How to Find a Synagogue Near Me and What Jews Believe
Synagogues are a central part of Jewish life and have a long history, from the 1st century C.E. to the present day. It’s where people worship, pray, sing, and learn together. As a result, their services’ basic structure and content have stayed fairly consistent for a very long time. Yet, if you’re new to Judaism and Jewish values, stepping foot into a synagogue might seem a bit intimidating. After all, no one likes to feel like they don’t fit in. So here’s a rundown of what Jews believe and how to find a synagogue near you.
How do I find the nearest synagogue to my current location?
The easiest way to find a synagogue near you is to use our synagogue locator tool, Church.org. Enter your city, and we’ll show you the closest ones to your location! The digital synagogue directory also has information about the synagogues, such as addresses, phone numbers, emails, website links, etc. And if you want to dig deeper, you can visit their website and see if they have a live webcast, schedule of upcoming events (such as services and classes), and connect with a Jewish family, temple, or Christian church in your community.
Are there any synagogues in my area that offer online services?
Most synagogues in the United States offer a live webcast of services, a great opportunity to experience Judaism and its practices in real-time. T.V. is not the only way to watch Rabbis and the community praying. You can follow along from the comfort of your own home with your family and friends. Synagogues also offer social media outlets, such as Facebook and YouTube, through which interactive content is shared and streamed. Also, blogs and podcasts are a great way to learn about Judaism, secular or spiritual.
How can I find out the schedule of services at a nearby synagogue?
Synagogues offer various services: Torah study, Worship, Young and Adult Education, Social service, and more. Each Jewish community will have a unique schedule specific to its audience’s needs. To find out what services are offered in your area, the synagogue’s website will be a great place to start. But if a Jewish family lives next door or across the street, you can check with them! Local newspapers and online news outlets list the special events in your community to get information on what is happening in and around the house of worship.
Can I find a list of synagogues in my local area online?
You sure can! While it’s impossible to list every synagogue in the world, it is easy to find a list of synagogues in your city or state. Some sites provide a searchable database, while others offer a list of all the Jewish communities and their specific information. Apart from Church.org, the Union for Reform Judaism is a good resource for all things Jewish. The URJ maintains several websites, which can be accessed at urj.org. Their website includes a Directory of Synagogues with 830 synagogues across the United States and Canada.
Can I find reviews of synagogues in my area online?
Absolutely! There are plenty of websites online where people leave reviews about their experiences at synagogues. We understand that synagogues are not all the same, some are better than others, and it’s always a good idea to see what people say about them before choosing one. A quick search online will give you plenty of opportunities to read and write reviews about synagogues near you. TripAdvisor, Quora, and Reddit are popular places to find reviews. Likewise, the rating system on Glassdoor, Yelp, and Google My Business gives an idea of the opinion on Jewish community centers.
What is a synagogue, and what is its purpose?
Before going further, you might ask, what is a synagogue? The word “synagogue” in Greek is translated to “a place of assembly,” which represents its purpose. Synagogues are Jewish houses of worship where people gather to pray, study, discuss matters, and celebrate the holidays. To certain reform and conservative Jews, the temple is the common name for a place where the congregation worships. In the past, words like Beit Knesset, Beit Tefila, and Beis Medrash were also used as synonyms for “synagogue.”
How does a synagogue differ from a church or mosque?
For a synagogue, certain things make them different from other houses of worship.
1. Synagogue vs. church
- Synagogues worship on the Sabbath and High Holy day, which is how they differ from churches that worship every Sunday.
- Church services include prayers, singing, special readings from the Bible, sermons, and baptisms, while a Jewish service includes prayers, Torah reading, Torah chanting, and the sermon.
- In churches, clergymen (priests, bishops, or pastors) hold services, while rabbis lead Synagogues.
- Synagogues typically follow religious literature in Hebrew, while churches follow their scripture and liturgy (written in the same language they speak).
- Synagogues teach the basics of Judaism or Abrahamic tradition, and churches are often places where people learn about the Christian faith or Jesus’ teachings.
- To become part of a church, you must usually have been baptized by water baptism. To become a synagogue member, you may pledge your loyalty to the Jewish faith. Still, male adherents must be circumcised to convert to Judaism or undergo blood extraction and immersion in water.
- In the synagogue, men and women sit on separate sides. Men and women are allowed to pray together in the church, and mixed seating is common in most churches today.
- Statues of Jesus or Mary are found in churches, while synagogues do not have them.
2. Synagogue vs. Mosque
- Muslims conduct regular prayer five times a day, while Jews pray three times a day, and there is no regular time for prayer.
- Muslims pray facing the Kaaba, while Jews pray to face Jerusalem.
