Judaism: Sacred Spaces and Places

Israel itself is a very sacred place to Jewish people. Jews who do not live there try to visit at some point in their lives. In particular, Jerusalem is important because it is the ancient capital of Israel and the site of the original temple.

The Western Wall of the ancient temple remains. This is where the tablets that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments were stored in a golden box called the Ark of the Covenant. Jewish people make pilgrimages to this wall. It is also called the Wailing Wall because people grieve the destruction of the temple and other persecution of the Jews.

Jewish people worship in synagogues. A synagogue is a center for Jewish life - not just worshipping, but education and community.

Synagogues, of course, vary in style around the world, but all contain certain features:

  • The Holy Ark with one or more Torah scrolls, covered by curtains.
  • A six-pointed star, the Star of David, is often found both inside and outside synagogues.
  • An eternal light in front of the ark, which represents the light which led the Hebrew people through the Sinai and was in the original temple, is kept lit at all times.
  • A reading table, at the front or in the middle of the sanctuary, sometimes on a stage, or bimah.
  • A replica of the Ten Commandments.
  • A special seat for the rabbi.
  • No images of God, since images are forbidden in the commandments.

Synagogue services are led by a rabbi and usually a cantor, who sings traditional and contemporary melodies. There are prayers, songs, chants and readings, as well as a sermon or discussion by the rabbi or members of the community.

Some Jewish people go to the synagogue daily, some weekly on Shabbat, and some periodically on Shabbat and on special holy days. Some rituals, like the blessing said at the Shabbat meal and the observance of Passover, take place in Jewish homes.