודשAron Kodesh[30] or 'holy chest' , and alternatively called the heikhalהיכל‎ or 'temple' by Sephardic Jews, is a cabinet in which the Torah scrolls are kept.

The ark in a synagogue is almost always positioned in such a way such that those who face it are facing towards Jerusalem[31]. Thus, sanctuary seating plans in the Western world generally face east, while those east of Israel face west. Sanctuaries in Israel face towards Jerusalem. Occasionally synagogues face other directions for structural reasons; in such cases, some individuals might turn to face Jerusalem when standing for prayers, but the congregation as a whole does not.

The Ark is reminiscent of the Ark of the Covenant, which held the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. This is the holiest spot in a synagogue, equivalent to the Holy of Holies. The Ark is often closed with an ornate curtain, the parochet פרוכת‎, which hangs outside or inside the ark doors.

Eternal Light[edit]

Ner tamid of the Abudarham Synagogue in Gibraltar

Other traditional features include a continually lit lamp or lantern, usually electric in contemporary synagogues, called the ner tamid (נר תמיד‎), the "Eternal Light", used as a way to honor the Divine Presence.[32]

Inner decoration[edit]

Sarajevo Synagogue, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (1902)

A synagogue may be decorated with artwork, but in the Rabbinic and Orthodox tradition, three-dimensional sculptures and depictions of the human body are not allowed as these are considered akin to idolatry.[33]


Originally, synagogues were made devoid of much furniture, the Jewish congregants in Spain, the Maghreb (North Africa), Babylonia, the Land of Israel and Yemen having a custom to sit upon the floor, which had been strewn with mats and cushions, rather than upon chairs or benches. In other European towns and cities, however, Jewish congregants would sit upon chairs and benches.[34] Today, the custom has spread in all places to sit upon chairs and benches.[citation needed]

Until the 19th century, in an Ashkenazi synagogue, all seats most often faced the Torah Ark. In a Sephardic synagogue, seats were usually arranged around the perimeter of the sanctuary, but when the worshipers stood up to pray, everyone faced the Ark.[citation needed]

Special seats[edit]

Many current synagogues have an elaborate chair named for the prophet Elijah, which is only sat upon during the ceremony of Brit milah.[35]

In ancient synagogues, a special chair placed on the wall facing Jerusalem and next to the Torah Shrine was reserved for the prominent members of the congregation and for important guests.[36] Such a stone-carved and inscribed seat was discovered at archaeological excavations in the synagogue at Chorazin in Galilee and dates from the 4th–6th century;[37] another one was discovered at the Delos Synagogue, complete with a footstool.

Rules for attendees[edit]

Removing one's shoes[edit]

In Yemen, the Jewish custom was to remove one's shoes immediately prior to entering the synagogue, a custom that had been observed by Jews in other places in earlier times.[38][39] The same practice of removing one's shoes before entering the synagogue was also largely observed among Jews in Morocco in the early 20th century. On the island of Djerba in Tunisia, Jews still remove their shoes when entering a synagogue. The custom of removing one's shoes is no longer practiced in Israel, the United Kingdom, or the United States, and which custom, as in former times, was dependent upon whether or not the wearer considered it a thing of contempt to stand before God while wearing shoes. In Christian countries, where it was thought not offensive to stand before a king while wearing shoes, it was likewise permitted to do so in a house of prayer.[40] However, in Karaite Judaism, the custom of removing one's shoes prior to entering a synagogue is still observed worldwide.[41]

Gender separation[edit]

In Orthodox synagogues, men and women do not sit together. The synagogue features a partition (mechitza) dividing the men's and women's seating areas, or a separate women's section located on a balcony.[42]

Denominational differences[edit]

Reform Judaism[edit]

Congregation Emanu-El of New York

The German–Jewish Reform movement, which arose in the early 19th century, made many changes to the traditional look of the synagogue, keeping with its desire to simultaneously stay Jewish yet be accepted by the surrounding culture.

The first Reform synagogue, which opened in Hamburg in 1811, introduced changes that made the synagogue look more like a church. These included: the installation of an organ to accompany the prayers (even on Shabbat, when musical instruments are proscribed by halakha), a choir to accompany the hazzan, and vestments for the synagogue rabbi to wear.[43]

In following decades, the central reader's table, the Bimah, was moved to the front of the Reform sanctuary—previously unheard-of in Orthodox synagogues.[44]

Gender separation was also removed.[citation needed]

Synagogue as community center[edit]

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.