- There are many holy sites for Muslims in the Middle East, but for Jews, there is only one Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
- The headscarf is a common dress code for women in synagogues but is not mandatory, yet it is mandatory for women to wear it in mosques.
- Friday is the holy day of worship for Muslims and the Sabbath (Saturday) for Jews.
- Mosques are places for Muslims to worship, while synagogues are used for worship and studying the Torah.
- While Islam does not allow alcoholic beverages, Jews can drink them.
What are the main components of a synagogue?
The main components of a synagogue are the Ark, the Bimah, Menorah, Ner Tamid, Tefillin, and the Torah.
The Ark (Aron Kodesh) is a cabinet-like structure that houses the Torah scrolls. The Hebrew word “Aron” means “cabinet.” In a synagogue, the Ark is located in the front of the sanctuary, above or close to the Bimah. The Ark has a hinged door which is open only during services.
The trestle table or podium is called Bimah, which means “raised platform” in Hebrew. In the traditional synagogue, the Bimah is in the middle of the sanctuary, facing the Ark. The Bimah is used for music and Torah reading during services.
The Menorah is a candelabra (an eight-branched holder for lit candles) that is lit before the service starts and is made of bronze or silver. The Menorah symbolizes knowledge, truth, and light for the Jewish people.
4. Ner Tamid
Ner Tamid (Hebrew for “eternal light”) is a large lamp always lit in the synagogue. The container is suspended on a chain and dangled from the ceiling. God’s abiding presence, symbolically represented by the lamp, is a reminder of the holiness of the Torah.
Tefillin are phylacteries that contain verses from the Torah inscribed on them. The small leather boxes are affixed to the forehead and the arm, typically worn by men during services and prayers.
6. Torah scroll
The Ark is home to one or more Hebrew Torah scrolls placed there at the beginning of each Sabbath or festival. Rabbis read out from the Torah during services; it is considered divine revelation.
How does one become a member of a synagogue?
To become an official synagogue member as a child brought up in a Jewish household must be inducted via a ceremony known as “B’nai Mitzvah,” which is the term for “son of the commandments.” Thirteen-year-old boys and girls who take part undergo months or years of training and are prepared to read from the Torah and participate in the service.
But it is different for those with no Jewish background, particularly adults. To become an official member of the synagogue, at least one adult member from your home must already have joined the synagogue. An annual fee is also charged for membership, though some synagogues accept voluntary contributions.
What is the significance of the Torah in a synagogue?
Torah’s significance in a Jewish house of worship is not only that it is the foundation of Judaism but because the Torah is the basis upon which the entire system of law is built. Talmud and Mishnah supplement and clarify laws, customs, and culture. Without the Torah, archetypal symbols of goodness that Abraham and Sarah represented would not exist. And so the Jewish community, in synagogue services, comes together to support the laws that uphold the community and the people.
What are the Jewish holidays celebrated in a synagogue?
The major Jewish holidays celebrated in a synagogue according to the Jewish calendar are the Pilgrim Festivals. Every synagogue actively participates in the celebration by giving thanks and offering respect to stay connected with traditions passed down from generation to generation. Unfortunately, calendrical uncertainties make measuring the exact day of all holidays difficult. So, many synagogues in the diaspora extend the holiday dates on which they hold services by a day. Here are the three pilgrim festivals:
- Pesach – also known as Passover, is celebrated in late March or early April. This holiday commemorates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt led by Moses. With the Hebrews’ liberation, Passover establishes the beginning of the Jewish people.
- Shavuot, known as Pentecost in Christian churches, is celebrated 50 days after Passover. On this holiday, the Jewish community rallies to celebrate God’s revelation at Mt Sinai by renewing their covenant with Him and learning the Torah Law.
- In the Jewish calendar, Sukkot, also known as Tabernacles, is celebrated on the 15th of the Tishrei month. Jews assemble at the synagogue to celebrate how Jews lived in temporary shelters during their journey through the wilderness to their promised land.
Besides these pilgrim festivals, Jews also gather in synagogues on minor Jewish holidays like:
- Yom Kippur
- Rosh Ḥodesh
- Tu bi-Shevat
What is the role of the rabbi in a synagogue?
Every synagogue is run by a Rabbi whose role, according to Jewish tradition, is the head spiritual leader of the Hebrew congregation and guides the congregation in all areas of Jewish law and ethical behavior. Their duties include counseling, performing weddings, conducting religious ceremonies, teaching Torah and Talmud, and leading the congregation in prayers. In addition, any Rabbi has the power to ordain their students as a rabbi or to appoint them as a cantor through a written statement known as “Semichah” or “Semikhah,” which is the sign of ordination.
Do synagogues welcome non-Jewish guests and visitors?
