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A synagogue (from ancient Greek συναγωγή synagōgē 'assembly') is a building that is used for gathering, for communal worship and often as a house of study for a Jewish community . It is the most important institution in Judaism and has significantly influenced the communal worship of Christianity and Islam .

In which cases in ancient scriptures συναγωγή (synagōgē) denotes a building for gathering and performing religious acts, and what type these were, is as controversial in research as the time of the origin of the first synagogues. Archaeological and written evidence make the existence of synagogue buildings at the time of the Second Temple (about 500 years BC), both in the Land of Israel and in the Jewish Diaspora, however, likely.


Ruins of a synagogue in Bar'am , Israel , probably 3rd century.Image from the Palestine Exploration Fund around 1900.

Meeting places in different ancient languages

Synagogue (from ancient Greek συναγωγή synagōgē , Latinized synagoga ) is - in different spellings - the most common name for the Jewish sacred building in modern languages. In New Hebrew it is called בית כנסת bet knesset , house of assembly, orבית תפילה bet tefillah , house of prayer. In the Middle Ages it was called schola , later called Italian scuola , German school , Jews of Central and Eastern European descent often use the Yiddish school , in some dialects schil . In Reform Judaism of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the German-speaking Jews called it temple , a term that is very common in North America outside of strict Jewish orthodoxy . Sephardic Jews , whose ancestors come from Spain and Portugal, traditionally use the Spanish esnoga , while in Iran, for example, kenisa is common. Hasidic Jews who do not value splendid synagogues refer to their small prayer houses as stibl (parlor) or Klaus ( hermitage ).


Synagōgē (assembly) is one of the Greek words used to describe the Septuagint , the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible , to Hebrewעדה edah orקהל translated kahal (assembly). The translation ekklēsia is used synonymously and especially for the latter . Hellenistic Jews of the Diaspora who wrote in Greek mostly used the word προσευχή proseuchē , which in the Septuagint is usually Hebrewתפילה Prayer translated. In addition, τπος topos , place, also with the addition holy , σαββατείον sabbateion , Sabbath house , διδασκαλείον didaskaleion , house of learning, and other expressions are documented.

The Greek term synagōgē was gradually used specifically for religious gatherings, especially Jewish ones . From the 1st century AD in Palestine, it was transferred to the building in which the assemblies were held and later also became established in the diaspora. In the ancient rabbinical literature against itבית הכנסת bet ha-knesset , house of assembly,בית התפילה bet ha-tefillah , house of prayer, orבית המדרש bet ha-midrash , house of learning, used. Is Aramaic כנשתא kenishtah documented in inscriptions. In the Christian tradition, the synagogue (in the Middle Ages kirchenlat. Synagoga ) became a symbol of Judaism and was contrasted with the originally almost synonymous word Ekklesia (Latin ecclesia ) as a delimiting name for Christianity .



Exodus from Egypt ; Wall painting in the synagogue of Dura Europos , Syria , 244 AD
Ruins of a synagogue in Capernaum , Galilee, probably 4th century

Creation times and place

The time when the synagogue was built is controversial. Both Jewish sources and the New Testament name Moses as their founder. In rabbinical literature, however, no synagogues are mentioned that, even according to legend, should have existed in the earliest or at the time of the first Jerusalem temple . Jeremiah 39.8  EU is viewed as a biblical reference to the early existence of synagogues , for example by the 11th century Jewish scholar Rashi . In Psalm 74: 8, which is said to date from the Maccabees , the destruction of meeting places is deplored, for which the Septuagint uses the word synagōgē.

The Babylonian exile after the destruction of the First Temple has been suspected as a possible origin of the synagogue as an institution since the 16th century . In Ez 11.16  EU in Babylonian exile is talk of a small sanctuary , which, in addition to the repeated mention of the assembly of elders before Ezekiel is interpreted as an indication of the existence of synagogues. For the subsequent Persian period, Ezra and Nehemiah mention services, which some scholars consider to be a pre-form of the synagogue. Others attribute the origin of the synagogue to the sect of the Pharisees , who they saw as a more democratic alternative to the temple dominated by the Sadducees in the 2nd century BC. In Judea, which is rejected by other researchers. Another theory suggests the origin of the synagogue in the meetings on the market square or at or in the city gate, which are mentioned in the Bible and supported by archaeological finds.