Synagogue offshoots[edit]

Since many Orthodox and some non-Orthodox Jews prefer to collect a minyan (a quorum of ten) rather than pray alone, they commonly assemble at pre-arranged times in offices, living rooms, or other spaces when these are more convenient than formal synagogue buildings. A room or building that is used this way can become a dedicated small synagogue or prayer room. Among Ashkenazi Jews they are traditionally called shtiebel (שטיבל, pl. shtiebelekh or shtiebels, Yiddish for "little house"), and are found in Orthodox communities worldwide.

Another type of communal prayer group, favored by some contemporary Jews, is the chavurah (חבורה, pl. chavurot, חבורות), or prayer fellowship. These groups meet at a regular place and time, either in a private home or in a synagogue or other institutional space. In antiquity, the Pharisees lived near each other in chavurot and dined together to ensure that none of the food was unfit for consumption.[45]

List of "great synagogues"[edit]

Some synagogues bear the title "Great Synagogue".[dubiousdiscuss]


The Belz Great Synagogue (2000)




Choral Synagogue of Moscow


Czech Republic[edit]


Interior of the Synagogue of Szeged



Old Synagogue (Essen)



France and Belgium[edit]


Interior of the Great Synagogue of Florence



Interior of the Subotica Synagogue

Bosnia and Herzegovina[edit]


The Synagogue, Sarajevo
The Synagogue, Doboj

Turkey (European part)[edit]

United Kingdom[edit]



World's largest synagogues[edit]

Congregants inside the Great Beth Midrash Gur
Portuguese Synagogue (Amsterdam)


  • The largest synagogue in the world is the Great Beth Midrash Gur, in Jerusalem, Israel, whose main sanctuary seats up to 20,000, and has an area of approximately 7,500 m2 (81,000 sq ft), while the entire complex has an area of approximately 35,000 m2 (380,000 sq ft). Construction on the edifice took more than 25 years.[47][48]
  • Kehilat Kol HaNeshama, a Reform synagogue located in Baka, Jerusalem, is the largest Reform (and largest non-Orthodox) Jewish synagogue in Israel.[49]


  • The Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary, is the largest synagogue in Europe by square footage and number of seats. It seats 3,000, and has an area of 1,200 m2 (13,000 sq ft) and height of 26 m (85 ft) (apart from the towers, which are 43 m or 141 ft).[50]
  • The Synagogue of Trieste is the largest synagogue in Western Europe.
  • The Great Synagogue of Rome is one of the greatest in Europe.
  • The Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam, also called "Esnoga", was built in 1675. At that time it was the largest synagogue in the world. Apart from the buildings surrounding the synagogue, it has an area of 1,008 m2 (10,850 sq ft), is 19.5 meters (64 ft) high. It was built to accommodate 1,227 men and 440 women.[51]
  • Szeged Synagogue is located in Szeged, Hungary, seats 1,340 and has height of 48.5 m (159 ft).
  • The Sofia Synagogue is located in Sofia, Bulgaria, seating about 1,200.
  • The Subotica Synagogue is located in Subotica, Serbia, seating more than 900.
  • Great Synagogue (Plzeň) in the Czech Republic is the second-largest synagogue in Europe, and the third-largest in the world.

North America[edit]

World's oldest synagogues[edit]

