Religious Buildings: Synagogue and Tabernacle

Jewish religious services are held in a building called a synagogue. The term translates into ‘house of assembly’ and ‘house of prayer.’ In this article, you will learn more about synagogues and tabernacles.


Synagogues are comprised of a large hall for prayer that serves as a main sanctuary. Sometimes, smaller rooms are set aside for study while other synagogues are equipped with a social hall and offices. A separate room for Torah study is found in some synagogues. In modern Jewish communities, the synagogue may offer a range of capabilities and purposes, such as religious school, kosher kitchen, catering hall, library, and day care center.

Although there are different ways to construct a synagogue, there are still some of the interior elements that remain the same. All synagogues contain a bimah, which is a table that the Torah is read from. There is also a desk designated to the prayer leader. A cabinet called the Torah ark is available to hold Torah scrolls. The ark in a synagogue is positioned in a way that when people fact it, it is in the same direction as Jerusalem.

A few notable synagogues found around the world include Belz Great Synagogue in Jerusalem (considered the largest in the world), Congregation Shearith Israel in the United States has the oldest history that is traced back to 1655, and the Great Synagogue of Florence (Tempio Maggiore, Florence), which offers impressive cathedral-like architecture.  


Sometimes, a simple house or tent is used for the purposes of worship. A tabernacle is term named after the tent used by the Israelites to cover the Arc of the Covenant. According to the Old Testament, the word translates into ‘residence’ or ‘dwelling place’ in Hebrew. From the time of the Exodus in Egypt to the conquering of the land of Canaan, the Tabernacle was a portable dwelling place that represented a ‘divine presence.’

The specifications of the Tabernacle were built using the information that God gave Moses at Mount Sinai. The Book of Exodus (Exodus 25:8-9) states that God said to Moses, “They shall make me a sanctuary, and I will dwell (ve-shakhan-ti) among them. You must make the tabernacle (mishkan) and all its furnishings following the plan that I am showing you.” God wanted a structure constructed so that his presence was with the Children of Israel as they wandered through the desert.

In Exodus 31:1-1, the primary builder and architects of the Tabernacle were highlighted , Bezalel of the tribe of Judah was selected. “I have filled him with a divine spirit, with wisdom, understanding and knowledge, and with all types of craftsmanship. He will be able to devise plans as well as work in gold, silver and copper, cut stones to be set, carve wood, and do other work.”

Prayer took place two times a day at the Tabernacle, where a priest would stand in front of the golden prayer altar and light fragrant incense. This was not the only act or practice that occurred in the Tabernacle.The Arc of the Covenant that was contained within the dwelling place was eventually placed in the First Temple in Jerusalem. When the Babylonians destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem around 587 BCE, the Tabernacle was no longer mentioned.