The Synagogue

Source: The Complete Library of Christian Worship, Robert E. Webber, General Editor

After the dispersion of the Jews at the time of the Exile, places of assembly rose up to maintain Hebrew culture and to serve as centers for education and for the social and religious life of the Jews. As shown in the next ten entries, these institutions came to be designated by the Greek word synagogue.

Origin of the Synagogue

The history of the synagogue as an institution among the Jews is difficult to trace to its source. Its origins seem to lie outside Palestine and apart from that sector of Jewish life which governed the nation and shaped the Old Testament. By the time of the New Testament, the synagogue had become established as the central institution of local Jewish life.

Synagogue Architecture

Architecture of the synagogue reflected its function as a place where the Jewish community gathered for prayer, study of the Law, and other activities. The synagogue often borrowed architectural features from the prevailing Greco-Roman culture.

Religious and Educational Use of the Synagogue

The synagogue preserved and passed down the heritage of the Hebrew Bible and developed as an educational institution for the transmission of Jewish rabbinic tradition.

Officers of the Synagogue

Like any religious institution, the synagogue developed various leadership functions. Over the centuries the roles of the synagogue officers have altered as the needs of the Jewish community have changed. The most important development has been the emergence of the office of rabbi.

Elements Of Synagogue Worship

Synagogue worship consisted of three main elements: praise, prayer, and instruction. The earliest Christians, who were Jews, would have been familiar with this pattern, which in Christian worship gave shape to what is called the service of the Word.

Order of First-Century Synagogue Worship

Our knowledge of worship of the synagogue in the first century of the Common Era (c. e. ) is limited by a lack of source material. It seems clear, however, that readings from the Law and the Prophets, the recitation of the Shma, and the prayers or benedictions formed the order of the service.

Synagogue Worship Space

The synagogue space in which Jews worshiped was treated as sacred space. Worshipers gathered around the symbols that spoke of God's redeeming and revealing activity among them.

The Shema‘

The Shema represents the creedal affirmation of Jewish synagogue worship. It is comprised of three passages from the Pentateuch. The first of these is the most important; Jesus quoted it in response to a scribe who asked him which commandment was the greatest in the Law (Mark 12:28). The second and third portions may be shortened. The Shema is recited in the opening part of synagogue worship. This section gives a translation of the text of the Shema.

The Barakhah or Blessing

The barakhah, blessing or benediction, is the chief form of prayer in Jewish worship. The New Testament provides numerous examples of the use of this form of prayer by Jesus and the apostles.

The "Our Father" (Lord’s Prayer) In Light of Jewish Barekah

Jesus gave his disciples a model to follow in the Lord's Prayer. In this prayer, Jesus brings to a clear focus many expressions and elements already present in first-century Jewish synagogue worship.