The earliest evidence of the existence of Jewish meeting houses comes from the Hellenistic period . Several Greek papyri and inscriptions have been found in Egypt that use the term proseuchē or proseuchē tōn Ioudaiōn and refer to Jewish meeting houses. In a letter from Alexandrou-Nesus in Middle Egypt, dated 218 BC. BC, a non-Jewish woman asks Ptolemy IV for help in returning a cloak that was stolen from her and brought to the proseuchē by the apparently Jewish thief. The designation proseuchē is also documented in inscriptions. The two oldest are dated to the second half of the 3rd century BC. And come from Arsinoë-Krokodilopolis in Central and from Schedia in Lower Egypt. Both are dedicatory inscriptions in which the proseuchē King Ptolemy, here Ptolemy III. , his wife and sister Queen Berenike, with whom he has been since 246 BC. Was married and dedicated to her children. However, it is not known what kind of cult activities the prose requests served in Egypt.

The oldest archaeologically documented synagogues

Menorah in the ancient synagogue of Ostia , 1./2. up to 4th century

Marilyn Joyce Segal Chiat, in her dissertation on the synagogues in ancient Palestine, names the following conditions that must be met for a ruin to be identified as a synagogue: The building or fragments of it must either be decorated with motifs known as Jewish motifs, like the Torah shrine , the Menorah , the Shofar or Etrog and Lulav or it must be attested by an inscription that the building was built and used by a Jewish community as a place for religious gatherings.


The oldest buildings excavated to date, which are identified as possible synagogues, come from the Greco-Roman Jewish diaspora. As archaeologists assume, these are buildings that were built for a different purpose - with one exception as residential buildings - and subsequently converted into meeting houses. They do not have a special architectural style, but follow local traditions, unlike later synagogues, they usually do not have a place to store the Torah scrolls and are not yet oriented towards Jerusalem .

The synagogue on Delos on the Greek island of the same name is considered to be the oldest building . The ruins are dated to the middle of the 1st century BC. Dated, older parts, possibly of an original private house, to the later 2nd century BC. The only ornament found in the structural remains was an artfully designed marble armchair that could be used as the "seat of Moses" as found in other synagogues. The dedication to the “supreme god” (theos hypsistos), who may also mean Zeus , and a dedicatory inscription with the designation “proseuchē” found in a neighboring room identify the building as a possible synagogue according to experts.

The synagogue of Ostia , excavated in Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber near Rome, was built in several stages between the late 1st and 4th centuries AD. It is disputed whether the building was originally built as a synagogue or whether it was later converted into a synagogue.

The synagogue in Priene on the Aegean coast of Asia Minor is a former private house with retail space converted into a synagogue. The renovation could have taken place in the 2nd century AD, but it is more likely that it was dated to the 3rd or 4th century. A niche identified as a Torah shrine, several reliefs with depictions of menorah, lulav, etrog and shofar as well as a marble basin, probably a mikveh , allow identification as a synagogue.

Model of the Synagogue of Sardis

The synagogue of Stobi in Macedonia was also identified as a private house converted into a synagogue, whose owner and founder of the synagogue is known by name thanks to two inscriptions. In the inscription on the foundation, the founder secures himself and his family a right of residence on the upper floor of the synagogue. The conversion to a synagogue is dated to the 2nd or more likely to the 3rd century AD, an enlargement to the 4th century. In the 5th century the synagogue was converted into a Christian basilica .

The largest known ancient synagogue was found in Sardis in Asia Minor. Here, too, it is a question of a building that was not originally constructed as a synagogue, which, unlike in the other cases, must not have been a private house, but a public building, the use of which is not known. The synagogue is dated to the 3rd century AD; it was used until the city was destroyed in 616.

