Central Business District
The Great Synagogue
|Thomas Rowe, Aaron Loveridge (stonework)
Partly supervised by Walter Liberty Vernon
1973 Orwell Phillips and Kevin Gallagher (facade cleaned, gates restored)
|187a Elizabeth Street, Sydney|
|Moorish Revival Victorian Free Gothic|
|A composite building of Romanesque, Gothic, Moorish Revival and Byzantine motifs.|
The Great Synagogue was designed in the
'Transitional French Gothic' style by Thomas Rowe, one of Sydney's
leading architects in the second half of the 19th Century. It was opened
in 1878. It is a splendid building with magnificent cast iron gates and
elaborate stone carving. It was called the 'Great Synagogue' because it
followed the principles and rituals of the historic Great Synagogue in
London, and combined two smaller Jewish congregations. One group of Jews
had previously met at the Egyptian-style synagogue in York Street and
the other at an old Baptist church in Macquarie Street.
There had been at least 16 Jews among the 751 convicts on the First Fleet, but the early governors refused to allow them to meet together and, as convicts, they were forced to attend services conducted by the Church of England chaplain. The first Jewish congregation in Sydney was not officially formed until November 1831.
|Click images for larger versions|
|Nineteenth Century images- State Library of New South Wales|
|The first synagogue on York Street. Image from the book "Sydney in 1848"|
The Great Synagogue is of state and
potentially national significance as the earliest surviving synagogue in
NSW still in use, which has represented the centre of Jewish worship and
culture in central Sydney since the 1870s. The Great Synagogue is
associated with the Mother Congregation of Australian Jewry, together
with many subsequent leading members and families of the Jewish faith.
By its prominent situation and presence in Central Sydney, its
magnificent architectural grandeur, its rich symbolism, and its
important collection of Hebrew documents and other religious artefacts,
the Great Synagogue also embodies and demonstrates the early development
and importance of the Jewish faith and culture in New South Wales during
the 19th Century.
The Great Synagogue is a major landmark of Sydney. It is the only high Victorian style Synagogue in Australia and represents one of the most elaborately decorated Victorian buildings in Sydney, internally and externally. The building also represents one of the finest works of the leading NSW architect, Thomas Rowe. It contains excellent examples of the best quality decorative work in moulded plaster, carved sandstone and timber, metalwork, tiling and stained glass that is remarkable for its richness, originality and the degree of craftsmanship by leading decorative firms of the High Victorian period from Australia, Great Britain and the United States. Apart from its architectural excellence, the Great Synagogue provides a rich townscape aspect to Hyde Park and is an iconic building of Elizabeth and Castlereagh Streets. (Phillips 2000 & HO 2004)
The Great Synagogue consists of two main sections: the original synagogue (house of worship) with ladies’ gallery, at the Elizabeth Street end, and a five storey modern section at the Castlereagh Street end behind the facade of the original Beadle’s residence. The original eclectic design in Victorian Free Gothic style was described at the time of consecration as Byzantine interspersed with Gothic elements. The Elizabeth Street frontage and towers are of Pyrmont stone, and the remainder of the early structure is brick with cast-iron columns and timber floors, and a slate roof. The Castlereagh Street facade is stone at ground floor level, with rendered brickwork above. The interior is elaborately decorated with moulded plaster, carved timber and stained glass, all embellished with abstract patterns to avoid representation of living forms. Surviving timber stairs at the Elizabeth Street end have strongly carved balustrades. Walls are painted with gold leaf highlights, and the furniture is mostly of polished timber and brass. Some original colour schemes survive, notably on the ceiling of the Elizabeth Street porch, while the midnight blue ceiling with gold leaf stars has been repainted to the original design several times. Timber floors are raked at both ground and gallery levels, and the centre section of the ground floor and Ark steps, like the porch, are ornately tiled in tessellated and mosaic work. The basement contains a hall which has steel portal frames supporting the columns and floor above, and also contains the A M Rosenblum Museum and Rabbi Falk Library. The modern section, constructed of reinforced concrete, contains offices, classrooms and meeting rooms, together with a lift and fire stairs, and has a top floor with an openable roof. The modern stained glass windows in the Castlereagh Street facade were designed by Louis Kahan of Melbourne. The building contains notable examples of venerable sacred scrolls and religious artefacts, including a menorah (nine-branched candelabrum) made by Rabbi L A Falk. (Phillips 1975)
The Great Synagogue was built to unite two
Jewish congregations in Sydney which worshipped at the time in
synagogues in York Street and Macquarie Street. (The York Street
Synagogue had been designed in the Egyptian style by James Hume and
built in 1844.) The first moves were made in 1864 towards obtaining a
suitable site for a new, larger synagogue. In 1871 a meeting was held at
York Street to discuss buying land available in Elizabeth Street. It was
suggested a meeting be held with the Macquarie Street Synagogue to unite
in purchasing the land for a synagogue to serve the whole community.
John Solomon, a builder, purchased the land at auction for 2000 pounds
in 1871 and held it until the congregation could raise sufficient funds.
The proposal was for a synagogue and educational facilities for the less
wealthy members of the congregation. The money was to be raised by sale
of land in Kent Street which had been granted for a Jewish school but
never used. Further money was raised by the sale of the York and
Macquarie Street properties. An appeal was also launched to fund the new
building, accompanied by a photograph of the New London Synagogue
(subsequently destroyed by bombing in 1941) which was intended to serve
as the model for the Sydney building. The architect, Thomas Rowe, was
selected in 1872 by means of a limited competition, the other
competitors being G A Mansfield and Benjamin Backhouse. Rowe also acted
as the construction manager for the new building. The building of the
synagogue was also partly supervised by the Princes Road Synagogue,
Liverpool and the New West End Synagogue, London. The foundation stone
was laid in January 1875 by Saul Samuel, Postmaster General, later to be
the first Jewish minister of the Crown in the British Empire. A huge
bazaar was held in December 1875 to raise extra funds.
History of the Great Synagogue
A quick guide to Judaism
Symbolism of the synagogue
History of the Great Synagogue
By Rabbi Raymond Apple, AO, RFD
The Great Synagogue (known in Hebrew as Beth Yisrael - "House of Israel") is one of Sydney's most beautiful, fascinating and historic heritage buildings. The Synagogue has stood on its present site for well over a hundred years, since 1878, but the congregation itself has a history going back at least fifty years before that date, to the decade of the 1820s.
When New South Wales was founded as a penal colony in 1788, among the 751 First Fleet convicts were at least 16 Jews. One of them, Joseph Levy, who died on 15 April 1788, was the first Jew to be buried on Australian soil; but his burial was without any Jewish rites, and it took many years for Jewish practice to make itself evident on the Australian scene. Only after three decades did Joseph Marcus, a German-born convict with a good Hebrew education, succeed in gathering 30 or so Jews together for regular worship.
By the end of the 1820s a few free settlers had arrived. They included Philip Joseph Cohen, aged 25, who came with recommendations from the Chief Rabbi in London. He commenced regular services in his home in George Street. Resenting his ambitions, another group started services; the rival congregations continued, but without government recognition, until 1830 when peace was made by Rabbi Aaron Levy of London, who had braved the long voyage to Australia to arrange a religious divorce between a Jewish man in New South Wales and his wife in London. Whilst here, Levy corrected a number of irregularities that had crept into the services.
A petition to Governor Darling for a Jewish house of worship had previously been refused. Now, however, there were 25 free Jewish settlers, and they included influential people from distinguished families such as Joseph Barrow Montefiore: and it was felt the government would take more notice of them than of the emancipists. The formal establishment of the congregation came on 2 November, 1831, and by 26 September, 1832, the Sydney Monitor could report:
The New Year's Eve and Day of the Sons of Abraham
The Jews of the colony assembled at the Jews' Synagogue held over Mr Rowell's shop in George Street which is elegantly fitted out as such on Monday evening, being the last night of the year, according to the ancient chronology of the tribe of Judah, when prayers were said. On Tuesday morning and again in the evening, other meetings took place and worship was again performed.
The congregation formulated detailed rules of conduct. A committee member not attired in decent and respectable manner was to be fined a guinea for each such offence. No person could officiate at a service without permission from the president. No conversation must take place during services; and "those Gentlemen being the junior branches of their families will take special care they behave themselves in a manner becoming a place of Divine Worship". The order of service and religious principles of the congregation were to be those laid down by the Chief Rabbi of London.
