29. Jewish people do not go to church. Where do they go to as a part of their Jewish belief?
Shul, Synagogue, Temple
The synagogue is the Jewish equivalent of a church, more or less. It is the center of the Jewish religious community: a place of prayer, study and education, social and charitable work, as well as a social center.
There are actually several different terms for a Jewish place of worship and you can tell a lot about people by the terms they use.
The Hebrew term is beit k’nesset (literally, House of Assembly), although you will rarely hear this term used in conversation in English.
The Orthodox and Chasidim (the very religious) typically use the word “shul,” which is Yiddish. The word is derived from a German word meaning “school,” and emphasizes the synagogue’s role as a place of study.
Conservative Jewish people usually use the word “synagogue,” which is actually a Greek translation of Beit K’nesset and means “place of assembly” (it’s related to the word “synod”).
Reform Jewish people use the word “temple,” because they consider every one of their meeting places to be equivalent to, or a replacement for, The Temple.
The use of the word “temple” to describe modern houses of prayer offends some traditional Jewish people, because it trivializes the importance of The Temple. The word “shul,” on the other hand, is unfamiliar to many modern Jewish people. When in doubt, the word “synagogue” is the best bet, because everyone knows what it means, and I’ve never known anyone to be offended by it.
Functions of a Synagogue
At a minimum, a synagogue is a “beit tefilah,” a house of prayer. It is the place where Jewish people come together for community prayer services. Jewish people can satisfy the obligations of daily prayer by praying anywhere; however, there are certain prayers that can only be said in the presence of a minyan (a quorum of 10 adult men), and tradition teaches that there is more merit to praying with a group than there is in praying alone. The sanctity of the synagogue for this purpose is second only to The Temple. In fact, in rabbinical literature, the synagogue is sometimes referred to as the “little Temple.”
A synagogue is usually also a “beit midrash,” a house of study. Contrary to popular belief, Jewish education does not end at the age of bar mitzvah (thirteen). For the observant Jewish person the study of sacred texts is a life-long task. Thus, a synagogue normally has a well-stocked library of sacred Jewish texts for members of the community to study. It is also the place where children receive their basic religious education.
Most synagogues also have a social hall for religious and non-religious activities. The synagogue often functions as a sort of town hall where matters of importance to the community can be discussed.
In addition, the synagogue functions as a social welfare agency, collecting and dispensing money and other items for the aid of the poor and needy within the community.