Internal features of a synagogue

All synagogues will be slightly different in design depending on the location of the synagogue and when it was built. Despite this, there will be many features common to all synagogues which represent the teachings and beliefs of the religion.

Diagram of the inside of a synagogue.

Aron Hakodesh (the ark)

The Aron Hakodesh, often known as the ark, is the most important place inside all synagogues. The Aron Hakodesh is where the Torah scroll is kept. The ark is usually wooden and has the features of a cupboard, and will often have a curtain or door. There are certain customs connected with the ark, one being the symbol of the doors or curtain being open or closed. This is symbolic of the importance of the prayer being said. If the door of the ark is open, it is a symbol that the prayer is important. The door is often opened for certain prayers during Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.

Ner Tamid

The Ner Tamid is situated at the front of the synagogue above the ark. It would traditionally have been an oil lamp but is often an electric lamp today for convenience. It is continuously kept burning and should not be allowed to go out. The Ner Tamid means eternal light. It is symbolic of the menorah that was used in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.

The bimah

The word bimah refers to the raised platform found in the synagogue where the Torah is read and where some services are delivered. In most synagogues the bimah is situated at the front, near to the ark and Ner Tamid. When the Torah is removed from the ark, the congregation will stand. The Torah will then be carried over the bimah and placed on the reading desk. The rabbi will use a yad when reading the Torah. A yad is a pointer, which is used to minimise the touching of the Torah.

The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments are the ten rules that God gave Moses on Mount Sinai. They are part of the 613 commandments given to the Jewish people by God. The Ten Commandments are mentioned twice in the Torah and they provide the foundations for Jewish laws. The Ten Commandments are read aloud in the synagogue three times a year, as well as during the festival of Shavuot.

Seating in the synagogue

Traditionally in Judaism, men and women were not allowed to be seated together in the synagogue, as this was believed to cause a distraction. This is still the case today for Orthodox Jews. However, men and women are allowed to sit together in Reform Jewish synagogues.

Question

What is meant by the term Ner Tamid?

Ner Tamid means eternal light, and is a lamp lit near the ark in the synagogue. This is to remind Jews of God's presence.