The first minister was Rev Michael Rose, who arrived on 20 May, 1835. From 1832 to 1937 the congregation worshipped at George Street, but numbers had grown to over 300 adults and larger premises were leased at No 4 Bridge Street for 160 pounds a year. Describing Sydney in 1838, Maclehose wrote that the Synagogue was
... a well-arranged place of worship containing about one hundred seats, rented by the rate-payers, a reading desk, and pulpit for the officiating minister, and an Ark which contains the Decalogue and a manuscript copy written on vellum of the Books of Moses; also a ladies' gallery containing about thirty seats, fitted up with neat candelabras, etc.
The interior alterations had been made by Barnett Aaron Phillips, a stage carpenter who had worked at Drury Lane and built Australia's first stage scenery at Barnett Levey's Theatre Royal. The "manuscript copy" of the Books of Moses referred to by Maclehose was the first sacred scroll in Australia, purchased from Rabbi Aaron Levy; presumably it is still here at the Great Synagogue, but as we have many such scrolls it is not certain which of our present collection it is. The handsome Ark from Bridge Street is probably the impressive small Ark which, recently restored, is on display outside the A.M. Rosenblum Jewish Museum. Dating from the 1830s, this Ark would be one of the earliest pieces of ecclesiastical furniture in Australia.
The congregation soon decided that they needed a larger, specifically built synagogue in a central location. Governor Bourke, more tolerant than Governor Darling, had offered a grant of land but it was felt the location was wrong. Governor Gipps granted a site in Kent Street North, but the preliminary excavations would have been beyond the resources of the congregation.
In the meantime, Bridge Street was vacated in 1840 and services were held in rooms over shops or dwellings owned by members of the congregation. Finally land was purchased in York Street, close to where the Sydney Town Hall stands today, and a synagogue was designed by James Hume who had been associated with some of Sydney's finest buildings. The foundation stone was laid in 1842 and funds were donated liberally by both Jews and Christians.
Gentile interest in the project remained intense and the committee informed "all who may be desirous of visiting this place of worship that the attendance of members of all creeds is welcomed by the Jewish religionists". The building was consecrated on 2 April, 1844, with the music for the ceremony in the hands of Isaac Nathan, father of Australian music, who was also associated with the music at St Mary's Cathedral. For the occasion Nathan composed settings for Baruch Habba ("Blessed be he that cometh") and Halleluyah.
York Street Synagogue was commodious (it had seating for 500) and elaborately furnished. Its Ark, larger and even more impressive than that in Bridge Street, is also extant. It too has been restored, and it holds pride of place in our museum. The exterior of the synagogue was described as being in the Egyptian style; similar buildings were erected by the congregations in Hobart (1845) and Launceston (1846). The Hobart and Launceston Synagogues are still standing and in use, though Launceston suffered many decades in the doldrums.
Amongst the innovations of this period was the establishment of community registers of births, marriages and burials. These continue to this day, and the early tomes are cherished treasures of the Synagogue and are often consulted by historians and individuals interested in tracing their genealogy.
The late 1850s brought a controversy which split the congregation down the middle. The minister refused to conduct a particular religious ritual on the grounds that it was not permitted in the circumstances. In the protest, some of the upper-crust establishment walked out and set up their own congregation in a former Baptist chapel in Macquarie Street, almost adjacent to the present-day site of St Steven's Church. At York Street, the minister's supporters not only backed him but put forward motions to increase his salary; this group did not have the means or prestige of the secessionists but were apparently more religiously minded, and York Street continued to be well-attended whilst Macquarie Street struggled and suffered internal disputes.
The minister at York Street from 1862 was the Rev Alexander Barnard Davis, formerly of Kingston, Jamaica. In him the congregation found a man capable of fulfilling their need of "an Englishman of Education and character, capable of delivering lectures or sermons in language, manner and tone, calculated to impress his hearers with devotion to their Creator and respect for the Minister". He is said to have had "a very beautiful voice, a very essential item in a Jewish Minister, as he usually has to chant nearly the whole of the service and to give the keynote for the responses of the choir". Amongst the initiatives Davis took was the establishment of a permanent choir of six men and 13 women with Mr Chislett as choirmaster.
Some decades late the preaching and cantorial roles of the ministers were separated and from 1909, when the Rev Marcus Einfeld took up office, there has been a professional cantor. The mixed male-female choir continued until the end of 1974 when it was replaced with a choir of men and boys with the consequent need for re-organisation of much of the music.
Davis spearheaded moves for peace in the community, and as the 1870s developed, the amalgamation of the two Synagogues become possible. Macquarie Street was too small to house a united congregation; York Street could not be extended because the owner of the adjoining property would not sell, and finally a site in Elizabeth Street was purchased for 2000 pounds.
It was decided to build a Great Synagogue - great in relation to the two smaller places of worship that had preceded it, and because it reflected in its ritual and principles the historic Great Synagogue in the City of London. An architectural competition for a design for the new Synagogue was won by Thomas Rowe, one of Sydney's leading architects, who planned a building in what was described as "Transition French Gothic". For financial reasons his plans had to be modified, and ornate as some aspects of the present building are, it appears that Rowe originally hoped to erect an even more elaborate building.
One of the most enterprising fund-raising ventures of the Synagogue building committee was a bazaar or fancy fair held over six days and nights in what is now Martin Place by the ladies of the congregation with much outside support including that of the Governor, Sir Hercules Robinson. This raised 5000 pounds, nearly one fifth of the total cost of the building. The foundation stone was laid in 1875, and three years later, on 4 March, 1878, the Synagogue was consecrated in a ceremony to which a choir and orchestra under Sydney Moss contributed most impressively.
As the decades have passed the Synagogue has remained the Jewish cathedral of Sydney, though today the high-rise buildings on both sides tend to squash its exterior majesty. The growth of the Jewish community and its suburban dispersal has brought the establishment of many other synagogues - a move which the elders of the Great at first tended to resist - but the Great has retained its stateliness and solemnity, and its busy programme of services and activities is supported by its large loyal congregation and provides, together with the city churches of other denominations, a serene spiritual oasis in the midst of the bustling life of the city.
The building was described by the Illustrated Sydney News in 1878 as
"- a place of worship which, for lavish adornment and superb finish, has no equal in the city of Sydney ... It has a frontage of sixty-four feet and extends back one hundred and forty feet, embracing the whole of the intervening space between Castlereagh and Elizabeth Streets. The style is composite - the Byzantine prevailing, the Gothic being here and there introduced. The front of the edifice is built of freestone from the Pyrmont quarries. Two square towers flank the central compartment, terminating in domes, and the entire façade is elaborately carved. The magnificent wheel window is a feature in the front which strikes every eye. Passing through the principal entrance in Elizabeth Street, under a spacious porch supported by columns with richly carved caps, the visitor finds himself in the interior, which impresses him with a sense of ornate embellishment approaching the profuse ... The seats face north and south, leaving a space in the centre unoccupied throughout. At the western end of the nave, under a splendidly embellished arch, is the Ark, the floor being richly inlaid with Mosaic work - the steps ascending towards the Ark having massive ballustrading on each side. The columns in the nave supporting the clerestory are twenty-seven feet three inches high, and are surmounted by cusped arches with pointed labels, the spandrills of which are decorated with scroll foliage springing from the centre. The ceilings are semi-groined and panelled, with carved bosses at the intersections. The windows throughout are glazed with coloured glass in chaste designs in keeping with contour of the entire building."
The impression the building made on a Christian minister from Melbourne during AB Davis' ministry is indicated by this newspaper report from 1896:
The galleries are well filled, so is the amphitheatre like floor space. Facing the ark-alcove, but separated from it by a wide unoccupied space, is the Almemmar, or tribune, a highly ornamented wooden structure with seats for the Rabbis and presiding officials of the synagogue, and a spacious reading stand on which to repose the roll of the Torah, and up to which the successive readers of the lessons advance, supported on either hand by prominent members of the congregation ... All the males in the body of synagogue wear the tallithim and have their hats on. As I took my seat the sweet musical voice of the second minister rose clear, plaintive, voicing the heart-cry of the children of the dispersion to their fathers' God to remember Zion and the set time to favour her. The musical Hebrew had a sobbing plaintiveness indescribably charming, ever and anon the congregation took up the responses. The venerable Chief Rabbi - the Reverend A.B. Davis - now takes his place at the reading stand; the sacred roll in unwound; the aged man, his natural force scarcely abated, in clear, ringing tones, a kind of semi-chant, recites the law of the Lord; the great congregation are on their feet. This is the psychological moment ... Rabbi Davis, raising the sacred scroll high in air, descended from the tribune, and with slow and stately step, marched up the broad steps to the Ark, in which he deposited the Law of the Lord ... Then the Chief Rabbi, taking his stand at the top of the flight of steps, in front of the Ark, preached his sermon; a wonderful effort for an aged man, delivered ore rotundo, with wonderful fire and passion ... As I passed into the life of the streets, and nineteenth century feeling again asserted its potency, I felt like one who had been in Dreamland, and had heard things which it is not lawful for a man to speak to the fool multitude.
