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Submitted by on May 4, 2022

A synagogue is a Jewish or, on rare occasions, a Samaritan place of worship. Synagogues contain a large sanctuary where people can pray, as well as study rooms, a social hall, and offices. Some have a separate area for Torah study known as the beth midrash, which means “house of learning.”

Synagogues are sanctified locations used for prayer, reading of the Tanakh (the complete Hebrew Bible, including the Torah), study, and assembly; however, Jewish worship does not need a synagogue. According to Halakha, community Jewish prayer can take place anywhere 10 Jews (a minyan) gather. Worship can also be performed alone or with a group of less than ten individuals. Certain prayers, however, are considered communal prayers under halakha and may only be chanted by a minyan. The synagogue does not replace the long-since destroyed Temple in Jerusalem in terms of precise ceremonial and liturgical activities.

Although synagogues existed long before the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE, communal prayer at the period focused primarily on korbanot (“sacrificial offerings”) made by the kohanim (“priests”) in the Temple in Jerusalem. In reality, the all-day Yom Kippur ceremony was an event in which the crowd both observed and prayed for the kohen gadol’s (“high priest’s”) success while he presented the day’s offerings.

The members of the Great Assembly (about 5th century BCE), according to Jewish tradition, structured and standardized the language of Jewish prayers. Prior to then, individuals prayed as they saw fit, with each person praying in his or her own unique style, and there were no set prayers to say.

One of the leaders towards the end of the Second Temple period, Johanan ben Zakai, promoted the concept of establishing independent temples of worship wherever Jews found themselves. According to many historians, this contributed to the Jewish people’s continuity by preserving a distinct identity and a portable mode of worship despite the destruction of the Temple.

Synagogues, in the sense of purpose-made worship halls or chambers previously designed for another use but now devoted for formal, community prayer, existed even before the Second Temple was destroyed. The oldest archaeological evidence for the existence of very early synagogues comes from Egypt, where stone synagogue dedication inscriptions from the 3rd century BCE demonstrate that synagogues existed at that time. Archaeologists in Israel and other Hellenistic nations have discovered more than a dozen Jewish (and perhaps Samaritan) synagogues from the Second Temple period.

A synagogue can be built by any Jew or group of Jews. Synagogues have been built by ancient Jewish kings, wealthy patrons, as part of a wide range of human institutions such as secular educational institutions, governments, and hotels, by the entire community of Jews living in a particular location, 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 Orthodox synagogue), or by

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