The most spectacular find so far is the ancient synagogue of Dura Europos on the Euphrates in the Syrian desert with its wall paintings. This is also a private house that was converted into a synagogue, in a first phase probably in the second half of the 2nd century AD, and in a second phase in AD 244/245. The synagogue was in use until the city's destruction in AD 256.

Judea, Galilee, Golan

In Judea and Galilee, three structures that could have served as synagogues were excavated before the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.They are located in the fortresses of Masada and Herodium as well as in Migdal in Galilee and Gamla , in today's Golan . The Theodotus inscription , dated by most archaeologists to before AD 70, describes a synagogue in Jerusalem near the temple.

The Synagogue of Gamla in today's Golan, referred to by the Israeli archaeologist Shmaryahu Gutman as the Synagogue of the Zealots of Gamla, is a building from the time of the Second Temple, located on the city wall, which was destroyed after the uprising against the Romans in 68 AD has been. While Carsten Claussen identified him in his dissertation on the synagogue in the Hellenistic-Jewish environment as "the only building in Galilee and the Golan from the time before 70 AD that can be identified with certainty as a synagogue" and as possibly the "earliest known synagogue in Roman Palestine ”, Segal Chiat takes the view that it is not a former synagogue.

Written certificates

In the presentation of the Gospels , synagogues were important scenes of the public activity of Jesus of Nazareth : “They came to Capernaum . On the following Sabbath he went to the synagogue and taught. ”(Mark 1:21)

Middle Ages and Modern Times

Old New Synagogue , Prague, 13th century

The Synagogue of Aleppo kept the Codex of Aleppo until 1947 and up to that point was one of the oldest synagogues in use in the Levant, along with Shefaram .

The el-Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba claims to be the oldest synagogue in Africa. On this issue it competes with the village of Oufrane in the eastern Draa Valley in Morocco, where the synagogue is said to date from the 6th century BC. And is said to be the oldest in the country.

In Central Europe, synagogues began to spread from the oldest communities on the Rhine (around 10th century) in connection with the migration of German settlers to the east. The oldest synagogue building in Central Europe that has been preserved up to the roof is the Old Synagogue in Erfurt , the oldest parts of which date from the late 11th century. The oldest and undestroyed synagogue in Europe that is still in use is the Old New Synagogue in Prague, which was built in the early Gothic style in the 13th century. The Worms synagogue used by the Worms Jews , first consecrated in 1034, is a reconstruction of the building from the 12th century that was destroyed during the so-called Kristallnacht .

Architecture, equipment

Synagogues were leaning against and mostly based on the architecture of the surroundings. This also applies to synagogues of antiquity. The destroyed synagogue in Merom was built roughly in the Doric order , while that of Kafr Bir'im has Greco-Roman modifications of the Corinthian order . Synagogues only have some common features inside, but here too there may be deviations.


Semper Synagogue Dresden, cross section. Inaugurated in 1840, destroyed during the November pogroms in 1938

The synagogues of the world do not have a uniform floor plan, the architectural forms and characteristics are very different.

The area of ​​the synagogue in which the prayers are organized by the congregation is, in symbolic correspondence with the Mishkan ( Hebrew משכן “God's home on earth”), the former Jerusalem temple , the main shrine of the house of prayer, a symbolic correspondence for the actual sanctuary "In heaven", God .

In this area, on the east wall (in Western Europe) in the direction of Jerusalem ( mizrah ) , in a special shrine , the Aron ha-Qodesch (. Hebr for Torah shrine , Holy charging), which are Tora - rollers (Sifrei-Torah scrolls) kept for reading the weekly sections . A symbolic commandment board (similar to the Ten Commandments ) is attached above the Aron ha-Qodesch . A light called Ner Tamid hangs over the ark . It is reminiscent of the pillar of fire that accompanied the Israelites on their way through the wilderness of the Sinai desert . In addition, there was the eternal light in front of the temple in Jerusalem as a symbol of the eternal bond between the Jews and God. During the prayer ceremony, the holy Torah is lifted out of the shrine and placed on the bima , the lectern.

