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    Synagogues: a place for thinking – T’tzavveh

    The Torah readings at this time of year are full of details about constructing the Tabernacle in the wilderness. This makes it appropriate this week to look at synagogues, the lineal descendant of the ancient Tabernacle.

    Synagogues are a paradox. On the one hand, members often pride themselves on how handsome their synagogue is, how good the preacher and cantor are, how attractive the activities program is.

    On the other hand, synagogues constantly upset their congregants: the rabbi is not always people-friendly, the cantor thinks people have all day to sit at services, the activities focus on sports and hobbies and don’t make people more spiritual.

    Congregants don’t always realise that the synagogue, especially in the Diaspora, has to be the centre of people’s Jewishness, a Bet Ha’am (House of the People) in addition to being a Bet T’fillah (a House of Prayer) and a Bet Midrash (a House of Study). The rabbi has to cater for all the varied expectations of a diverse congregation in which some want kosher cookery lessons and some want a spiritual uplift.

    For my part the top priority should be making and using the synagogue as a place for thinking, a place where people gather in order to think through their Jewishness, to find God, the Torah and themselves. Sermons, melodies and congregational programs are all a means to that end.

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