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Sep 1, 1997 - 12:14 -

I have a question:
What are the celebrations / rituals / events carried out in a synagogue? Where do funerals etc. take place if not in the synagogue? Where abouts is the holiest item kept?

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The family is the traditional Jewish institution for religious expression, education, performance of ritual, and sanctification of life's events. The practice of traditional Judaism is centered around the home. The home is the Temple, the parents are the priests, and the dining table is the altar. Eating (and just about everything else a Jew does) is transformed into a holy act, augmented by rituals and related to fundamental values. The core practices that traditionally define Jewishness are all home-centered.

A synagogue is an institution where Jews gather for congregational prayer and study. A synagogue is not required for congregational prayer, and many Jews meet for congregational prayer in homes, campus auditoriums, or wherever appropriate space can be found. A synagogue is supported primarily by annual dues from its membership. It is run by its members, who elect officials and committees from among themselves. The synagogue hires employees (and organizes volunteers) as needed.

Physical space is not made holy in Judaism; only time can be sanctified, and that is effected by our intent. So the congregation can be holy, but not the building. The holiest objects in Judaism are Torah scrolls, which contain the divinely dictated lecture notes from the 40-day oral revelation at Sinai. Most synagogues have at least one, located in a cabinet on the east wall.

Jewish tradition usually forbids having funerals in synagogues. If the deceased was a prominent member, it is traditional for the funeral procession to pause momentarily in front of the synagogue on the way to the burial while the doors to the synagogue are opened. (A modest eulogy may be made at the place where the body has been watched and prepared, and brief prayers are recited at the graveside before the mourners bury the corpse.) Under most circumstances, services are held thrice daily in the homes of the mourners for one week after burial. For details on Jewish mourning customs see "The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning" by Maurice Lamm.

Jewish weddings are traditionally held outdoors, but are often held in synagogues. Circumcisions are usually held in the synagogue. Celebration of the attainment of legal majority is almost always celebrated in synagogue. Pidyon HaBens are usually held at home.