In traditional Ashkenazi synagogues (such as the newer synagogues Mannheim or Recklinghausen ) the bima is located in the middle of the interior. In Sephardic buildings, the Aron ha-Qodesch on the east wall facing Jerusalem and the Bima in the west face each other, although in Italian synagogues it can also be connected with an outwardly protruding niche. The Ashkenazi reformers adopted this spatial concept in the early 19th century. A menorah (seven-armed candlestick) decorates the room. Regulations on the separation of the sexes (cf. Mechiza ) are structurally solved very differently or - depending on the religious orientation - not taken into account.

Interior view of the al-Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba , late 19th century.

Structural design

Since there are few instructions in the Talmud as to how synagogues should be built structurally, there were few limits to the design. The Talmud says that synagogues must have windows, but also that they should be larger than any other building in the area. However, the latter regulation could never be implemented in the diaspora.

As a rule, synagogues were built in the prevailing architectural style of the time and the place in which they were built. The synagogue in Kaifeng, for example, looked like a Chinese temple, while synagogues from medieval Prague or Budapest were built in the Gothic style. In the 19th century, after the synagogue had been approved as a representative building project, an orientalizing historicism prevailed for a few decades . The only synagogue in Germany with a roof turret , bells , carillon and tower clock was located in Bad Buchau in Upper Swabia until it was destroyed in 1938 , along with appropriately equipped synagogues in Rome and Gibraltar .

Functions for the community

Torah shrine in the Munich synagogue , inaugurated in 2006.

Synagogues are used not only for Jewish worship , but also for community events, adult education and the provision of Hebrew schools for school-age children. Orthodox and most conservative Jews call their places of worship synagogues; some use the Hebrew term Beth Knesset or the Yiddish term school . In contrast to a Catholic or Orthodox church , a synagogue is not a consecrated room. Almost any place can serve as a synagogue if it meets certain requirements. A synagogue doesn't even have to be an enclosed space. For example, the free space in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem is considered an open-air synagogue.

Most American Reform Jews and some Conservatives in the United States also use the term temple for their synagogue, but many traditional Jews find this term inaccurate since Judaism historically only had one temple - in Jerusalem . There, however, the congregations could be represented by pious temple servants from their ranks ( ma'amadot ) as a standing team. Three daily prayers are offered: usually a morning Shacharit service and two evening services Mincha (afternoon prayer) and Maariv (the real evening prayer), which practically merge.

There are special services on the Sabbath and on the Jewish holidays . In many smaller congregations, services only take place once or twice a week.


The destroyed interior of the New Synagogue Berlin, 19th century.

Synagogues repeatedly fell victim to pogroms and were destroyed. In their place in the Middle Ages women or Marien churches were partially built, for example in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Bamberg , Würzburg , Nuremberg , Weißenburg in Bavaria , Regensburg and Ingolstadt (Schutterkirche).

In Germany and Austria , National Socialists (mostly members of the SA ) destroyed 2,676 synagogues and Jewish community centers in the November pogroms 1938 on November 9 and 10, 1938, killing at least 91 people. In Vienna alone , 42 synagogues and houses of prayer were set on fire. The Great Synagogue (Warsaw) was blown up by General Jürgen Stroop at the end of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising on May 16, 1943 .

Where the synagogues disappeared from the cityscape, commemorative plaques were often placed after the Second World War. In Graz, a synagogue was rebuilt around 2000 at the same location on Grieskai and using bricks from the former synagogue. In Vienna on July 24, 2018, the first prototype of a stele with a glowing, deformed, reclining Star of David was erected in front of the headquarters of MA 33, which is responsible for public lighting in Vienna. In the course of this project Ot (Hebrew sign, symbol), such light signs are to be set up around or until November 2018, 80 years after the destruction of around 100 synagogues in Vienna in 16 districts.

