What is a synagogue?

A synagogue is a Jewish place of worship and center of Jewish community. Synagogues likely came into use during Israel's Babylonian captivity, although Jewish tradition claims its use as early as the time of Moses. Scholars agree that synagogues were common at least before Roman captivity and the destruction of the temple. The synagogue is a place of prayer, a place of instruction in the Jewish Scriptures, and a place of judgment by the Jewish court (Mark 13:9).

Luke 4:16–21 describes a typical Sabbath at the synagogue:

"And he [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.'

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he said to them, 'Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.'"

We can glean from this passage that on a typical Sabbath the Scriptures were read, the congregation would stand for the reading of the Scripture, and the rabbi would sit down while he instructed them.

The early church used the synagogues as a launching point for missions when they went to a new city. Acts 17:2 explains, "Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures."

With the destruction of the temple in AD 70, the synagogues gained more importance. The Jews could no longer make sacrifices in the temple, and while there is no animal sacrificing in the synagogues, the synagogue did take on some of the functions of the temple as it became the sole place of worship for the Jews.

Today, the synagogue is still the center of Jewish religion and community. They hold services on the Sabbath, they have classes on Torah and Talmud, and the Jewish community gathers there for prayer, festivals, and celebrations.

Related Truth:

What do Jews believe? What is Judaism?

Why do the Jews no longer offer animal sacrifices? How do Jewish people today believe they can receive forgiveness from God?

What is the Jewish Aliyah?

What is the Torah?

How are Christianity and Judaism different?

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