Public worship


Worship is considered to be a response to God's love for his people. It is not about receiving things from God, but giving him thanks and praise.

Jews do not make symbolic images of God as that would be considered idolatry.

The name of God is also treated with great respect. Jews do not usually write out the name of God in case someone defaces it. This is why Jews often use 'G-d' instead.

They may also use the following words:

  • Adonai - the Lord
  • Ha-shem - the Name

Public worship takes place in a synagogue. A rabbi usually leads the services and a cantor leads the laity in singing. In Orthodox synagogues, when there are 10 men over the age of 13 present (ie a minyan), lay people can lead a service. In many Liberal and Reform synagogues adult women count as part of the minyan.

There are differences between Orthodox and Reform worship:

  • Orthodox worship is traditional worship, as described in the Torah. Much of the service is conducted in Hebrew, men and women sit separately, men must cover their heads with a kippah, only men can be rabbis, singing is unaccompanied by music, and Jews are expected to walk to the synagogue on Shabbat since driving is considered a forbidden form of work.
  • Reform and liberal worship is adapted to modern times. Most Reform Jews travel to the synagogue by car. Men and women can sit together and women can be rabbis. Head coverings are not required but men may choose to wear a kippah. Singing may be accompanied by music but the prayers are generally spoken.

Features of worship

The main service in Judaism takes place on Shabbat (Saturday) morning. Features of worship include:

  • readings from the Psalms
  • reciting the Shema and the Amidah
  • the Torah scroll is taken out of the Torah Ark and carried through the synagogue so that people can touch it with their tallits which they then kiss before it is brought to the bimah for reading
  • prayers are said for the nation and for Israel
  • while the scrolls are returned to the Ark, blessings are said, followed by a sermon by the rabbi
  • the Hymn of Glory is sometimes sung before the service ends
  • the hymn 'Adon Olam' is often sung at the end of the Sabbath

The second of the Ten Commandments forbids making carved images, so synagogues have no statues or pictures of God or any human figures. Instead, they may be decorated with patterns or verses from the Hebrew Bible, illustrations of the menorah, or the Star of David.

Many Jews believe they have a special relationship with God which influences their lives and worship. According to the Torah, God has made a covenant with his people so they try to respond by being holy and keeping his laws. Although praying alone is a good thing to do, many believe communal synagogue worship is the ideal.