See also


  • Simon Paulus: The Architecture of the Synagogue in the Middle Ages Tradition and existence . Petersberg 2007. (Standard work on the Ashkenazi area with research and literature overview)
  • Harmen Thies , Aliza Cohen-Mushlin (ed.): Synagogue architecture in Germany. Petersberg 2008.
  • Rachel Wischnitzer : The Architecture of the European Synagogue. 1964.
  • Thea Altaras : Synagogues and Jewish ritual immersion baths in Hesse - What happened after 1945? A documentation and analysis of all 264 Hessian places whose synagogues survived the pogrom night of 1938 and the Second World War: 276 architectural descriptions and building histories. From d. Estate ed. v. Gabriele Klempert u. Hans-Curt Koester. The blue books. Koenigstein i. Ts. 2007, ISBN 978-3-7845-7794-4 .
  • Carsten Claussen: Assembly, congregation, synagogue. The Hellenistic-Jewish environment of the early Christian communities. (= Studies on the Environment of the New Testament 27). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2002, ISBN 3-525-53381-0 Excerpts from Google Books .
  • Marc Grellert: Immaterial Testimonies - Synagogues in Germany. Potential of digital technologies for remembering destroyed architecture. Transcript, Bielefeld 2007, ISBN 978-3-89942-729-5 .
  • Harold Hammer-Schenk : Synagogues in Germany. History of a building type in the 19th and 20th centuries (1780–1933). 1981.
  • Kurt Hruby : The synagogue - historical development of an institution. Theological Publishing House, Zurich 1971, ISBN 3-290-14903-X .
  • Institute for Foreign Relations (Ed.): Synagogues in Germany. A virtual reconstruction of the Technical University of Darmstadt. Birkhäuser, 2004, ISBN 3-7643-7034-3 .
  • Lee I. Levine: The Ancient Synagogue. The First Thousand Years. New Heaven 2000.
  • More than stones ... Synagogue memorial ribbon Bavaria. Volume I: Upper Franconia, Upper Palatinate, Lower Bavaria, Upper Bavaria, Swabia. Volume II: Middle Franconia. Volume III: Lower Franconia. Kunstverlag Josef Fink, Lindenberg / Allgäu 2007 ff. (With extensive bibliographies).

