A synagogue, also spelled synagog (from Greek , transliterated ''synagogē'', meaning "assembly"; (ヘブライ語:בית כנסת) ''beth knesset'', meaning "house of assembly"; ''beth t'fila'', meaning "house of prayer"; ''shul''; ''esnoga''; ''kahal''), is a Jewish house of prayer.
Synagogues have a large hall for prayer (the main sanctuary), and may also have smaller rooms for study and sometimes a social hall and offices. Some have a separate room for Torah study, called the ''beth midrash (Sefaradi) "beis midrash (Ashkenazi)''— ("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 ''beyt knesset'' (house of assembly). Jews of Ashkenazi descent have traditionally used the Yiddish term ''shul'' (cognate with the German ''Schule'', school) in everyday speech. Sephardi Jews and Romaniote Jews generally use the term ''kal'' (from the Hebrew ''kahal,'' meaning "community"). Spanish Jews call the synagoge a ''sinagoga'' and Portuguese Jews call it an ''esnoga''. Persian Jews and Karaite Jews use the term ''kenesa'', which is derived from Aramaic, and some Arabic-speaking Jews use ''knis''. Reform and some Conservative Jews use the word "temple." The Greek word "synagogue" is a good all-around term, used in English (and German and French), to cover the preceding possibilities.〔(Judaism 101: Synagogues, Shuls and Temples ). Jewfaq.org.〕
Although synagogues existed a long time before the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 CE, communal worship in the time while the Temple still stood centered around the ''korbanot'' ("sacrificial offerings") brought by the ''kohanim'' ("priests") in the Holy Temple. The all-day Yom Kippur service, in fact, was an event in which the congregation both observed the movements of the ''kohen gadol'' ("the high priest") as he offered the day's sacrifices and prayed for his success.
During the Babylonian captivity (586–537 BCE) the Men of the Great Assembly formalized and standardized the language of the Jewish prayers. Prior to that people prayed as they saw fit, with each individual praying in his or her own way, and there were no standard prayers that were recited. Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, one of the leaders at the end of the Second Temple era, promulgated the idea of creating individual houses of worship in whatever locale Jews found themselves. This contributed to the continuity of the Jewish people by maintaining a unique identity and a portable way of worship despite the destruction of the Temple, according to many historians.
Synagogues in the sense of purpose-built spaces for worship, or rooms originally constructed for some other purpose but reserved for formal, communal prayer, however, existed long before the destruction of the Second Temple.〔(Second Temple Synagogues )〕 The earliest archaeological evidence for the existence of very early synagogues comes from Egypt, where stone synagogue dedication inscriptions dating from the 3rd century BCE prove that synagogues existed by that date.〔(Pohick.org ), Egypt〕 A synagogue dating from between 75 and 50 BCE has been uncovered at a Hasmonean-era winter palace near Jericho.〔(Archaeology.org ), Israel's Oldest Synagogue〕〔(Jewishsf.com )〕 More than a dozen Second Temple era synagogues have been identified by archaeologists.〔
Any Jew or group of Jews can build a synagogue. Synagogues have been constructed by ancient Jewish kings, by wealthy patrons, as part of a wide range of human institutions including secular educational institutions, governments, and hotels, by the entire community of Jews living in a particular place, or by sub-groups of Jews arrayed according to occupation, ethnicity (i.e. the Sephardic, Polish or Persian Jews of a town), style of religious observance (i.e., a Reform or an Orthodox synagogue), or by the followers of a particular rabbi.
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