Since those days there have been a number of changes to the building. Until almost the end of his long ministry AB Davis had no pulpit as such; he preached or perhaps declaimed from the top of the steps leading to the Ark. There was no centre block of seats; towards the back of the empty centre space stood the reading platform from which the service was conducted. Towards the end of the 1890s a brass pulpit was erected on the steps leading to the Ark, and then, in 1906, the reading platform was moved forward, combined with the pulpit and placed in its present position on the Ark steps. This enabled extra seating to be installed in the centre of the building, but it was a move away from the traditional pattern whereby the service arises from the midst of the congregation.
At first there was a flat apse above the Ark, and the choir sang from one of the galleries at the opposite (Elizabeth Street) end of the building. When the present choir gallery was constructed, the opportunity was taken to build a ministers' robing room beneath it.
The lighting of the building was originally gas, and the old gas taps are still visible on the light fittings around the walls and the four upright seven-branched candelabra flanking the Ark steps and the choir gallery is the six-pointed Star of David pattern that you see when looking up at them from beneath.
The gold-leaf stars on the ceiling were not there originally, but were introduced seventy-odd years ago. Their purpose may have been to indicate that religion is a light and a lamp when the environment is dark and frightening. Similar star-studded ceilings are especially common in some masonic buildings.
It is not know why there were never any windows along the walls that run from Elizabeth towards Castlereagh Street. But there may be a significance in the fact that there are twelve recessed arches on the ground floor and in their gallery, reminiscent of the twelve tribes of ancient Israel. The stained glass windows at the two ends of the buildings are chaste but nondescript; one window illustrating Jewish symbols was installed near the choir gallery, perhaps as the first of a series that was never completed. The wheel window remains an impressive sight, though concrete spokes were added in the 1940s to give it strength and support.
The internal columns used to be adorned with intricate floral motifs which have long since been painted over. They were rediscovered in 1981 when the education centre beside the Synagogue was in process of construction. Stencils based on these old motifs were then used to decorate the Synagogue itself and the various floors of the new centre, providing a link between generations a century apart.
At the Elizabeth Street end of the Synagogue, the only major change over the years has been the installation of the massive wrought-iron gates. Beneath the building, excavations in the 1950s made it possible to construct a war memorial centre, auditorium and library. Then in the 1980s the education centre, erected between the Synagogue and Castlereagh Street and preserving the old Castlereagh Street façade, provided five floors for cultural, social and educational activity as well as modern offices, a Judaica shop, and a top-floor Sukkah or harvest tabernacle with a sliding roof.
On one side of the building is the Rabbi LA Falk Library, and the AM Rosenblum Jewish Museum is on the other - a pair of Jewish cultural partners.
The features of the Synagogue itself express the threefold character of Jewish worship - community, study and prayer. In terms of community, the service involves the congregation jointly and severally at every stage; the cantor does not pray for them but, as it were, takes their prayer and co-ordinates it as an orchestrated offering to God. Stressing the community nature of Jewish prayer, public worship requires a quorum of at least ten males aged thirteen and over. And linking congregations everywhere, prayer is offered whilst facing Jerusalem the holy city.
The study aspect of the service looms large. The sacred scroll is used at all major services for the reading of scriptural lessons. A second reading from the prophetic or historical books of the Bible comes from a printed text, though some congregations use a second scroll for this purpose. And the sermon in a Synagogue is traditionally educational, because every Jew is deemed duty-bound to know and understand his faith.
Jewish prayer is largely standardised, in order to help worshippers to tune in to tradition and to find the words to say, no matter how inarticulate they may themselves be. Worship is interspersed with psalms and hymns. There is much congregational singing, led, as in our case, by a choir that brings musical quality to the service. Almost all of the service is in Hebrew; not everyone understands it all, but it preserves the flavour of Judaism and unites Jewish congregations everywhere.
The atmosphere of a spacious cathedral-like edifice, especially on great occasions, has been understood in Judaism from the time of the magnificent Temple in ancient Jerusalem onwards. Because of the insecurities of Jewish experience, grand synagogues generally stood only in major cities where Jewish life had or hoped for some permanence; other places had small, sometimes makeshift shtiebels (conventicles). To this day there is tension between the two concepts. Some find the shtiebel claustrophobic and anaesthetic; others criticise the cathedral-type building as cold and impersonal.
Members of the Great Synagogue tend to like the relative formality and stateliness of their Synagogue and its services, and to enjoy the more organised musical dimension of its worship. But new ages bring new challenges, and congregational activities today deliberately endeavour to foster the feeling of fellowship and friendship that makes a congregation into a community, and enables it to become, in the words of the liturgy, "one united band doing God's will with a perfect heart".
* The author of this booklet was senior rabbi of the congregation from December, 1972 until December 2004. He is now Emeritus Rabbi of the Great Synagogue.
A quick guide to Judaism
What is Judaism?
Judaism is the mother-faith from which Christianity and Islam developed. All three date back to Abraham, who discovered the one, true, invisible God.
At Mount Sinai, several centuries later, Moses and the Israelites received the Torah (teaching), which revealed the way God wished to be served.
Belief in one God, taught by Abraham, and observance of the Torah, taught by Moses, are the basic principles of Judaism.
Torah and Talmud
The great book of Judaism is the Torah. Strictly speaking, the Torah consists of the first five books of the Scriptures, known as the Five Books of Moses. But the name Torah has come to stand for the teachings of Judaism as a whole.
The Torah gave rise to many commentaries, interpretations and codes of conduct, at first passed on by word of mouth ("the Oral Law"). Much of this material was written down in the 5th century in the Talmud ("Learning"), a great work in 63 volumes.
Apart from ethical and theological teaching, the Talmud contains closely reasoned discussions on Judaism, stories about the sages, and information on legal, historical, social and even scientific matters.
These principles of the Jewish faith were formulated by Moses Maimonides (13th century):
1) God created all things;
2) There is only one God;
3) God has no bodily form:
4) God is eternal;
5) We must pray only to God;
6) All the words of the prophets are true;
7) Moses was the greatest of the prophets;
8) The Torah we have is the same that was given to Moses;
9) The Torah will never be changed;
10) God knows human deeds and thoughts;
11) God rewards good and punishes evil;
12) The Messiah will come to redeem Israel and the world;
13) There will be a resurrection of the dead.
The Jewish Way of Life
Judaism contains duties to God, especially modes of worship and rituals, and to human beings, especially truth, justice and peace.
Jewish ethics stress business, professional, public and personal morality.
Marriage and the family are especially important to Judaism, as are education and charity.
While it believes it is the true faith, Judaism respects other religions and upholds freedom of conscience and belief for all human beings.
Jewish Food Laws
Observant Jews eat only kosher foods. Kosher meat must come from a permitted animal or bird (ham, bacon, pork and shellfish are not kosher), carefully slaughtered by a pious person. The meat is soaked in water and then salted and rinsed in order to remove the blood.
Meat and dairy foods are not cooked, served or eaten together. Kosher homes have separate meat and dairy utensils.
Jews pray three times a day, though spontaneous prayer may be offered at any time. God accepts prayer in any language, but the official language of Jewish prayer is Hebrew.
In ancient times, Jews had a temple in Jerusalem, which will one day be rebuilt. Today, the Jewish place of worship is the synagogue, where prayer takes place facing Jerusalem.
Public worship requires a minyan of ten males aged 13-plus. In orthodox synagogues, men and women sit separately and the service is conducted by males.
The Sabbath is a day of rest from work, lasting from sunset on Friday until nightfall on Saturday. Features of the day are the synagogue services and the family gathering at home. Sabbath candles are lit before sunset, and prayers of sanctification are said over wine and bread.
Pesach (Passover) lasts eight days and marks the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. On the first two evenings there is a home ceremony with symbolic foods recalling the bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of freedom. The main Passover food is unleavened matzah, eaten to recall the "bread of affliction" in Egypt. Passover is the time of the barley harvest in Israel.