Web links

Commons : Synagogues  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
Commons : Synagogues  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Louis Isaac Rabinowitz et al .: Synagogue . In: Michael Berenbaum, Fred Skolnik (Ed.): Encyclopaedia Judaica . 2nd Edition. tape 19 . Macmillan Reference USA, Detroit 2007, pp. 352-355 (English) ( Gale Virtual Reference Library ).
  2. ^ Carsten Claussen: Assembly, community, synagogue. The Hellenistic-Jewish environment of the early Christian communities . Zugl .: Diss. Univ. Munich 1999 (=  Studies on the Environment of the New Testament 27 ). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2002, ISBN 3-525-53381-0 , pp. 22-48 .
  3. For the names of the synagogue worldwide see: Paul Wexler: Terms for 'Synagogue' in Hebrew and Jewish Languages. Explorations in Historical Jewish Interlinguistics . First published in 1981. In: Jewish and non-Jewish creators of “Jewish” languages ​​with Special Attention to Judaized Arabic, Chinese, German, Greek, Persian, Portuguese, Slavic (Modern Hebrew / Yiddish), Spanish, and Karaite, and Semitic Hebrew / Ladino. A Collection of Reprinted Articles from Across Four Decades with a Reassessment . Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2006, ISBN 978-3-447-05404-1 , pp. 106-140 (English).
  4. ^ A b c Carsten Claussen: Assembly, community, synagogue. The Hellenistic-Jewish environment of the early Christian communities . Zugl .: Diss. Univ. Munich 1999 (=  Studies on the Environment of the New Testament 27 ). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2002, ISBN 3-525-53381-0 , pp. 114-129 .
  5. James F. Strange: Ancient Texts, Archeology as Text and the Problem of the First-Century Synagogue . In: Howard Clark Kee, Lynn H. Cohick (Eds.): Evolution of the Synagogue. Problems and Progress . Trinity Press International, Harrisburg, Pa. 1999, ISBN 1-56338-296-2 , pp. 49 f . (English).
  6. ^ A b Marilyn Joyce Segal Chiat: A Corpus of Synagogue Art and Architecture in Roman and Byzantine Palestine . Diss. Phil. University of Minnesota. tape 4 . Facsimile University Microfilms International 1985, Ann Arbor, MI. 1979, p. 802 f . (English).
  7. ^ Lee I. Levine: The Second Temple Synagogue: The Formative Years . In: Lee I. Levine (Ed.): The Synagogue in Late Antiquity . The American Schools of Oriental Research, Philadelphia 1987, ISBN 0-89757-509-1 , pp. 13-14 (English).
  8. Carol Krinsky Herselle: Synagogues of Europe . MIT Press, New York 1985, ISBN 0-262-11097-0 , pp. 5 and note 2, p. 105 (English).
  9. Shaye JD Cohen: Pagan and Christian Evidence on the Ancient Synagogue . In: Lee I. Levine (Ed.): The Synagogue in Late Antiquity . The American Schools of Oriental Research, Philadelphia 1987, ISBN 0-89757-509-1 , pp. 160 (English).
  10. ^ Carsten Claussen: Assembly, community, synagogue. The Hellenistic-Jewish environment of the early Christian communities . Zugl .: Diss. Univ. Munich 1999 (=  Studies on the Environment of the New Testament 27 ). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2002, ISBN 3-525-53381-0 , pp. 152-158 .
  11. Martin Hengel: proseuche and synagogue . First published in 1971. In: Judaica et Hellenistica . Mohr, Tübingen 1996, ISBN 3-16-146588-1 , pp. 172 .
  12. ^ Carsten Claussen: Assembly, community, synagogue. The Hellenistic-Jewish environment of the early Christian communities . Zugl .: Diss. Univ. Munich 1999 (=  Studies on the Environment of the New Testament 27 ). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2002, ISBN 3-525-53381-0 , pp. 56 and 87-90 .
  13. ^ Joseph Gutmann: The Jewish Sanctuary (=  Iconography of Religions. XXIII, I ). EJ Brill, Leiden 1983, ISBN 90-04-06893-7 , pp. 1 f . (English).
  14. ^ Marilyn Joyce Segal Chiat: A Corpus of Synagogue Art and Architecture in Roman and Byzantine Palestine . Diss. Phil. University of Minnesota. tape 1 . Facsimile University Microfilms International 1985, Ann Arbor MI 1979, pp. 11 (English).
  15. ^ A b c L. Michael White: Building God's House in the Roman World. Architectural Adaptation among Pagans, Jews, and Christians . Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore / London 1990, ISBN 0-8018-3906-8 , pp. 62-71 (English).
  16. a b c d e f Carsten Claußen: Assembly, community, synagogue. The Hellenistic-Jewish environment of the early Christian communities . Zugl .: Diss. Univ. Munich 1999 (=  Studies on the Environment of the New Testament 27 ). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2002, ISBN 3-525-53381-0 , pp. 192-208 .
  17. ^ Carsten Claussen: Assembly, community, synagogue. The Hellenistic-Jewish environment of the early Christian communities . Zugl .: Diss. Univ. Munich 1999 (=  Studies on the Environment of the New Testament 27 ). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2002, ISBN 3-525-53381-0 , pp. 170 f .
  18. ^ Marilyn Joyce Segal Chiat: Handbook of Synagogue Architecture . Scholars Press, Chico CA 1982, ISBN 0-89130-524-6 , pp. 282 ff . (English).
  19. Simon Paulus: The Architecture of the Synagogue in the Middle Ages Tradition and existence . Petersberg 2007.
  20. ^ Heiligtum - Sanctuary "(...) The portion of the synagogue where prayer services are performed is commonly called the sanctuary. Synagogues in the United States are generally designed so that the front of the sanctuary is on the side towards Jerusalem, which is the direction that we are supposed to face when reciting certain prayers. (...) Probably the most important feature of the sanctuary is the Ark, a cabinet or recession in the wall that holds the Torah scrolls. (...) The Ark has doors as well as an inner curtain called a parokhet. This curtain is in imitation of the curtain in the Sanctuary in The Temple, and is named for it. (...) "
  21. The Jewish Rothenburg . Evangelical Luth. Parish of St. Jakob Rothenburg; accessed July 16, 2015.
  22. ↑ Light sculptures remind of destroyed synagogues, July 25, 2018, accessed on July 25, 2018.