The synagogue has many Hebrew names, indicating its multiple functions. It is a Beit Tefillah (House of Prayer). The synagogue is a Beit Midrash (House of Study). The Sages decried as a deadly sin referring to the synagogue as a Beit Am (House of the People), as this suggests an unprincipled, undisciplined populism (Shabbat 32A).

The synagogue is commonly called a Beit Knesset, a “House of Assembly” – from the Hebrew Kinnus, meaning “gathering.” This nomenclature may also derive from the Hebrew Knissah – meaning “entry.” The Priest, upon concluding his sacrificial offering in the Temple, departed derech beit knissato – by retracing his path of entry (Yoma 42B). Thus, Beit Knesset: the synagogue is our Entryway. In the synagogue, we enter into Jewish learning and literacy. In the synagogue, we enter into the ways of prayer and Jewish piety. The synagogue is a gateway to significant relationships with God, with community, with social conscience.

In 1919, historian Robert Travers Herford wrote: “In all their long history, the Jewish people have done scarcely anything more wonderful than to create the Synagogue. No human institution has a longer continuous history, and none has done more for the uplifting of the human race.”

In 2019, the Beit Knesset remains indispensable: our Gateway to many blessings.

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