Shavu'ot falls seven weeks after Passover. On Shavu'ot God gave the Torah at Mount Sinai, so that it is an occasion for renewed dedication to the Divine law. It is the time of the wheat harvest in Israel.
Rosh HaShanah (the New Year) is the anniversary of creation when God reviews His world and examines the deeds of human beings. The shofar (ram's horn trumpet) is blown as a call to spiritual wakefulness.
Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is a 25-hour fast largely spent in prayers for forgiveness and in making resolutions for the future. Yom Kippur falls ten days after Rosh HaShanah.
Sukkot comes at the end of the fruit harvest in Israel. The sukkah or harvest booth recalls the portable homes of the Israelites in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. The sukkah symbolises the fragility of life and the need for God's protection.
The Jews today
The Jewish population of the world is about 15 million. Six million Jews perished in the Holocaust, when great sages and outstanding centres of learning and piety were devastated.
The largest Jewish community in the world is in the United States of America, where six million Jews live.
There are over five million Jews in the State of Israel, established in 1948, which is the spiritual and cultural centre of world Jewry. Jews have been in Australia since the First Fleet and despite their small numbers have made many contributions to national life.
Why are some Jewish places of worship called synagogues and others temples?
Synagogue is Greek for the Hebrew Bet HaKnesset, house of gathering, as the synagogue has always been the place of assembly for prayer and study. When the Jewish reform movement was started in Germany early last century, its pioneers chose to call their prayer houses temples, because they did not believe in the prophecy that a third Temple would some day be built in Jerusalem, claiming instead that each prayer house, wherever it was, was a miniature temple.
The historian Solomon Grayzel cites a different reason: "The word 'synagogue' stirred ghetto memories and stood for all that Christianity had bitterly combated; with the word 'temple' the (reformist) Jews, who sought forgetfulness of the age-old conflict, thought that they could make a new start."
Why does a Jewish service need a minyan (quorum)?
Minyan means a count or quorum, constituted by 10 males of 13 and over. With it, the Torah can be read publicly and major prayers recited. The reason for the number 10 goes back to the Bible. God agrees with Abraham to save Sodom if there are 10 righteous men in the city; of the 12 spies sent to investigate Canaan, 10, called a congregation, come back with a negative report. The Jewish sages say that when 10 are assembled for prayer or study, the Divine presence is there. Maimonides, the philosopher, declares that a person who does not pray with the congregation is a bad neighbour. Worshipping as and with a congregation helped to create the well-known Jewish sense of community. In small communities people come from vast distances to ensure there is a minyan and the synagogue can keep going.
Many Jews first learn what a comfort it is to be part of a minyan when they say Kaddish (the prayer recited by mourners) in time of bereavement. The fellowship of the minyan is a source of support. It also demonstrates the continuity of the generations. Though a loved one has gone, the saying of Kaddish with a minyan implies that the family, the tradition and the community will continue.
What happens to old prayer books and unusable religious items?
Religious items, including old prayer books, are not be destroyed or discarded, even if they are damaged or worn or no longer of usable. The Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society) buries them in a Jewish cemetery.
Why do Jews cover their heads?
Among the eight ceremonial garments of the high priest in ancient days was a mitre or turban, upon which was a crown inscribed "Holy to the Lord". The ordinary priest wore four garments including a head-cover, "for glory and beauty". But this was obligatory only during the Temple service, and not required of ordinary lay people.
In Talmudic times the wearing of a hat was a mark of modesty and piety. Rabbi Huna said he never walked four cubits with his head bare, for he regarded the covering of the head as a sign of submission to God. The Talmud tells of a pious woman who made sure her son did not go bareheaded, "so that the fear of Heaven might rest upon him to keep him away from sin".
In time, rabbis invested the headcovering with greater status, making it a law, not merely a pious custom. The covering of the head became established in the Middle Ages to emphasise Jewish identity.
All this applies to males. Married women have always been obligated to cover their hair as a mark of modesty.
Why is a skull cap called a "yarmulke"?
Kippah is the Hebrew term for the skull-cap. The Yiddish equivalent, yarmulke, is probably from Polish, though some derive it from the head covering worn by medieval clergy, called armucella. Others hold that it comes from the French arme, a type of rounded medieval helmet with a movable visor. A traditional, though unlikely, view is that yarmulke is a distortion of the Hebrew, Yarei M'Elokim, "in awe of God".
Why do Jewish males wear a fringed shawl during prayer?
The Bible commands Jews to wear fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the generations. If a person is not wearing a four-cornered garment, no tzitzit (fringes) are necessary. But in order not to lose the command of fringes, Judaism invented a four-cornered garment - two in fact, one worn under the shirt, and the tallit (prayer shawl) worn over one's top clothes.
The purpose of tzitzit (fringes), according to a traditional explanation, is indicated by the words: "You shall look at it (the fringe) and remember all the commands of the Lord, and do them." The five knots and eight threads in each corner, plus the numerical value of the Hebrew letters of tzitzit, yield a total of 613, the number of commands in the Torah. The fringes thus remind a Jew of the Torah and its commandments.
The duty of fringes is not obligatory on women.
Are there women rabbis?
There are women scholars, teachers, pastoral workers and spiritual role models in Judaism, but there are no Orthodox communities that have women rabbis. This is no reflection on women's piety or Jewish feeling; indeed women are often more spiritual than men. But Judaism allocates somewhat different roles to men and women respectively, and reserves for men the public roles in the synagogue. However, women play a full role in Jewish community life, and Jewish scholarship among women is flourishing in Israel and elsewhere.
Why does a Jewish child follow the mother's religion?
Where both parents are Jewish it is obvious the child is a Jew. In a mixed marriage, the mother is the determining factor. This is derived from Biblical verses and was affirmed by the Talmudic sages and accepted by the Jewish world throughout all the centuries. Lord Jakobovits, a former Chief Rabbi of Britain, has written: "In making this choice, the certainty of maternity must be set against the doubt of paternity, however small this doubt may be. Even in nature, the mother's bond with her child is, in some respects, firmer than the father's. The determination of the child's religious status by the mother may indicate that she has the superior influence on the child's religious development."
What is the Magen David (Star of David)?
The six-pointed star was known from ancient times, but only in recent centuries has it become the Jewish symbol. In the Bible or Talmud the Jewish symbol was the menorah. The earliest literary reference to the Star of David is in a 12th century work, where it is mentioned alongside the names of the angels. The symbol itself was found on a Jewish tombstone from 3rd century Southern Italy and on a Jewish seal of the 7th century, but in both cases it has no specifically Jewish significance.
The star may have been David's monogram in ancient Hebrew script. Theologians suggest it reflects themes in the Psalms of David, such as man reaching up to heaven, and God reaching down to man. Others see in it the human being raised upward by the good inclination and dragged down by the evil inclination. It may have become a Jewish symbol when European Jews, seeing that churches bore the sign of the cross, sought a symbol of their own. When Israel became a state in 1948, the Magen David was officially adopted as a symbol on the flag.
Do Jews believe in an afterlife?
Judaism believes in both Olam HaBa, the world to come, and Tehiyat HaMetim, the resurrection of the dead in messianic times.
One of the Thirteen Principles of Faith is, "I firmly believe that there will be a revival of the dead", but to Maimonides, Olam HaBa and Tehiyat HaMetim are separate stages. After a period in Olam HaBa, he says, the soul will rejoin its body; then everyone will die again, and the soul will survive.
In reference to Olam HaBa, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan wrote: "You hear many people, and even rabbis, say that Jews don't believe in life after death. Nothing could be further from the truth. The concept of a life after death, of a final reward and punishment, has always played a vital part in Jewish theology. The Bible contains many references to the resurrection of the soul, and the ancient writings of the Talmud and the Midrash are full of speculative descriptions of paradise and purgatory. The early Jewish writers and philosophers all delve extensively into the mysteries of the future life, never once doubting its veracity."
Why can't Jews have autopsies?
In Judaism, the human body is sacred both during life and after death. It is regarded as the property of God, given on loan for our lifetime. No one is permitted to injure or destroy the Divine landlord's property. One consequence is that a Jew must not take risks with his or her life, e.g. by means of drug addiction.
After death the body is carefully and reverently prepared for burial by the Chevra Kadisha, and then interred in the earth; cremation is not permitted by Orthodox Judaism.
An autopsy is regarded as destroying the peace and dignity of the body, and mutilating God's property. It is therefore not permitted in Judaism, unless required by secular law, or necessary in the interests of medical science and saving other lives.
Why can't Jews drive on Saturdays?