Sardis Synagogue (3rd century CE) Sardis, Turkey
Fresco at the Dura-Europos synagogue, illustrating a scene from the Book of Esther, 244 CE.
  • The earliest evidence for a synagogue is a stone-carved synagogue dedication inscription found in Lower Egypt and dating from the second half of the 3rd century BCE.[54]
  • The oldest Samaritan synagogue, the Delos Synagogue, dates from between 150 and 128 BCE, or earlier and is located on the island of Delos.[55][unreliable source?]
  • The synagogue of Dura Europos, a Seleucid city in north eastern Syria, dates from the third century CE. It is unique. The walls were painted with figural scenes from the Tanakh. The paintings included Abraham and Isaac, Moses and Aaron, Solomon, Samuel and Jacob, Elijah and Ezekiel. The synagogue chamber, with its surviving paintings, is reconstructed in the National Museum in Damascus.
  • The Old Synagogue in Erfurt, Germany, parts of which date to c.1100, is the oldest intact synagogue building in Europe. It is now used as a museum of local Jewish history.
  • The Kochangadi Synagogue (1344 CE to 1789 CE) in Kochi in the Kerala, built by the Malabar Jews. It was destroyed by Tipu Sultan in 1789 CE and was never rebuilt. An inscription tablet from this synagogue is the oldest relic from any synagogue in India. Eight other synagogues exist in Kerala though not in active use anymore.
The Paradesi Synagogue in Jew Town, Kochi, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The Paradesi Synagogue is the oldest active synagogue in the Commonwealth of Nations, located in Kochi, Kerala, in India. It was built in 1568 by Paradesi community in the Kingdom of Cochin. Paradesi is a word used in several Indian languages, and the literal meaning of the term is "foreigners", applied to the synagogue because it was historically used by "White Jews", a mixture of Jews of the Middle East, and European exiles. It is also referred to as the Cochin Jewish Synagogue or the Mattancherry Synagogue. The synagogue is located in the quarter of Old Cochin known as Jew Town and is the only one of the eight synagogues in the area still in use.
  • Jew's Court, Steep Hill, Lincoln, England, is arguably the oldest synagogue in Europe in current use.

Oldest synagogues in the United States[edit]

Touro Synagogue, the oldest surviving synagogue building in the U.S.
Touro Synagogue, the oldest surviving synagogue building in the U.S.
Painting of the interior of the Portuguese Synagogue (Amsterdam) by Emanuel de Witte (c. 1680)

Other famous synagogues[edit]

  • The Worms Synagogue in Germany, built in 1175 and razed on Kristallnacht in 1938, was painstakingly reconstructed using many of the original stones. It is still in use as a synagogue.
  • The Synagogue of El Transito of Toledo, Spain, was built in 1356 by Samuel ha-Levi, treasurer of King Pedro I of Castile. This is one of the best examples of Mudéjar architecture in Spain. The design of the synagogue recalls the Nasrid style of architecture that was employed during the same period in the decorations of the palace of the Alhambra in Granada as well as the Mosque of Córdoba. Since 1964, this site has hosted a Sephardi museum.
  • The Hurva Synagogue, located in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, was Jerusalem's main Ashkenazi synagogue from the 16th century until 1948, when it was destroyed by the Arab Legion several days after the conquest of the city. After the Six-Day War, an arch was built to mark the spot where the synagogue stood. A complete reconstruction, to plans drawn up by architect Nahum Meltzer, opened in March 2010.
  • The Abdallah Ibn Salam Mosque or Oran, Algeria, built in 1880, but converted into a mosque in 1975 when most Algerian Jews had left the country for France following independence.
  • The Nidhe Israel Synagogue ("Bridgetown Synagogue") of Barbados, located in the capital city of Bridgetown, was first built in 1654. It was destroyed in the hurricane of 1831 and reconstructed in 1833.[56]
  • The Curaçao synagogue or Snoa in Willemstad, Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles was built by Sephardic Portuguese Jews from Amsterdam and Recife, Brazil. It is modeled after the Esnoga in Amsterdam. Congregation Mikvé Israel built this synagogue in 1692; it was reconstructed in 1732.
  • The Bialystoker Synagogue on New York's Lower East Side, is located in a landmark building dating from 1826 that was originally a Methodist Episcopal Church. The building is made of quarry stone mined locally on Pitt Street, Manhattan. It is an example of federal architecture. The ceilings and walls are hand-painted with zodiac frescos, and the sanctuary is illuminated by 40-foot (12.19 m) stained glass windows. The bimah and floor-to-ceiling ark are handcarved.
  • The Great Synagogue of Florence, Tempio Maggiore, Florence, 1874–1882, is an example of the magnificent, cathedral-like synagogues built in almost every major European city in the 19th century and early 20th century.
  • Boston's 1920 Vilna Shul is a rare surviving intact Immigrant Era synagogue.[57]
  • The Congregation Or Hatzafon "Light of the North", Fairbanks, Alaska, is the world's northernmost synagogue building.[58]
  • The Görlitz Synagogue in Görlitz, Germany, was built in Jugendstil style between 1909 and 1911. Damaged, but not destroyed, during the Kristallnacht riots, the synagogue was bought by the City Council in 1963. After extensive renovations concluding in late 2020, the main sanctuary (Kuppelsaal with 310 seats) will be reopened for general culture, and the small synagogue (Wochentags-Synagoge, with space for around 45 visitors)


