Creating a Modern Synagogue Style: Expressive of America
The synagogue, as is well known, was not the earliest abode of Jewish worship. It was preceded by the Tent of Meeting in the wilderness and later by the Temple. In the description of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, the Bible put these words into the mouth of the King: “I have surely built Thee a house of habitation, a place for Thee to dwell in for ever.” These words precisely define the significance of the Temple in Jerusalem. It was the place where God dwelt and revealed himself in the darkness of the Holy of Holies, a chamber into which only the High Priest entered. The great altar upon which the animal sacrifices were offered in the presence of the faithful did not stand in the Temple but in front of it.
We do not know when and where the synagogue first arose. We know only that at its inception the Temple and its cult still flourished. From this we may deduce that the first purpose of the synagogue was to furnish a place of worship for those Jews who lived too far away from Jerusalem to visit the Temple, as, for instance, the Jews of Babylonia. The synagogue was not a “house of habitation” for God, nor were animal sacrifices offered there. These sacrifices pertained only to the Temple in Jerusalem. The synagogue was a community gathering place in which the word of God was read and expounded and in which the congregation offered prayers to God.
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