In Hebrew, a synagogue is called beit knesset, which means, a "house of gathering". The word "synagogue" comes from sunagoge, which is a Greek word. In a synagogue, Jews carry out the Jewish services, which consist of prayers, sometimes with special actions.
A synagogue will usually have a large room for prayers. There might be some smaller rooms for studying. There will be some offices. There will also usually be a big room for special events.
The front of a synagogue faces towards Jerusalem in Israel. In the front is the holiest part of the synagogue, the Ark. This is a closet which has the Torah scrolls inside. The Torah scrolls have the holy writings of Judaism on them. The Ark usually has a curtain in front of it.
On top of the Ark is light which is always lit, called the “Eternal Lamp”. It is a symbol which means that God is always there. Every synagogue has a raised platform called the “Bimah”. The person who reads the Torah scroll stands there when he reads. The Bimah is either in the middle of the hall, or in front of the Ark.
In some synagogues men and women sit in different places. Some synagogues even have a short wall so that they can not see each other. This is so that the people will think about the prayers better.
Jews may call synagogues by different names. Many Orthodox and Conservative Jews living in English-speaking countries use the name "synagogue" or the word "shul", which is Yiddish. Jews who speak Spanish or Portuguese call synagogues esnoga. Some Jews call the synagogue a temple.
Jewish worship does not have to be carried out in a synagogue. It can be wherever a minyan of ten Jews are. It could be in someone's home or anywhere such as a cruise liner or an airplane. Some synagogues have a separate room or torah study, this is called the "beth midrash" meaning house of study. Some kinds of Jewish worship can be done alone or with fewer than ten people. Synagogues are places were Jews can worship.
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