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pronounced /ˈsɪnəɡɒɡ/ SIN-ə-gog. From Koinē Greek: συναγωγή, romanized: synagogē, lit.'assembly'; Hebrew: בית כנסת, lit.'bēṯ kənesseṯ', or Hebrew: בית תפילה, romanized: bēṯ təfilā, lit.'house of prayer'; Yiddish: שול, romanizedshul, Ladino: אשנוגה or אסנוגה esnoga (from "synagogue"); or קהל kahal, "community".
  2. ^ Pronounced /ˈʃl/ SHOOL.
  3. ^ This is a fairly modern term mostly used in Reform Judaism, but is still rare.[1]


  1. ^ "Synagogue | Definition, History, & Facts | Britannica". June 2023.
  2. ^ Leo Rosten, The Joys of Yiddish, © 1968; Pocket Books edition, 1970, p. 379
  3. ^ Fine, Steven (2016). This Holy Place: On the Sanctity of the Synagogue During the Greco-Roman Period. Wipf and Stock Publishers. ISBN 978-1-5326-0926-8.
  4. ^ Horbury, William; Noy, David, eds. (1992). Jewish Inscriptions of Graeco-Roman Egypt (22. Plaque, dedication of a Schedian proseuche, 246–221 BCE). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-41870-6. υπέρ βασιλέως | Πτολεμαίου και | βασιλίσσης | Βερενίκης άδελ | φης καί γυναικδς καί || των τέκνων | τήν προσευχήν | οί 'Ιουδαίοι. [On behalf of king Ptolemy and queen Berenice his sister and wife and their children, the Jews (dedicated) the proseuche.]
  5. ^ Horbury, William; Noy, David, eds. (1992). Jewish Inscriptions of Graeco-Roman Egypt (117. Stele, dedication of an Arsinoëan-Crocodilopolitan proseuche, 246–221 BCE). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-41870-6. υπέρ βασιλέως | Πτολεμαίου τοΰ | Πτολεμαίου καί | βοκηλίσσης | Βερενίκης της || γυναικδς καί | άδελφης καί των | τέκνων οΐ έν Κροκ[ο] | δίλων πόλει *Ιου[δαΐ] | ον την προ[σευχήν] || [ · · · · ] [On behalf of king Ptolemy, son of Ptolemy, and queen Berenice his wife and sister and their children, the Jews in Crocodilopolis (dedicated) the proseuche .....]
  6. ^ Pfeiffer, Stefan (2015). Griechische und lateinische Inschriften zum Ptolemäerreich und zur römischen Provinz Aegyptus. Einführungen und Quellentexte zur Ägyptologie (in German). Vol. 9. Münster: Lit. pp. 100–102.
  7. ^ Fine, Steven (2016). This Holy Place: On the Sanctity of the Synagogue During the Greco-Roman Period. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 45. ISBN 978-1-5326-0926-8.
  8. ^ Donald D. Binder. "Second Temple Synagogues". Archived from the original on 2015-09-24. Retrieved 2008-06-16.
  9. ^ Schiffman, Lawrence (March 1991). From Text to Tradition: A History of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism (1st ed.). Ktav Pub Inc. p. 159. ISBN 0-88125-372-3.
  10. ^ Schiffman, Lawrence (March 1991). From Text to Tradition: A History of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism (1st ed.). Ktav Pub Inc. p. 164. ISBN 0-88125-372-3.
  11. ^ Doering, Lutz; Krause, Andrew R.; Löhr, Hermut, eds. (2020). Synagogues in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods: Archaeological Finds, New Methods, New Theories. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. p. 191. ISBN 978-3-647-52215-9.
  12. ^ Schiffman, Lawrence (March 1991). From Text to Tradition: A History of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism (1st ed.). Ktav Pub Inc. p. 164. ISBN 0-88125-372-3.
  13. ^ Kee, Howard Clark. "Defining the First-Century CE Synagogue: Problems and Progress." New Testament Studies 41.4 (1995): 481-500.
  14. ^ Aviʿam, Mordekhai. "First-Century Galilee New Discoveries." Early Christianity 9.2 (2018): 219–226.