Many do, but Jewish law requires them not to. The Sabbath law prohibits "work", is understood as using skill to fulfil an intelligent purpose. Since Saturday the Jewish Sabbath originated as the day when God desisted from creative activity, Jews are expected to emulate His example and avoid workday activities on that day. These include operating electrical or other power-driven devices.
Why do Jews have food laws?
The Jewish food laws (kashrut) are based on the Bible, as part of the general principle: "I am the Lord your God; sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy."
For Judaism, holiness is not achieved by withdrawal from normal life, but by living within the world and its pleasures (including eating) whilst honouring the teaching of the sages: "Sanctify yourself in that which is permitted to you."
It entails being aware of God every moment of the day and hallowing even the most everyday act. Even the details of kitchen equipment are therefore part of the total pattern of Jewish living. By carefully keeping to the food laws, says Maimonides, we are trained "to master our appetites, and not to consider eating and drinking the be-all and end-all of existence".
Keeping kashrut is good spiritually, as a constant reminder of God. It is good ethically: it helps us to be able to say "no", and it fosters concern for animals and the environment. It is good socially: it ensures no Jew will be embarrassed by a host who serves an unacceptable meal. It is good, too, for Jewish identity, as a crucial expression of Jewish commitment.
Not every Jew keeps kashrut strictly, but hardly any Jew will eat pork, ham or bacon.
Why can't Jews eat pork?
Jewish food laws require that Jews:
* do not eat the meat of animals such as the pig; kosher (permitted) animals must have a cloven hoof and chew the cud.
* buy only the meat of kosher animals which have been slaughtered according to traditional procedures by a shohet, who uses an exquisitely sharp knife which ensures the minimum of pain to the animal.
* do not eat meat unless it has first been soaked and salted to remove the blood; eating or drinking blood is forbidden by the law of the Bible.
* do not mix meat foods and dairy foods. Poultry must come only from certain birds specified in the Bible and must be slaughtered by a shohet, then soaked and salted, and not mixed with dairy foods.
Fish must also come from specified categories, excluding, for example, shellfish. There is no set method of killing fish for consumption. Fish and eggs may be included in either meat or dairy meals.
Why do Jewish homes have a small cylinder on the right-hand doorpost?
This is called a mezuzah. It contains a parchment strip on which two biblical passages - Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 - have been written by hand in Hebrew by an expert scribe. The mezuzah is attached to the front door and the doors of the other rooms of the house (except toilet and bathroom) as a reminder of faith and loyalty to God. It is fastened to the right-hand doorpost (seen as one enters the room) within the top third of the doorpost. It is fixed in a slanting position with the higher end pointing into the room.
The Hebrew word Shaddai (Almighty) is written on the back of the parchment, denoting that the Almighty is present in that house or building. Some say that Shaddai is short for Shomer Dal'tot Yisrael, "Guardian of the Doors of Israel". Others see in the name the words, She'amar La'Olam Dai, ("He said to the world, 'Enough!'"), which is a reminder not to infringe the privacy of others: gates and doors provide both security and privacy.
How does Judaism differ from Christianity?
Jesus was born and died a Jew. His followers were Jewish, and his preaching was based on the tradition of Judaism. He did not consider himself the founder of a new religion, and he did not purport to teach anything other than Judaism.
Scholars have shown that there are Jewish sources for many of his sayings and teachings. The Lord's Prayer, for example, is an amalgam of Jewish texts: its first sentence is an almost verbatim translation of the first sentence of the Kaddish.
The major differences between the faiths are not so much between Judaism and the religion Jesus observed, but between Judaism and the religion about Jesus that developed after his death.
The differences fall under three headings: beliefs about God; claims about Jesus; and views of life.
Beliefs about God: though Christianity believes in the tri-une nature of the Deity as Father, son, and holy spirit, Judaism sees any such notion, no matter how explained, as completely unacceptable. Judaism believes in the Unity of God: there is only one God, who is unique and indivisible.
Concerning Jesus, Christianity sees him as the son of God, the incarnation of the Almighty; Judaism is adamant that no man can be God, and God cannot take on human form.
Christianity says Jesus was the Messiah. Judaism, however, sees no evidence that he fulfilled the Biblical messianic prophecies. It affirms that the Messiah is yet to come, and believes that we can help to bring about his coming.
Christianity says Jesus mediates between man and God. Judaism believes that man needs no mediator, but can approach God direct. Christianity says that Jesus is the Saviour, and without belief in him, one cannot be "saved"; Judaism maintains that salvation comes from living an upright life, no matter what one's formal creed or religious label.
The third group of differences concerns views of life.
Christianity regards man as born inherently sinful, but able to overcome this handicap through belief. Judaism considers that man is by nature neither righteous nor sinful. If, however, a person sins, they can return to God by repentance and good deeds.
Christianity teaches that the body is evil and the soul is pure. Judaism does not distinguish between body and soul. Both are God's handiwork and must work together in harmony.
Christianity stresses the life of faith, Judaism the life of Divine commandments. Christianity stresses the salvation of the individual, Judaism the welfare of the whole community. Christianity emphasises life after death; Judaism prefers to stress making the most of life on earth.
Jews prefer not to contrast religions and judge them against one another. They see that each has its attraction for its adherents. Jews, however, are at peace with Judaism.
Do Jews keep Christmas?
Even though there are Jews who get caught up in the seasonal tinsel and commercialism, Christmas is not a Jewish but a Christian occasion, marking the birth of the Christian saviour.
Jews do not celebrate Jesus' birthday, because Christmas really represents not so much the Jewish Jesus of his time, but the Jesus of later theology, with whom Jewish thinking parts company. Some things, therefore, are only for Jews and some only for Christians. Jews respect the convictions of Christians, but they cannot observe Christmas.
Symbolism of the synagogue
The Ark (Aron HaKodesh)
The repository of the sacred scrolls of the Torah (The Five Books of Moses). Though the Holy of Holies in the Temple in ancient Jerusalem was out of bounds to everyone, except the high priest on Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), the synagogue Ark is accessible to all.
Members of the congregation are called upon to open and close the parochet (decorative curtain) and to take out and replace the scroll/s designated for reading. During prayer the congregation face the Ark, which is built facing Jerusalem. Knowledge of God's word is a duty for every Jew. The Torah is "our life and the length of our days". No part of Judaism is locked away; the synagogue makes Jewish knowledge available to everybody. Hence the Torah reading was originally shared amongst the congregation, but to avoid embarrassing those whose Hebrew is poor, the reading is now carried out by an expert with members of the congregation standing by. Facing Jerusalem during prayer unites Jewish congregations and emphasizes the centrality of Israel in Jewish thought.
The Torah Scrolls
All the scrolls are identical in content. Written by hand on parchment by a sofer (expert scribe), each scroll is in square Hebrew letters without vowels or punctuation, so that reading it is an art. Depending on custom, each scroll has a protective fabric cover or wooden or metal case, together with a yad (pointer) and usually an ornamental breastplate, and is topped with bells or a crown. Scrolls and all religious books containing God's name, are treated with great respect. If they become illegible or otherwise unusable, they are given respectful burial. If a Torah scroll is accidentally dropped it is a tragedy and is atoned for by a fast.
The Bimah (reading platform)
Sometimes called almemar (from the Arabic for "platform"), the bimah was, at one period, used only for the Torah readings, with the prayers being recited from a lectern on a lower level (Psalm 130:1 says, "Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord"). The bimah is elevated and located near the center of the synagogue to allow the congregation to hear clearly. In some congregations the bimah is like a stage near the Ark. Every member of the congregation must focus on the Scriptural readings. The central location of the bimah recalls the centrality of the Tabernacle in the wilderness of Sinai (when the Israelites were on the way from Egypt to the Promised Land), when the people surrounded the Sanctuary. Grouping the congregation around the bimah emphasises the democracy of Judaism. The Torah belongs to every Jew.
The Ner Tamid (eternal light)
Light is a religious symbol: Suspended above the Ark is the Ner Tamid which recalls the light that burned in the Temple. * God is our light (Psalm 27:1) * His commands are our lamp (Proverbs 6:23) * Israel is called a light to the nations (Isaiah 43:6)
Synagogues have an abbreviated Hebrew version of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:6-21) in a prominent position near the Ark. Other Hebrew inscriptions generally include the following: * "I have set the Lord before me always" (Psalm 16:8) * "Know before whom you stand" (Talmud) There are usually also boards giving details of the week's readings and of special features of the service. From the synagogue, worshippers take out into the world the moral principles by which human beings should live. Both in the synagogue and wherever they go, Jews must remember they are in God's presence and act accordingly.
