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The Laws of Synagogue Etiquette

The Laws of Synagogue Etiquette


"How awesome is this place."1

• A House of Prayer (Beit Kneset) and House of Learning (Beit Medrash) are both considered a small sanctuary (Mikdash Me'at) and therefore we must treat it with the proper respect and awe, even not at a time of prayer. One needs to have the respect and awe because of the One who dwells in that place.

• The holiness of a House of Prayer is greater than that of a House of Learning.

• One who leaves a synagogue should not walk away from the room with his back facing the ark if the exit is positioned in such a place where turning around to exit would cause his back to be towards the ark. Rather, he should walk away with his face still towards the ark.2

• One is not to run around in a synagogue. Children in particular should be taught about the sanctity of a synagogue.

• One should not shout in a synagogue even if it is to draw someone's attention. Rather, he should walk over to the person he wishes to speak to.

• One is not permitted to be in a synagogue without a covered head.

• Cellular phones have no place in a synagogue for a number of reasons. First of all it is disturbing for those who are praying. Secondly, most matters discussed on the phone are inappropriate talk in a synagogue. However, those who are involved with emergency work are permitted to use their phones. However it is advisable that they use earphones while in synagogue or keep the volume low so as not to disturb those that are praying.

• One may not be lighthearted in synagogue and one must avoid to speak idle talk and to joke around while in synagogue. It is self-understood that prohibited talk, such as evil talk and gossip has absolutely no place in a synagogue.

• One should avoid reading newspapers in synagogue.

• One is not permitted to eat in a synagogue. Opinions vary if the same ruling applies as well to a snack.

• One is not permitted to sleep in a synagogue. However regarding sleeping in a House of Learning opinion vary as to whether one may sleep at all, or just a nap is permitted, etc. Those who spend their whole time learning in the study hall are permitted to sleep there.

• One is not permitted to enter a synagogue for personal reasons, such as to call a friend. If one needs to go in for personal reasons, he should first learn some Torah or say some Psalms, etc. and then do what he needs to do. If one does not know how to learn at all, he should ask someone else to teach him something. If none of the following solutions are possible, then he should first sit down for a few moments, since sitting in a synagogue is also a mitzvah.

• If the reason for going into synagogue is to return or take a book, it is not necessary for him to do any of the above procedures.3

• One is not permitted to use the synagogue as a shortcut, e.g. if the synagogue has two entrances on different sides of the street and by entering through one door and exiting through the other he will save time or steps.

• If it is raining or hot outside, one is not permitted to enter the synagogue to protect himself from the rain or to avail himself of the air conditioner. (Shulchan Aruch 151:1) Opinion vary if in this situation saying verses or learning Torah, etc. will allow him to protect himself from the above.

• One is not permitted to kiss one's children, even small ones, in synagogue for it is improper to display acts of affection in synagogue to anyone other than G‑d.4 However, a young child who is crying and needs to be calmed down through a kiss, it may be done.5

• One is permitted to kiss the hand of a Torah scholar(as is the Sephardic custom), for this is also the honor of G‑d. Likewise, it is permitted to kiss the hands of one's father or Rabbi when they descend from their aliyah.6

• One should not do any accounting, calculations, or any form of bookkeeping in synagogue, unless it deals with matters of charity or other commandments.

• Those who are not particular in making a Chupah (wedding canopy) under the stars, should avoid making the Chupah inside the synagogue.

• The premises of the synagogue should always be clean. Garbage should not be left around. One should not walk into the synagogue with snow on his footwear and thereby make the floor dirty, etc. Mud should be removed from his shoes before walking into synagogue.

Magen Avraham 132:6
Beis Yehuda 10:6
Ramah Orach Chaim 98:1
Beis Yehuda 14:2
Ben Ish Chai
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