  15. ^ Levine, Lee I. (2000). The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-07475-1. OCLC 40408825.
  16. ^ Yadin, Yigael. (1966). Masada: The Momentous Archaeological Discovery Revealing the Heroic Life and Struggle of the Jewish Zealots (1st ed.). New York, NY: Random House. pp. 180–191. ISBN 0-394-43542-7. OCLC 861644287.
  17. ^ "Herodium (BiblePlaces.com)". BiblePlaces.com. Retrieved 2020-07-11.
  18. ^ "Ancient synagogue found in Israel". CNN. Retrieved 2020-07-11.
  19. ^ "Modi'in: Where the Maccabees Lived". Biblical Archaeology Society. 2019-09-22. Retrieved 2020-07-11.
  20. ^ a b c Levine, Lee (2006), Katz, Steven T. (ed.), "Jewish archaeology in late antiquity: art, architecture, and inscriptions", The Cambridge History of Judaism: Volume 4: The Late Roman-Rabbinic Period, The Cambridge History of Judaism, vol. 4, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 526–527, 539–542, ISBN 978-0-521-77248-8, retrieved 2024-05-06
  21. ^ Maimonides, Mishneh Torah (Hil. Tefillah Birkat kohanim 11:4)
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa Pummer, Reinhard (13 January 2009). "How to Tell a Samaritan Synagogue from a Jewish Synagogue". Biblical Archaeology Review. May/June 1998 (24:03). Archived from the original on 7 April 2022. Retrieved 2 September 2018 – via Center for Online Judaic Studies, cojs.org.
  23. ^ Reich, Ronny (1994). "The Plan of the Samaritan Synagogue at Sha'alvim". Israel Exploration Journal. 44 (3/4): 228–233. ISSN 0021-2059.
  24. ^ Skarsaune, Oskar (2008). In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity. IVP Academic. p. 186. ISBN 9780830828449. Retrieved 1 September 2018. 9780830828449
  25. ^ Taylor, Joan E. (1993). Christians and the Holy Places: The Myth of Jewish-Christian Origins. Clarendon Press. p. 338. ISBN 9780198147855.
  26. ^ Emmett, Chad Fife (1995). Beyond the Basilica: Christians and Muslims in Nazareth. University of Chicago Geography Research Papers (Book 237). University of Chicago Press. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-226-20711-7. Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  27. ^ "Encyclopedia Judaica: The Bimah". JewishVirtualLibrary.org. Retrieved 2019-10-12.
  28. ^ "The Bimah: The Synagogue Platform". www.chabad.org. Retrieved 2019-05-30.
  29. ^ "Synagogue Background & Overview". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2019-05-30.
  30. ^ "ARK OF THE LAW." Jewish Encyclopedia.
  31. ^ "ARK OF THE LAW." Jewish Encyclopedia.
  32. ^ "Ner Tamid: The Eternal Light." Chabad. 28 August 2018.
  33. ^ "Sculpture". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2021-03-01.
  34. ^ Maimonides, Mishne Torah (Hil. Tefillah 11:4), who wrote: "Synagogues and houses of study must be treated with respect. They are swept and sprinkled to lay the dust. In Spain and in the Maghreb (North Africa), in Babylon and in the Holy Land, it is customary to kindle lamps in the synagogues and to spread mats on the floor on which the worshipers sit. In the land of Edom (i.e. Christian countries) they sit in synagogues upon chairs."
  35. ^ Zaklikowski, David. "The Chair of Elijah and Welcoming the Baby". Chabad. Retrieved 13 September 2018.
  36. ^ The Interactive Bible, Synagogue Moses' Seat: Metaphor of Pride
  37. ^ Israel Museum, Elaborate seat, Chorazin synagogue
