Entering a Synagogue

Tips for the novice shul-goer.

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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)

·        tefillin (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.

The tallit (and/or tefillin) can be put on either before entering the room or when you get to your seat (the latter is usually the case with tefillin).The kippah is put on before entering the room.

Where to Sit

In most synagogues you can sit wherever you like. If you are there for a simhajoyous occasionsuch as a bar/bat mitzvah, an usher may show you to the area where the family and relations are sitting.

If it is an Or­thodox synagogue, remember that men and women sit in separate areas.

In a few synagogues the regular members have customary seats. Sometimes there are seat plaques to indicate such seats; at other times you just have to step (sit) carefully. Often you will be told which areas are open territory The eastern wall (the wall with the ark) is a place of honor in old-style synagogues, and in general you shouldn't just wander over and sit down there.

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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.