Synagogues are places of worship open to gentile visitors and guests. No halakhic (Jewish law) restrictions exist for non-Jews associated with other religions of the world to attend a synagogue. So, Shabbat, weekday, and holiday worship services are not off limits to anyone who wants to participate in the spiritual experience of Judaism. In addition, non-Jewish family members are welcome to join parents, siblings, in-laws, and children in celebrating significant life cycle events like marriage ceremonies, Consecration, funerals, Bar or Bat Mitzvah, and Confirmation services.
What are some notable synagogues around the world and their historical significance?
Some synagogues are notable for their role as a place of worship, as well as for their architectural and historical merit. Therefore, the list of synagogues below is in no particular order.
1. The Great Synagogue of Florence, Italy
Established in 1874 by architects Treves, Falcini, and Micheli, the Great Synagogue of Florence, even then, was one of the most distinguished synagogues in Italy and one of the most important in Europe. Tuscany-based Jews were free to worship as they wished in the 19th century, so the Florence Synagogue represented the golden age of liberalism in Italy. Admired for its Moorish style and layered travertine stone, the Great Synagogue of Florence survived Italian fascists and Nazi attempts to destroy it during the Holocaust.
2. The New Synagogue of Berlin, Germany
Completed in 1904, the New Synagogue of Berlin, or The Rykestrasse Synagogue, is considered the finest example of a German synagogue from the early 20th century. Though the Nazi government burned much of its Jewish heritage in 1938, it remains a reminder of how Jews underwent the darkest time in their history. The Soviet forces restored the synagogue to its former glory after the war.
3. Jubilee Synagogue of Prague, Czech Republic
Located in Prague, Czech Republic, this synagogue was completed in 1906 to commemorate the golden jubilee of Emperor Franz Joseph. The designer and architect of the Jubilee Synagogue were Wilhelm Stiassny. Blue horseshoe arches adorn the façade; inside, Art Nouveau symbols of the Jewish faith are elegantly depicted. But since 2008, the historical landmark has been preserved as a museum and film reel archive.
Do Jews believe in sin?
Jews do not believe in the doctrine of original sin or that sin is inherited through blood. Hereditary sinfulness is a non-existent concept in Rabbinic Judaism. The Jewish view is that sin is a conscious action, and only the individual commits that sin. Jews believe in expiation, or the act of cleansing from sin, which is the payment of penance. Sin can be expiated by sincerely repenting and pledging not to repeat the act so that the sinner can lead a life of righteous conduct (Jonah 3:5-10, Daniel 4:27).
What are the core beliefs of Judaism?
According to the Jewish faith, only one God exists, the creator of the universe, and deserves to be obeyed and worshiped. God has a special relationship with the Jewish people and future generations through his chosen people of Israel. As an ethical monotheistic religion, Judaism instructs its adherents to obey God’s covenant with Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David and follow the ten commandments given to Israelites at Sinai. Dietary laws (not eating pork and shellfish) and the Sabbath Day are considered sacred in Judaism. The Messiah is a deeply revered figure by some Jews, and he will not be a demi-god but a future Jewish king who will ensure Torah is practiced faithfully.
What is the Jewish view on gay marriage?
The general American Jewish view toward gay marriage is that Judaism does not condone homosexual acts. But it’s the traditional stance of the Reform and Conservative movement not to discriminate against individuals in same-sex relationships. According to a Pew Research Center report, 77% of American Jews support same-sex marriage, while 18% oppose it. However, within Orthodox Judaism, homosexual acts are strictly forbidden, and the ownership of gay marriage is not recognized.
Why do Jews wear yarmulkes or kippahs?
Throughout history, Jews have worn a skullcap called the kippah to indicate their respect for God, the sovereign above all. The traditional Judaism depiction of devoutness is that men should look to God with a visible and respectful expression of piety. In the Talmud, walking bare-headed is forbidden (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, chapter 2). In the modern day, Jewish men take pride in the yarmulke and kippah as a sign of Jewish culture, faith, and tradition.
What does the Jewish six-pointed star represent?
The six-pointed star is a symbol of the Star of David, used primarily as a Jewish symbol of Judaism. In the 17th century in Europe, the hexagram became the official Jewish seal. In Hebrew, it is known as “Magen David” or “Shield of David,” representing how God protected David. It is not to be confused with the Christian symbol of the Star of Bethlehem. However, it is universally used to depict the Jewish faith, the same way Jesus’ cross denotes the Christian faith.
Do Jews fast?
While Judaism does not require an observant fast (ritual) for its followers, it is encouraged to fast to improve physical and spiritual well-being voluntarily. During a ta’anit, ta’anis, or fast, abstention from food and drink arouses the desire to reflect, learn, and repent for past transgressions. Statutory fasts are also common on days such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the fast of the 9th of Av.