  38. ^ Joseph Kafih, Jewish Life in Sanà, Ben-Zvi Institute: Jerusalem 1982, p. 64 (note 3) ISBN 965-17-0137-4. There, Rabbi Kafih recalls the following story in the Jerusalem Talmud (Baba Metzi'a 2:8): "Yehudah, the son of Rebbe, entered a synagogue and left his sandals [outside], and they were stolen. He then said, 'Had I not gone to the synagogue, my sandals would not have gone-off.'" The custom of never entering a synagogue while wearing one's shoes is also mentioned in the Cairo Geniza manuscripts: "While he is yet outside, let him take-off his shoes or sandals from his feet and then enter barefoot, since such is the way of servants to walk barefoot before their lords... We have a minor sanctuary, and we are required to behave with sanctity and fear [in it], as it says: And you shall fear my hallowed place." (v. Halakhot Eretz Yisrael min ha-Geniza [The Halacha of the Land of Israel from the Geniza], ed. Mordechai Margaliot, Mossad Harav Kook: Jerusalem 1973, pp. 131–132; Taylor-Schechter New Series 135, Cambridge University Library / Oxford MS. 2700).
  39. ^ Ishtori Haparchi (2004). Avraham Yosef Havatzelet (ed.). Kaftor wa-Ferach (in Hebrew). Vol. 1 (chapter 7) (3 ed.). Jerusalem: Ha-makhon le-limudei mitzvot ha-aretz. p. 150. OCLC 1284902315.
  40. ^ Duran, Solomon (1998). Moshe Sovel (ed.). Questions & Responsa (Sefer ha-Rashbash) (in Hebrew). Jerusalem: Mekhon or ha-mizraḥ. p. responsum no. 285. OCLC 233235765.
  41. ^ "The Jews who take off their shoes for shul". www.thejc.com. November 24, 2016. Retrieved 2022-01-15.
  42. ^ "Mechitzah: Separate Seating in the Synagogue". My Jewish Learning. Retrieved 2020-01-27.
  43. ^ Rabbi Ken Spiro. "Crash Course in Jewish History Part 54 - Reform Movement" Archived 2012-01-18 at the Wayback Machine, Aish.com
  44. ^ Yisroel Besser (2018). The Chasam Sofer. Artscroll. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-4226-2232-2. a bimah must be in the middle
  45. ^ Alan F. Segal, Rebecca's Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World, Harvard University Press, 1986, 125.
  46. ^ 1340 seats, the synagogue is 48 meters long, 35 meters wide, and 48.6 meters high.
  47. ^ Shaul Kahana (January 9, 2022). "גור קיבלו טופס ארבע - לבית הכנסת הגדול בעולם". Kikar HaShabbat (in Hebrew).
  48. ^ Nitzhia Yaakov (April 20, 2023). "הכי ביהדות: התנ"ך הזעיר, המגילה הארוכה ובית הכנסת ל-30 אלף מתפללים". ynet (in Hebrew).
  49. ^ Nathan Jeffay (January 12, 2011). "The Heart of Israel's Reform Judaism". The Forward.
  50. ^ Kulish, Nicholas (30 December 2007). "Out of Darkness, New Life". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-12.
  51. ^ Snyder, S. C. (2008). Acculturation and Particularism in the Modern City: Synagogue Building and Jewish Identity in Northern Europe. University of Michigan. ISBN 9780549818977. Retrieved 2014-12-07.[permanent dead link]
  52. ^ "Orthodox Synagogue to Be Dedicated November 28–30." Memphis Commercial Appeal, October 21, 1957.
  53. ^ Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin. "Rebbes, Hasidim, and Authentic Kehillahs". The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy. Jewish Professionals Institute (JPI).
  54. ^ Pfeiffer, Stefan (2015). Griechische und lateinische Inschriften zum Ptolemäerreich und zur römischen Provinz Aegyptus. Einführungen und Quellentexte zur Ägyptologie (in German). Vol. 9. Münster: Lit. p. 100.
  55. ^ Donald D. Binder. "Delos". Archived from the original on September 7, 2012.
  56. ^ "Nidhe Israel Synagogue". planetware.
  57. ^ "Vilna Shul".
  58. ^ "Congregation Or HaTzafon". mosquitonet.com. Archived from the original on 2014-09-20. Retrieved 2014-12-07.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]