Written by: Allan Nadler
Traditional, or Orthodox, synagogues, in which there is strict separation of genders during prayer, typically feature an elevated section, or balcony, usually in the rear or to the sides of the main sanctuary, known as the ezrat nashim, or women's section.
It has been the custom of Jews since the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C.E. to face in the direction of Jerusalem during the recitation of the central Amidah prayer. As a result, whenever possible, synagogues are designed so that the front of the sanctuary, where the Holy Ark is situated, faces Jerusalem. While this custom was abandoned by the Reform movement, the large majority of Orthodox and Conservative congregations in Europe and the United States face east in acknowledgment that the synagogues of the Diaspora are but temporary homes of worship, as Jews await the ingathering of the exiles and restoration of the divine service in the Jerusalem Temple.
1. Does Judaism have prescribed sacred space? Explain.
2. How is ritual an agent of space transformation?
3. Contrast the Temple and synagogues. Why are they understood differently?
4. How are synagogues structured physically? Logistically?