The Synagogue Layout
Synagogues symbolise the Temple that last stood in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago. As such, they are called “Minor Sanctuaries” and typify certain aspects of Temple life. However, whilst in the Temple sacrifices were offered, today in the synagogue there are no sacrifices. Instead the prayers act as a substitute in conjunction with the Reading of the Law and a sermon.
Synagogues face towards Jerusalem; in the west therefore, synagogues face east. At the front is an Aron Ha’Kodesh (Holy Ark) which contains the Pentateuch written on parchment (Torah Scroll). These scrolls are adorned with velvet mantles and silverware with bells.
Above the Holy Ark is an Ner Tamid (Everlasting Light) symbolising the continuous flame of the Menorah (Candelabra) and the fire that burned continuously on the altar.
At the centre is a Bimah (raised platform). This symbolises the altar, though today the Reading of the Law takes place there and the cantor leads the service.
Men and women sit separately. This is for two reasons: firstly to ensure that concentration remains firmly heavenward and on the prayers rather than on the opposite gender; secondly many pagans had the practice of allowing their priests to utilise maidens for their own benefit. Judaism abhors such practices and as such, respect for women was demonstrated in the Temple by there being a separation between the seats of the men and women.
The ornate stained glass windows depict Jewish festivals and other occasions in a beautiful way. The windows in our synagogue have come from five constituent synagogues of the UHC that amalgamated to form the current UHC synagogue.
All of the prayers are recited in Hebrew. Whilst prayers may be said in any language, the community always prays in Hebrew because Jewish thought teaches that since Hebrew is the language of the Tenach (Old Testament) it has a spiritual efficacy unparalleled by other languages. Exceptions to this are the prayers for the Congregation and the Royal Family which are read in English.
Some key prayers are listed below along-side the page that they can be found on in the Sidur (Prayer Book):
- Shema, p.382
- Shacharit Amidah (Morning Standing Prayer), p.390
- Opening the Holy Ark, p.404
- Prayers for the Congregation, Royal Family and State of Israel, p.420
- Musaph Amidah (Additional Standing Prayer), p.434
- Ein Kelokeinu (There is none like our G-d), p.450
- Adon Olam (He is Master of the Universe), p.464
Reading of the Law
Every Shabbat a section (Sedra/Parshah) of the Torah is read. There are 54 weekly sections, each of which is divided into an additional seven portions. Various people are honoured by being “called up” (aliyah) to recite blessings on these sections. Following the Reading of the Law the Torah is raised for all to see and admire and then it is redressed. These acts too are also considered honours for those involved in their performance.
Bar and Bat Mitzvah
Bar Mitzvah boys (aged 13) read from the Torah scrolls as well as a passage from the Prophets. This is often followed by showering him with sweets as a sign of joy.
Bat Mitzvah girls (aged 12) address the congregation from the ladies section with a relevant message either linked to the morning’s portion or another religious topic.
The rabbi addresses the congregation in English each week and invariably discusses the portion of the Law that will have been read that morning. A message relevant to modern times will also be illustrated. This is sometimes tied in to current events or topical issues being discussed in society at large. Often parables, stories and humour are included for effect, as well as to capture the attention of the audience and to highlight moral messages.
Talit (Prayer Shawl)
This is a white woollen wrap with white, blue or black stripes and is worn by Jewish males during morning prayers. It is deemed a sign of honour to have a garment specific to prayer. Moreover, on the corner of each garment are fringes which symbolise the 613 commandments of the Torah.
Siddur (Prayer Book)
Siddur in Hebrew means “order” and refers to the set format of prayers. The prayers are in Hebrew and English.
Chumash in Hebrew means “a fifth” and contains the Five Books of Moses. This too is in Hebrew and English. At the commencement of the Reading of the Law the page number for the morning’s portion is announced.
UHC offers several children’s services which commence during regular services, these include:
- Play Shul: up to end of year 1
- Kinderlach: years 2-6
- New Generation: (girls) year 6+
- Dor Chadash: (boys) year 7+
These services commence at 10:45am
Gentlemen and married ladies are requested to cover their heads. Men usually wear a kippa (skull cap). Married ladies cover their hair with a scarf or hat. Scarves and skull caps are provided if needed. Ladies are also required to wear clothing that provides appropriate cover. The body and arms to the elbows and skirts that go below the knees.
At the conclusion of the service refreshments are served in the hall. The Shabbat day is honoured with sweet and savoury foods preceded by a blessing on wine. This sanctification of the day is called Kiddush.
If anyone requires hospitality one of the ministers may be contacted who will endeavour to make appropriate arrangements.
In the Case of an Emergency
Please note that there is a small square coloured marker (red, green, yellow or blue) in front of every seat. Should it be necessary to evacuate the building, kindly exit the door which matches the colour-code on your seat and make your way to the car park at the rear of the building.