Type: Process Essays
Sample donated: Henry Norton
Last updated: November 19, 2019
For my features, I have selected the Aron Hakodesh, the Bimah, and the Sefer Torah and the separation of men and women.
Each of which I believe are very important features of the synagogue. In my opinion, the most important part of the Synagogue is the Sefer Torah or Torah Scrolls. The Sefer Torah is the scroll on which the first five books of the Tenakh are written.These are very sacred scrolls as they are the word of God and if one mistake is made on a section the whole section must be removed and put in storage or buried, similarly Torahs which are no longer in use are buried or put into storage as they are God’s words so must be respected as such. In Sefardi communities, the Sefer Torah rests on two rollers and is kept in a heavy wooden or metal case, which is engraved and decorated. The two halves of the case open like a book to display the scroll.In Ashkenazi communities, the scroll is kept bound with a linen binder over which a velvet or silk cover placed. Often they also have a metal breastplate, which is decorated with Jewish symbols.
Both often have crowns and bells to show its importance. In addition, both communities process the Torah and it is a great honour to be selected to do this. In Orthodox communities, only men can carry and read the Torah however in Reform, both men and women can carry out these tasks.The Aron Hakodesh or the Holy Ark is the most important feature of any synagogue as it is where the Sefer Torah is kept. The name itself is a major hint to its history as it is a reference to the aron ha-qodesh, the Hebrew name for the Ark of the Covenant, which was stored in the Holy of Holies in the ancient Tabernacle and the Temple in Jerusalem after it had been carried through the wilderness. The ark was destroyed when the Temple was raided and the Jewish people sent into exile however, some believe that it still exists.Exodus 25:10 – 22 tells of the Ark of the Covenant: “Have the people make an Ark of acacia wood-a sacred chest..
. Make poles from acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. Insert the poles into the rings at the sides of the Ark to carry it…
When the Ark is finished, place inside it the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant… Mould the cherubim on each end of the atonement cover, making it all of one piece of gold… With their wings spread above it, they will protect it..
.Then put the atonement cover on top of the Ark. I will meet with you there and talk to you…
From there I will give you my commands for the people of Israel. ” In most synagogues, Reform and Orthodox, it is located on the east wall, which is the traditional direction of Jerusalem. The Ark is covered with a curtain called the parokhet which is often beautifully embroidered with many different symbolic images. Exodus 26:31 and 33 tells of this: “For the inside of the Tabernacle, make a special curtain of finely woven linen.Decorate it with blue, purple, and scarlet thread and with skilfully embroidered cherubim. Hang the inner curtain from clasps, and put the Ark of the Covenant in the room behind it. This curtain will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place”.
One of the most important symbols on the parokhet is the Shield of David or Magen David which is the Symbol of Judaism. Above the Aron Hakodesh there are more symbolic images, such as two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments on them and the Ner Tamid.The Ner Tamid is used as a reminder of menorah, this is described in Exodus 25:31-40 and 37:17-24 as a seven branched candle stick, of the Temple in Jerusalem, which remained miraculously lit for eight days. Exodus 27:20-1 says: “Command the people of Israel to bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to keep the lamps burning continually. The lamp stand will stand in the Tabernacle, in front of the inner curtain that shields the Ark of the Covenant. Aaron and his sons must keep the lamps burning in the LORD’s presence all night.
This is a permanent law for the people of Israel, and it must be observed from generation to generation. ” Its name means “eternal light” and is symbolic for the everlasting light of God. The Ark is seen as the holiest part of the synagogue and it is a great honor to open it.
The Bimah is the raised platform from which the Sefer Torah is read and from where the services are conducted. It is usually in the center of the synagogue however in reform synagogues it is situated at the front. This is because of rulings and thoughts by Maimonidies and guidelines in the Sulchan Aruch.In most orthodox synagogues it faces the Ark and is in the center of the synagogue. The Bimah represents the altar that once stood in the Jewish temple. They are usually made of wood and are ornate. For special festivals such as Shavuot, they decorate it with flowers, which also link back to the altar as it gives the impression of offering. However in Reform synagogues the Bimah is at the front of the synagogue, often by the Aron Hakodesh, where the whole congregation can see it.
The Bimah is decorated in much the same way and looks quite similar to an altar.The Bimah is important in worship because it is used as preaching point and also is a symbol of the Sefer Torahs importance ecause it is rised up showing it is higher then the people as it is the word of God. In Orthodox and Reform synagogues the seating plans are very different. In an Orthodox synagogue the bottom floor with the Bimah and the Aron Hakodesh would be the men’s section. This is a practical and spiritual separation, firstly men and women are separated to stop them from having improper thoughts in the synagogue and to keep them focused on the service and connected with God.On a practical level the men participate in the services and ceremonies however, the women do not so they need not be near the bimah or the Aron Hakodesh which is why they have a “women’s gallery”.
This all links back to the Talmud which says that is men and women must be separated on the saddest of occasions then they must be separated on the happiest, the example given is the Simchat Beit Hashoeivah on Sukkot, which is a time of great celebration and festivity.In Reform Judaism the seating plan is very different. These Jews believe that men and women have equal roles in the religion women can therefore participate in the religious services. Also, Reform Jews believe that men and women know that they are in the synagogue to pray and to connect with God, not to be promiscuous. The seating plan is important because it shows a persons importance in the synagogue.