Sermons in the vernacular (sometimes in a Jewish language like Yiddish or Ladino) have been part of Judaism from ancient times. They expound the Torah readings and apply Jewish insights to contemporary problems. The rabbi, who is not a priest or spiritually superior to any other Jew, is the community's scholar in residence, whose main task is to expound the tradition.
In some synagogues, the form of lighting is historic - e.g. candelabra in the Bevis Marks Synagogue built in London in 1701. Sometimes the light fittings recall Jewish symbols, e.g. the 7-branched menorah (lamp stand) in the Temple. Every synagogue has at least one hanukiyyah, a 9-branched candelabrum or oil lamp used for the festival of Hanukkah. Synagogues must be well lit to enable the congregation to read the prayer book and Scriptures. The lighting, like all the synagogue decor, helps to create an atmosphere of joy and devotion.
The choir room or gallery
Orthodox synagogues do not use instrumental music on Sabbaths and festivals, but there may be a choir to lead the congregational singing. Few traces remain of ancient Jewish melody, but over the centuries prayer modes have developed for every occasion in the year. Choral singing uses the works of many modern composers. Music arouses the heart and soul to spiritual emotions. The absence of instrumental music, though it was allowed in the Temple, is a reminder that the Temple has not yet been rebuilt.
Special seats are usually designated for the rabbi and cantor, and for the elected lay leaders. In orthodox synagogues, men and women sit separately, with a mehitzah (division) between them. In many places there is a women's gallery. Most synagogues have fixed seating with nameplates identifying the person whose seat it is. Orthodox services are conducted by men, with acknowledgement of the spirituality of women. Jewish law requires a person to have a regular place of prayer. This identifies the worshipper as a member of the congregation and assists concentration on the service by creating a sense of familiarity with one's section of the synagogue. Men and women are equal in the sight of God but men tend to have synagogal roles while women have religious responsibilities with the home and family.
The synagogue must be kept clean and tidy. Books and religious appurtenances must not be left lying around. Worshippers must dress neatly and wash their hands before prayer. Respect for the place of worship symbolizes respect for God and religion. Psalm 24:3 says "Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place? He that has clean hands and a pure heart."
Head covering and prayer shawl
Men and boys cover their heads usually with a kippah (skull cap) during worship. Married women also cover their hair. Men (and in many places, boys also) wear a tallit (fringed prayer shawl) at morning services, as commanded in Numbers 15:37-41. Headcovering is a mark of humility and modesty. The tallit is like a uniform; every Jew (despite different colours and sizes of their tallit) is of equal religious rank.
There are no images, icons or statues, and no representation of God or the human form in the synagogue. Occasionally there will be decorations based on Jewish religious motifs (the Ten Commandments, menorah, etc.). Lions may possibly figure on the Ark curtain or Torah ornaments, since the lion is the badge of the tribe of Judah, from which come the names Jews and Judaism. God has no physical form. Jews do not accord Divine status to any human being. Religious motifs intensify the congregation's loyalty to the tradition. Synagogues often have 12 windows representing the 12 tribes of ancient Israel. The windows of the synagogue symbolically allow the light of faith to shine on the world outside
Some Jewish attitudes
by Rabbi Raymond Apple AO RFD
This section presents brief statements of the Jewish view on some current issues. These are "virtual" statements. They are academic and hypothetical and for general guidance only. Specific cases require specific rulings from a rabbinical scholar.
ABORIGINAL RECONCILIATION - The destruction of the culture and dignity of the Aboriginal people which has made indigenous Australians feel strangers in their own land resonates with Jews, who have such a long experience of persecution. To restore Aboriginal dignity and ensure Aborigines have full access to education, health and economic opportunity is an ethical imperative.
ABORTION - The unborn child is not considered a "full person". Nonetheless, to terminate its potential life is a grave moral act, basically permitted only to protect the life or health (physical or mental) of the mother.
ADOPTION - To give a child a family and home is a sacred deed of love, but the child's birth ties remain (for example, if the birth parents are known they are entitled to filial respect). The child should be aware that he or she is a "child of choice".
ANIMALS - Cruelty to animals is forbidden by the Seven Laws of the Sons of Noah which apply to both Jews and non-Jews. Animals are, however, placed by the early chapters of the Bible at man's service. Hence certain animals and birds may be used for food if slaughtered according to the humane procedures laid down in Jewish law. (Fish do not have to be killed in any special way.) Humans must feed their animals before they feed themselves. Hunting is ethically unacceptable.
ANTISEMITISM - Hostility to Jews, whilst known in Biblical times, seems to have gone through three stages - religious antisemitism arising out of accusations that Jews killed Jesus; quasi-racial antisemitism deriving from late 19th century views that Jews were inherently tainted; and anti-Zionism, misrepresenting Zionism as racist and genocidal. The answer to antisemitism is education to eradicate prejudice of all kinds, to promote respect for others and to recognise that every group is entitled to be safe and secure from molestation.
ART - Despite the negative attitude to graven images in the Ten Commandments, Judaism always had a concept of beauty, though not so much beauty of form as of character. Artistry was lavished on religious articles and the commandments were fulfilled as aesthetically as possible. Some rabbis opposed portraits and sculptures of human beings for fear of idolatry, though the first chief rabbi of the modern Holy Land, Rabbi Kook, enjoyed the National Portrait Gallery in London. Synagogues have no depictions of God or the human form.
ARTIFICIAL INSEMINATION - To assist an infertile couple, artificial insemination using the husband's sperm (AIH) is permitted under adequate supervision. AID (Artificial Insemination by Donor) is morally unacceptable; a child is entitled to unambiguous parentage. Sperm banks threaten the privacy and identity of the family unit.
AUTOPSIES - The body belongs to God and must not be put at risk or desecrated, even after death. Autopsies are an intrusion upon the sanctity of the body and are not approved except when the law requires them or if they can directly advance medical science. Even then, an autopsy must be sanctioned by an expert rabbi and performed with the same respect and dignity that would be accorded to a living patient.
BUDDHISM - Judaism respects the gentleness and spirituality of Buddhism, but cannot support its non-theistic aspects or its denial of the legitimate pleasures of the world, its non-dynamic attitude to human nature, or its non-activist approach to ethical striving.
BUSINESS ETHICS - Honesty and truth are essential in all human situations. Employer and employee must consider each other's well-being. Vendor and purchaser must not deceive each other. One of the questions we face when we die is "Were your business dealings honourable?" The Code of Jewish Law deals extensively with ethical business practices.
CAPITAL PUNISHMENT - Though Biblical law prescribes capital punishment in certain cases, the death penalty was rarely imposed in practice, and there was great reluctance to take a life. Strict procedural rules developed in Jewish law made capital punishment almost impossible. If it did occur, it had to be carried out with dignity; even a condemned criminal had rights.
CELIBACY - Though some people do not marry, celibacy is not encouraged, and certainly not as a policy. Marriage is regarded as natural and good, and congregations are expected to appoint married rabbis. When criticised for being unmarried, the one celibate ancient sage said: "What can I do? My soul is in love with the Torah".
CHRISTIANITY - As a monotheistic daughter religion, Christianity has much common ground with Judaism. But Judaism does not draw theological conclusions from the life or death of Jesus, even though he was a Jew. Christianity has developed separate concepts of God, man, faith, the good life and the Messiah. The supposed Judeo-Christian ethic does not entirely exist.
CIRCUMCISION - Male circumcision is required on the eighth day of a boy's life unless there are medical reasons for postponement. As well as a mark of Jewish identity, this symbolises the moral duty to keep one's passions and desires under control. Jews practise this religious rite regardless of shifts in medical opinion, though many medical studies do regard circumcision as hygienically advisable.
CLONING - As a general principle cloning is not prohibited, but there is a danger that dramatic scientific processes such as this may lead to frightening results in the hands of unscrupulous regimes. There are also technical questions as to the identity of the clone (Who is the clone? Who is the father? Who is the mother?)
CONTRACEPTION - Because of the Biblical command, "be fruitful and multiply", having children is a religious and moral duty. If pregnancy would endanger the wife, contraception may be used by her, though not by the husband, as this would be a direct contravention of the Biblical law not to "waste seed". Judaism believes that children have a right to be born and bring their own blessing into the world.
