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History: (Gr 'congregation', 'meeting')


The local Jewish institution for instruction in the Torah and worship, but not infringing on the ritual or sacrificial roles of the Jerusalem priesthood. In antiquity, it was the local religious focal point of individual Jewish communities, both in Palestine and in cities of the Diaspora. Congregations were usually governed by a body of elders, who exercised certain disciplinary functions.


While the term synagogue applied to the congregation, eventually it was also used of the buildings in which the people met, and in great cities such as Alexandria these could be quite elaborate. After the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70, the institution of the synagogue gained even greater importance as the major religious institution in Jewish life. Rabbis became leaders of synagogues in this later period. In Orthodox synagogues, men and women have traditionally separated; but in non-Orthodox synagogues, they now sit together.