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Who Invented the Synagogue?

Who Invented the Synagogue?

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Question:

I’ve heard it said that there’s no mention of the synagogue in the Torah. So where and when did it originate? It’s hard to imagine “Judaism” (at least as we know it today) without synagogues!

Answer:

Indeed, there is no mention of the Synagogue in the “Written Torah” (i.e., the Five Books of Moses). The institution of the synagogue is of later, Rabbinic origin.1

The purpose of the synagogue is to provide a venue to facilitate and enhance the Biblical obligation of prayer by adding a communal element.

From Moses’ times until the restoration of the Second Temple, we fulfilled the obligation to pray daily by composing our own prayers, and praying privately.

We also made pilgrimages to Jerusalem to experience the public services that were conducted in the Holy Temple.

After the restoration of the Second Temple (352 BCE), the Great Assembly2, led by Ezra, instituted the Kaddish, Kedushah, Barechu, and the rest of the standardized communal service (requiring the participation of a minyan or quorum of ten) as well as the obligation for individuals to participate in these services.

There arose both in Israel and the Diaspora3 places set aside to pray communally. Thus was born the “Place of Gathering”—Beit Kenesset in Hebrew, and synagogos in Greek.

The primary public worship experience remained the journey to Jerusalem to participate in and be inspired by the Temple service.

When the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 69 CE, the only place for public worship remained the synagogue, which then acquired increased importance as the center of Jewish communal life.

The primary focus of Judaism, however, has always been the life of each individual and their home and family, lived in a strong and mutually responsible community. In fact, when a Jewish community starts from scratch, building a synagogue is not the first item on its “to do” list. As set by Jewish law, the priorities as far as setting up communal institutions should be:

1) A mikvah

2) Jewish schooling for children

3) A charity fund

4) A synagogue

Of course, people can—and do—get together anywhere to pray communally.

FOOTNOTES
1. The Torah (Deuteronomy 17:11; see Maimonides’ introduction to the Mishnah) mandates that we follow properly constituted rabbinic decrees accepted by the community at the time the decree was made; so, in the final analysis, the synagogue is a Torah-mandated institution.
2. The then high court and legislature of Judaism.
3. The Diaspora (the Jewish community residing outside of the Land of Israel) remained large even after the Second Temple was restored.
Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe, a frequent contributor of articles and media to Chabad.org, is Dean of the Institute of American and Talmudic Law in New York, N.Y., and director of the Institute for Judaic Knowledge, based in Newton, Mass. Rabbi Yaffe has lectured and led seminars throughout North America, as well as in Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa.
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Discussion (8)
March 14, 2012
thankyou!
Thank you!
Michelle
March 16, 2011
ORIGIN OF SYNAGOGUE
Rabban not Rabbi Yohanan b Zakkai.
Examine Halakhah for sources not speculation.
The REQUIRED daily gathering for ritual purposes is the Torah readings of Gen 1:1-2:3 as demanded in Mishnah Taanit ch 4.
No daily tefillah betzibbur during 2nd Temple era.
The canonization of Torah by Ezra is the reason for the Maamadot/Synagogue
Rabbi Dr Moshe Dov Shualy
baltimore, md
March 10, 2011
Who invented the synagogue
Well written piece, but there is only detail that goes unmentioned in the list of priorities which Jews had when a new place was opened for Jews to live in before a synagogue was built.
As I have traveled throughout the oldest cities in the eastern coast of the US and in South America, whenever I try to find the first vestiges of Jewish life, I have come accross the fact that the first thing Jews secured in a new place was a place of burial for themselves, and after that all the other points mentioned in Rabbi Yaffe's article. You can see that in Charleston, Savannah and most of all the other old cities in the US. This fact is even more noticeable in some of the southamerican cities where Jews settled for the first times. Even in Recife and Manaos. (where the first Jews arrived to the "new" continent in the late fifteen hundreds)
Anonymous
Miami, Florida
March 9, 2011
wait a minute
When Jacob was called to move into Egypt, the first thing he wanted built were schools, not a mikvah. This understanding is made apparent at any learning session i have attended.

Please correct me if i am wrong.
Anonymous
March 9, 2011
Comments
Zeev:
The article dates the first synagogues to the period after 352 BCE -which certainly precedes the dates you give.

Rabbi Shualy:
I am using the Judaic traditional dates, as per the consensus of the Talmud and all later authorities.

Surely you know that the dates you quote reflect the 163 year discrepancy between traditional academic dating and classical Judaic dating
Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe (author)
Cambridge, MA
March 8, 2011
More information...
Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, one of the leaders at the end of the Second Temple era, promulgated the idea of creating individual houses of worship in whatever locale Jews found themselves. This contributed to the continuity of the Jewish people by maintaining a unique identity and a portable way of worship despite the destruction of the Temple, according to many historians.
Synagogues in the sense of purpose-built spaces for worship, or rooms originally constructed for some other purpose but reserved for formal, communal prayer, however, existed long before the destruction of the Second Temple. The earliest archaeological evidence for the existence of very early synagogues comes from Egypt, where stone synagogue dedication inscriptions dating from the 3rd century BCE prove that synagogues existed by that date. A synagogue dating from between 75 and 50 BCE has been uncovered at a Hasmonean-era winter palace near Jericho. More than a dozen Second Temple era synagogues have been discovered.
Zeev Amit
Oxnard, Ca
November 5, 2007
2nd Temple date
The 2nd Temple was established long before 352bce. The Persiand defeated the Babylonians in 539 bce, The Babylonians destroyed the 1st Temple in 586bce. By 517 bcce the 2nd Temple was functioning.
Rabbi Dr Moshe Dov Shualy
baltimore, md
October 3, 2007
the synagoge
It is also known as Bet Tefilah
David Simmons
london, uk
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