(English Index)

(Original Index)



Beit knesset

A Beit knesset (Hebrew name, "house of assembly", synagogue from ancient Greek synagogé "assembly") is a Jewish house of worship. The Hebrew term for synagogue is Beit knesset, not to be confused with the Knesset, which is the Israeli parliament. Some congregations use the term Beit Tefila ("House of Prayer").

Beit knesset usually have a large hall for prayer (the main sanctuary), smaller rooms for study, and sometimes a social hall and offices. Some have a separate room for Torah study, called the Beit midrash ("House of Study").

Before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, communal prayers centred around the "sacrificial offerings" (corbanot) brought by the "Priests" (Cohanim) in the Holy Temple. The all-day Yom Kippur service, in fact, was an event in which the congregation both observed the movements of the "High Priest" (Cohen Gadol) as he offered the day's sacrifices and prayed for his success.

The destructions of Solomon's Temple, and later the Second Temple, and the dispersion of the Jews into the Jewish diaspora, threatened the nation's focus and unity. At the time of the Babylonian captivity the Men of the Great Assembly (also known as the "Great Synagogue", an assembly of 72 Rabbis) began the process of formalizing and standardizing Jewish services and prayers that would not depend on the functioning of the Temple in Jerusalem.

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 concept of "portable Judaism", which was part of what contributed to the saving of the Jewish people by maintaining a unique identity and way of worship, according to many historians. Thus, even now, whenever any group of ten men comes together, they form a minyan (a quorum of ten or more adult Jews for the purpose of communal prayer), and are eligible to conduct public prayer services, usually in a synagogue.