CONVERSION - While one need not be Jewish in order to attain salvation, a person who sincerely desires to become a Jew can be converted. The procedure requires genuine motivation, study of and commitment to Jewish life, circumcision for a male, and immersion in the mikvah (ritual bath) for both males and females. Conversion for the sake of marriage to a Jew is not encouraged; love of Judaism is a higher motivation than love of a Jew.
COSMETIC SURGERY - is permitted for medical reasons, e.g. after an accident or to enable a person to find a marriage partner or to earn a living, and according to some, even for the sake of vanity, though not if any danger is involved.
CREMATION - Burning a body is abhorrent to Jewish tradition, which requires respectful burial in the earth. Though burial does lead to physical disintegration, this happens gradually and in God's way. Cremation is a deliberate destruction of the body, which is God's property, and negates the belief in physical resurrection.
DEATH - No-one lives forever, though there is a view that Adam's sin brought death into the world. Life is precious and must not be shortened, though there are circumstances in which artificial impediments to dying need not to be continued. After death, body and soul separate; the body is buried and the soul survives. Life after death is spiritual, not physical; heaven is not a place but a state of being.
DIVORCE - If every effort to preserve a marriage has failed, the chapter should be closed in dignity with a divorce, hopefully with the couple remaining on good terms. A religious as well as a civil divorce is necessary to sever a Jewish marriage tie. Divorce must be the last resort; counselling should be attempted in order to try to rehabilitate the marriage.
DRUG-TAKING - The duty to seek healing, including taking medicine, is axiomatic. However, drugs used for non-medical purposes have harmful effects on the person and personality, and it is forbidden to put oneself at risk. Even smoking is a dangerous drug. The Bible states that wine creates a happy mood, but artificial means of escaping from reality are not approved.
ECOLOGY - The environment must be preserved and not placed at risk by human greed or exploitation. Though the world is given to man to use and enjoy, it is a sacred charge that must be handed over to coming generations in good order. There is a duty, "Do not destroy". Though the needs of nature are a high priority, in an emergency (e.g. to allow for burial of the deceased), genuine human need takes priority.
EUTHANASIA ("assisted suicide") is an infringement of God's prerogative to ordain life and death. ("It is best that He who has given life should take it away; no-one should hasten their own death"). Death has to come normally, though when a person is in great pain it is permitted to pray to God to allow them to die. If artificial impeditments are prolonging one's dying, there are circumstances in which they can be removed.
EVOLUTION - Though the theory of evolution has inherent scientific problems, a process moving from the simpler to the more complex forms can be reconciled with the Biblical account of stage-by-stage creation so long as we do not speak of man descending but ascending from what preceded him.
FEMINISM - Man and woman are equal in the eyes of God, but they are not identical in form or role. Some commandments are specially for women; others are for men. Both males and females have a role in spiritual leadership and may be religious scholars and teachers, but the titles "rabbi" or "cantor" are limited in traditional Judaism to males. Some communities have women's prayer groups. There are endeavours to remove disabilities that some women suffer in cases of divorce.
GAMBLING - The compulsive or professional gambler is disqualified from being a judge or witness in a Jewish court. They are regarded as not using their time constructively to serve society, they jeopardise their own and their family's stability and as they take risks with their money, they may take risks with the truth. An occasional "flutter", e.g. a lottery ticket, is not a major problem.
GENTILES - All human beings are made in the Divine image and must be treated with respect, even if one disagrees with them. Their sick must be visited, their poor supported and their dead buried, regardless of their ethnic identity or religion. Jews suffered so much because of gentiles that some are still worried about "the goyim".
HOMOSEXUALITY - Homosexuality and lesbianism conflict with the Biblical norm of heterosexual marriage and procreation. Homosexuals and lesbians must nonetheless be respected as people. The Talmud rejects the notion of a formal marriage between two people of the same gender, insisting that the term "marriage" be limited to a male/female relationship.
INTERMARRIAGE - Intermarriage between Jews and gentiles creates problems for the children and complicates the marriage relationship. It weakens Judaism, since it is in marriage, family and the home that Jewish identity is based. In an open society, some degree of intermarriage appears inevitable, but good-quality Jewish education helps to ensure that Jews will marry within their own faith.
IN-VITRO FERTILISATION (IVF) - Provided it is the wife's ovum and the husband's sperm, IVF is permissible but with adequate safeguards to minimise risks.
ISLAM - a monotheistic daughter-religion of Judaism, which has more in common with Islamic than Christian theology. Jewish influences are evident in the Quran, though Mohammed turned against the Jews and criticised them in many passages. In the medieval period Jewish and Islamic culture co-existed constructively.
MARRIAGE - Marriage and the family are the basic units of society; marriage is the first commandment in the Torah. The unmarried person lives "without joy, without blessing, without good". Mystics say that husband and wife share one soul. Couples, who live together without kiddushin (sanctified marriage), may have love and pleasure, but they have no guarantee of commitment and stability.
MEDIA - The verse, "Do not place a stumbling-block before the blind" is interpreted as meaning, "Do not misinform or mislead other people". It ought to be the motto of the media, which do not always deserve the public's trust. Great harm can be done with words, emphases and nuances, and with pictures, especially when complex situations are presented selectively or simplistically. The borderline between honest reporting and editorialising - open or implied - must be honoured if the media are to act responsibly.
MILITARY SERVICE - Rabbinic teaching is, " If someone comes to attack you, forestall them." Defence of oneself or one's family, nation or country is a moral duty. War is no pleasure nor an ideal, but until it is eradicated, one must give military service if necessary. "Purity of arms" (the ethics of warfare) must be observed.
MODESTY - "Walking humbly with your God" is one of the prophet Micah's teachings. It entails modesty in speech, dress and deed. Suggestive flaunting of one's body, or real or simulated sex in public, contravenes the principle of modesty.
ORGAN TRANSPLANTS - Saving a life is a religious and moral duty. To leave a person in danger infringes the rule, "Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbour". Organ transplants are life-saving acts, provided they are likely to succeed and do not imperil the life of the donor or hasten his/her death.
OTHER FAITHS - One need not be Jewish to achieve salvation. The righteous of all peoples have a place in the world to come, and their conscience and convictions must be respected. This does not mean that all religions are equally true. There are insights, ethics and spirituality in other religions, but Judaism regards itself as the truest religion.
PEACE - The Jewish greeting, shalom, means "peace", not just the absence of war but a state of contentment and security. Peace is so important that the Bible commands, "Seek peace and pursue it"; the Jewish sages say, "Seek it in your own place and pursue it in other places." Concessions and compromises are acceptable "in the interests of peace". If peace begins with oneself and one's own family, it can radiate into one's community and throughout the world.
PAEDOPHILIA - Biblical teaching insists, "Sin not against the child". It is an unforgivable sin to prey upon and abuse children and rob them of their innocence. Jewish law prohibits not only genital penetration, but any form of illicit fondling or other inappropriate conduct for the purpose of gratifying sexual desire. People who work with children are especially obliged to protect their young charges.
PORNOGRAPHY - Restraint and modesty are basic moral duties. Jewish teaching, which, objects to a "mouth speaking wantonness", also opposes the depiction of sexual conduct in art and literature, on stage and screen. "Everyone knows why the bride enters the bridal chamber, but to speak of it (or publicise it) is a disgrace." True, there were some rather bawdy medieval Jewish writers, but the norm in Judaism is modesty and dignity.
POVERTY - is "no great disgrace, but no honour either." Affluence is a blessing and gives a person the means to help others, but most people cannot expect to be wealthy. Everyone must work hard to be self-supporting but if necessary the community should help, not merely on an ad-hoc basis but (preferably anonymously) to enable the recipient to re-establish him/herself.
PROFESSIONAL PRIVILEGE - Generally one must keep a confidence and not be "a tale bearer (who) reveals a secret". But disclosure of information can be permitted in order to protect against an offence or injury: "If he does not tell, he will bear iniquity". If required by a court, the testimony must be given "in camera". The professional who feels the need to disclose information should urge the person concerned that he/she should him/herself admit the facts.
RACISM - is a denial of the rights of every human being, whatever their colour, creed or politics. All are equally children of God and members of the human community. No group is inherently superior or inferior. One may democratically criticise their conduct (though the Talmud says, "Criticise yourself and only then criticise others"), but not to the extent of vilifying or victimising them, or perpetrating or provoking violence.
REINCARNATION - That the dead live on is axiomatic. Whether a soul can be "recycled" by means of reincarnation is a matter of debate. Some hold that there is no reason why a soul cannot pass into another body; others find it difficult to believe that a soul can have many identities and wonder what will happen when resurrection occurs - into which of many possible bodies will the soul re-enter?
