Entering a Synagogue

Tips for the novice shul-goer.

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9. While there is no problem in the Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Reform movements about riding to synagogue in a car on Shabbat, Orthodox synagogues do not condone driving. Accordingly, try to be sensi­tive to such feelings when confronted with the situation. There is no reason to park your car in the synagogue parking lot or right in front of the building when you could park a block away and offend no one.

10. In many synagoguesmen [and women] wear tallitot [prayer shawls] during the morning service (both Shabbat and weekdays). On weekdays, men [and in some communities, women also] wear tefillin for the Morn­ing Service. If you own these articles bring them to the appropriate servi­ces. If you don't own a tallit, almost any synagogue will provide you with one; if you don't own tefillin, some synagogues will be able to provide and some won't. In any case, in some shuls it is not a social solecism to pray without tefillin. Women should use their own sensitivity and discretion to guide them in the matter of wearing tefillin and tallitot. [In Orthodox synagogues, most women do not wear them, though some individual women choose to do so. In liberal synagogues, women and men generally follow the same customs.]

11. For all occasions when you enter a synagogue you should dress appropriately. Perhaps it is not fitting to approach God when you are not carefully attired; certainly it shows no respect to a community to ignore its standards of dress. In traditional synagogues women should wear dresses with sleeves and men should wear clean, pressed slacks and shirts Most synagoguesprefer jacket and tie. Some synagogues are tolerant of women in slack suits; others are not. Check the local policy before sallying forth.

12. Except for nos. 1, 3, 7, 10, and 11 above, these rules do not apply during a normal weekday service

Entering the Synagogue

As you enter the synagogue/sanctuary/prayer room, you should have the following (women are not required [by traditional Jewish law] to don the first three; some synagogues may even frown on a woman wearing these articles [while other synagogues actively encourage it], so let your own sen­sitivities decide):

·        kippah (except in many Reform temples)

·        tallit (ditto)

·        teffilin (ditto; you need them only on weekdays)

·        siddur [prayer book]

·        Humash [Bible] (only on Shabbat, holidays, Monday and Thursday)

The last two items can usually be found in bookcases either right before you enter the room or right after. In some shuls the siddurim (plural of siddur) are placed on each seat, and the Bibles are given out by the usher just before the Torah service begins. In some traditional shuls you don't take a humash from the bookcase until the time for the Torah reading. In such shuls you simply amble over to the bookcase at that time (along with everyone else) and pick one up.

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Rabbi Michael Strassfeld

Michael Strassfeld is the rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Manhattan, co-author of The First Jewish Catalog, The Second Jewish Catalog, A Night of Questions: A Passover Haggadah, and author of The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary.

Sharon M. Strassfeld is co-author of the Jewish Catalog series.