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The Temple

Synagogues, Shuls, and Temples

Level:  Intermediate

Throughout this site, we have used the word "synagogue" to refer to the Jewish equivalent of a church.  There are actually several different terms for a Jewish house of worship, and you can tell a lot about people by the terms they use.

The Orthodox and Chasidim typically use the word "shul", which is Yiddish.  The Hebrew term for it is "beit kenesset" which means house of assembly.

Conservative Jews usually use the word "synagogue".

Reform Jews use the word "temple", because they consider every one of their meeting places to be equivalent to the Temple.

For reasons that will become clear below, the use of the word "temple" to describe modern houses of prayer offends some traditional Jews.  The word "shul", on the other hand, is unfamiliar to many modern Jews.  When in doubt, the word "synagogue" is the best bet, because everyone knows what it means, and we have never known anyone to be offended by it.

The synagogue is the center of Jewish religious life.  At a minimum, it is the place where Jews come together for community prayer.  In addition, it is usually the place where children receive their religious education.  Most synagogues have a social hall for religious and non-religious functions.  Many synagogues also have a Beit Midrash (house of study), a library of sacred Jewish texts for members of the community to study.

The Temple

When we speak of The Temple, we speak of the place in Jerusalem that was the center of Jewish religion from the time of Solomon to its destruction by the Romans in 70 C.E. This was the one and only place where sacrifices and certain other religious rituals were performed.  It was partially destroyed at the time of the Babylonian Exile and rebuilt.  The rebuilt temple was known as the Second Temple.  The famous Wailing Wall is the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount, and is as close to the site of the original Sanctuary as Jews can go today.  The site of The Temple is currently occupied by a Moslem Mosque.

Traditional Jews believe that The Temple will be rebuilt when the Mashiach comes.  They eagerly await that day and pray for it continually.

"Modern" Jews, on the other hand, reject the idea of rebuilding the Temple and resuming sacrifices.  They call their houses of prayer "temples", believing that such houses of worship are the only temples we need, the only temples we will ever have, and are equivalent to the Temple in Jerusalem.  This idea is very offensive to some traditional Jews, which is why you should be very careful when using the word Temple to describe a Jewish place of worship.

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