- The interior of a fourth or fifth century synagogue in Capernaum in Galilee. The foundation walls that were excavated under the synagogue may have been part of the synagogue in which Jesus preached. (Strauss, 129)
Synagogues were Jewish meeting places for worship, education, and community gatherings. The origin of the synagogue is unknown but probably goes back to the Babylonian exile, after the temple of Solomon was destroyed and the sacrificial system ceased. (Strauss, 129)
During the second temple period, the synagogue and the temple both functioned as institutions for Jewish worship. All it took was ten Jewish males to be present, and a synagogue could be formed. The synagogues usually had a large room for prayer, and other smaller rooms for study or even a separate room for Torah study. There is no set blueprint for a synagogue, but all of them at least a at a table for the Torah to be read, and a desk for the leader to preach.
The oldest accounts of synagogue service appear in Luke 4:14-30 and Acts 13:14-48. According to rabbinic sources, there was a relatively fixed order of service which includes prayers, readings from the Law of the Prophets, a paraphrase of the scripture reading called an oral Targum, a sermon on the text for the day, a closing benediction, and the recitation of the confession of faith known as the Shema. (Strauss, 130)
The Shema: Hear, O Isreal: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength… (Strauss, 130)
The Shema is the most important confession of faith in Judaism. Every Jewish male was required to utter it twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Shema in Hebrew means “hear”, the word which begins the confession (Strauss, 130). It’s traditional for Jews to say the Shema as their last words before they die, and for parents to teach their children to say it every night before they go to bed.
The synagogue ruler maintained the synagogue and organized the worship services. He was assisted by an attendant, called the hazzan, who took care of the scripture scrolls and blew the ram’s horn to announce the beginning and end of the service. (Strauss, 130)
All in all, since Judaism was becoming more widespread, not everyone could come to the temple in Jerusalem, so communities formed in synagogues allowing them to worship and pray.