RELIGION - Human beings need God-inspired vision, spirituality and challenge. They need worship in order to keep in touch with these ideals and religious practices in order to bring principles into daily conduct. Life with religion can be hard but it is good. Religion sometimes divides people but it should unite them in mutual respect.
REPUBLICANISM - There are good monarchies and bad republics, but Jewish thinking prefers a republican model where leadership arises from the people and can be democratically changed. Whatever type of government a nation has, it is required by Biblical teaching to act correctly and be approved by God.
SEX-CHANGE OPERATIONS - are prohibited by Jewish law. Whilst early rabbinic writings acknowledge that a few people have both male and female characteristics, and some are of indeterminate sex, the treatment of a person with gender problems is by psychiatric therapy. Surgery in such cases is a form of mutilation. The Talmud asks how anyone can expect "the order of creation to be changed for their sake".
SMOKING - When tobacco first became known, the pleasure it gave led some rabbis to think smoking was like offering incense in the Temple. The tendency these days is to prohibit it in order to protect one's health. It is foolish to rely on the Biblical words, "The Lord preserves the simple."
STEM-CELL RESEARCH - Stem-cells can be coaxed to provide the potential to cure diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Adult stem-cells are preferable from an ethical point of view; there is a debate about stem-cells from spare early embryos. Some argue that causing such embryos to be destroyed is an invasion of life; Judaism believes that the early embryo is not yet a full person and subject to safeguards can be used in order to save life.
STERILISATION - Castration or surgical sterilisation, except when there are urgent medical reasons, is not permitted. It prevents the fulfilment of the commandment to be "fruitful and multiply", and is a form of self-mutilation. Sterilisation is permitted to prevent danger to life, especially by a woman motivated by serious considerations, e.g. if she fears extreme pain in pregnancy or childbirth.
STRIKES - As no-one may willingly be enslaved, even to a job, a worker has the right to withdraw his/her labour when there is no other way to redress a valid grievance, but not if one is in an essential occupation such as medicine and would gravely harm the public. Workers whose strike action causes serious economic injury to the employer may be required to compensate the employer.
SUICIDE - Life is a Divine gift and must be cherished and preserved. Taking one's own life was once regarded as the ultimate defiance of God, and a suicide was buried away from the main part of the cemetery. Today we say that a suicide is usually caused by extreme pressure and is not done to spite God, and normal burial is allowed.
SURROGATE MOTHERHOOD - In an emergency, a childless couple may resort to a surrogate mother into whose womb a zygote is implanted. Ethical issues that need addressing include hiring out wombs for commercial gain or creating a trade in babies. Further debate is also needed about who the "real" mother is - the one who produced the ovum or the one who carried the baby; does the child, once born have the duty of "Honour your father and mother" in relation to both women?
TATTOOING - is disapproved as its origins were idolatrous, though technically it is banned only if done with indelible ink and in the form of writing. Even if issues such as self-mutilation, risking injury, etc., are ruled out, it is better to work on one's heart, mind and soul than to concentrate on physical appearance.
TAXES - Because non-payment of taxes is regarded as stealing the government's money, leading to the curtailing of public utilities and services, taxation is valid and moral. To deceive or defraud the tax office is to transgress the prohibitions of stealing, desecrating God's name and telling untruths. However, overpaying taxes may be avoided by legal means so long as facts are not withheld.
VEGETARIANISM - God originally meant human beings to be vegetarian. He allowed meat-eating as a concession to human appetite, but under strictly controlled conditions. In particular, animals had to be slaughtered humanely and the slaughterer could derive no pleasure out of the act of killing. Eventually vegetarianism will be restored as the ideal when "they shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain". Some Jewish teachers say that Sabbath and festival joy require meat-eating, but this view does not have the status of a commandment.
ZIONISM - The Biblical vision of a Jewish return to Zion sustained the Jewish people for countless centuries and has now begun to be realised in the State of Israel, dedicated, according to its declaration of independence in 1948, to the ethical ideals of the Scriptures. The need for a refuge has brought many Jews to Israel; idealism has brought many others. The road to peace with Israel's Arab neighbours and the Palestinians has been difficult, but an Israeli poet sums up the feelings that will eventually make peace work when he writes, "Time is running out, put hatred to sleep; shoulder to shoulder let us water our sheep."
Especial thanks to http://www.greatsynagogue.org.au/index.html
Within the collection is a group of around 200 old and rare books, both leather and vellum bound, some dating from the early 16th century. They include some notable early printed Bibles, 1667 editions of works by John Calvin, a very rare treatise on the Kabbalah from 1517 and Renaissance-era editions of Josephus in various European languages.
The Rabbi LA Falk Memorial Library is a reference library and books cannot be borrowed. However, the office staff of the Great Synagogue is happy to assist with photocopying for which a small fee is charged.
The volunteer librarian is Pearl Cutter, and she and her volunteer helpers are happy to assist with telephone and written queries and email inquiries. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
(link to access the catalogue)
Australian Jewish Genealogical Society: www.ajgs.org.au; email@example.com
Australian Jewish Historical Society: firstname.lastname@example.org
Founded in the 1980s, the AM Rosenblum Jewish Museum showcases the Great Synagogue's outstanding collection of Jewish artefacts including textiles, ritual silver and paintings.
Exhibitions change periodically.
The museum is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays as part of the synagogue tour at 12 noon.
The Great Synagogue holds copies of records of births, deaths and marriages from the early days of the Colony of NSW. In many cases the originals are held by the Mitchell Library in the State Library of NSW and permission must be sought from the Great Synagogue in order to consult these records. Many of the records, both older and more recent, have been microfilmed and copies are held both at the Synagogue and at the Australian Jewish Historical Society. The Society has a microfilm printer which makes consulting the records much easier. The AJHS can be consulted at email@example.com 9518 7596
Postal & Office: 166 Castlereagh St, Sydney,
Entry for services: 187a Elizabeth St, Sydney
Tel: 61 2 9267 2477
Fax: 61 2 92648871
From the raised platform (Bimah) at the Castlereagh Street end of the Synagogue the service is conducted and the Torah is read. Originally the Bimah stood in the centre of the building with the seats grouped around it. This is more the traditional position, said to symbolise the centrality of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, where the tribes of Israel surrounded the Sanctuary.
The service is conducted with the officiant and congregation facing the direction of Jerusalem. This unites Jewish congregations everywhere and emphasises that Israel is the focus of Jewish culture and faith. The sacred scrolls of the Torah (Five Books of Moses) have their repository in the Ark, situated at the end of the building nearest to Jerusalem. Many of the Great Synagogues scrolls are quite old and underwent vicissitudes of their own before finding a home in our Ark.
Above the Ark is the choir gallery, surmounted by a dome with small circular stained glass windows bearing Hebrew inscriptions. The Great Synagogue has a male choir comprising men and boys, the service is conducted without instrumental accompaniment.
The association of music with Jewish religious expression dates back to Biblical times, but probably the only trace of Biblical music still extant is the system of cantillation of the Scriptures. Some of the characteristic musical motifs for Sabbaths and festivals are quite old but choral music in the modern sense was a nineteenth-century development.
Suspended above the Ark is the perpetual light (Ner Tamid), recalling the light that burned in the Temple. From earliest times, light was a religious symbol; the Lord is man's light (Psalm 27); His commands are man's lamp (Proverb 6); Israel is to be a light unto a nations (Isaiah 42).
Flanking the Bimah and the choir gallery are seven-branched light fittings, originally lit by gas, recalling the Menorah or lampstand in the ancient Tabernacle and Temple.
Standing on a pedestal in front of the pulpit is a nine-branched candelabrum (Chanukiyah), used during the festival of Chanukah. This was designed and crafted by Rabbi L.A. Falk.
On the Bimah are the official seats of the rabbi, cantor and assistant minister. The title "rabbi" means "teacher", the rabbi is not an ordained priest but the religious and moral teacher and guide of his congregation.
On the ground floor, on either side of the Ark, are special closed pews for the elected lay leaders of the congregation. Male worshippers occupy the ground floor and ladies the gallery of the Synagogue. This separation of the sexes has been a feature of Jewish worship since Temple times and was probably introduced to aid concentration on prayer.
Looking at the ceiling one observes countless little goldleaf stars against a dark blue background. This design, introduced at the beginning of the century represents the Creation with God's call, "Let there be light", and suggests the light of Divine truth emanating from the house of worship.