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A temple (from the Latin word templum) is a structure reserved for religious or spiritual rituals and activities such as prayer and sacrifice. It is typically used for such buildings belonging to all faiths where a more specific term such as church, mosque or synagogue is not generally used in English. These include Hinduism, Buddhism , and Jainism among religions with many modern followers, as well as other ancient religions such as Ancient Egyptian religion.

The form and function of temples is thus very variable, though they are often considered by believers to be in some sense the “house” of one or more deities. Typically, offerings of some sort are made to the deity, and other rituals enacted, and a special group of clergy maintain, and operate the temple. The degree to which the whole population of believers can access the building varies significantly; often parts or even the whole main building can only be accessed by the clergy. Temples typically have a main building and a larger precinct, which may contain many other buildings.
The word comes from Ancient Rome, where a temple constituted a sacred precinct as defined by a priest, or augur. It has the same root as the word “template”, a plan in preparation of the building that was marked out on the ground by the augur. Temple also became associated with the dwelling places of a god or gods. Despite the specific set of meanings associated with the word, it has now become widely used to describe a house of worship for any number of religions and is even used for time periods prior to the Romans.

A Synagogue, also spelled “synagog” from Greek “synagogē” meaning ‘assembly’, is a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogues have a large place for prayer (the main sanctuary), and may also have smaller rooms for study and sometimes a social hall and offices. Some have a separate room for Torah study. Synagogues are consecrated spaces used for the purpose of prayer, Tanakh (the entire Hebrew Bible, including the Torah) reading, study and assembly; however, a synagogue is not necessary for worship. Halakha holds that communal Jewish worship can be carried out wherever ten Jews (a minyan) assemble. Worship can also be carried out alone or with fewer than ten people assembled together. However, halakha considers certain prayers as communal prayers and therefore they may be recited only by a minyan. In terms of its specific ritual and liturgical functions, the synagogue does not replace the long-since destroyed Temple in Jerusalem.


Although Synagogues existed a long time before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 BC, communal worship in the time while the Temple still stood centered around the sacrificial offerings brought by the Priests in the Temple in Jerusalem. The all-day Yom Kippur service, in fact, was an event in which the congregation both observed the movements of the high priest as he offered the day’s sacrifices and prayed for his success.
During the Babylonian captivity (586–537 BCE) the men of the Great Assembly formalized and standardized the language of the Jewish prayers. Prior to that people prayed as they saw fit, with each individual praying in his or her own way, and there were no standard prayers that were recited. Johanan ben Zakai, one of the leaders at the end of the Second Temple era, promulgated the idea of creating individual houses of worship in whatever locale Jews found themselves. This contributed to the continuity of the Jewish people by maintaining a unique identity and a portable way of worship despite the destruction of the Temple, per many historians.

It is common to hear the terms synagogue and temple to refer to a place of worship within the Jewish religion. And today, these terms are used almost interchangeably, but if you look at the historical perspective of these terms, you will see that the evolution of the words has shown differences in the past. Historically, Jewish congregations were called Holy Assemblies or Houses of Assembly. At this time, synagogues were referred to as Houses of Prayer or Houses of Study.

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When the ancient Temple of Jerusalem existed (commonly just referred to as the Temple with a capital T), the functions of the Temple and a synagogue were quite different and only when the Temple was destroyed did Synagogues become of greater importance. At this point in time they evolved to become a sacred space for prayer and studying of the Torah, although it is important to remember that a synagogue is not necessary for worship and it does not replace the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem.

For this reason, the distinction between referring to a place of worship as either a temple or a synagogue can often indicate much about the person who is using the term. Reform Jews use the term temple as they consider the meeting place to be a manifestation or replacement for the Temple in Jerusalem. Conservative Jews typically use the word synagogue as it is the Greek translation for “Beit K’nesset” meaning ‘place of assembly’.

The Temple, as dictated by the activities conducted in the original Temple of Jerusalem, acts as a place where offerings described in the Hebrew Bible are conducted, including daily morning and afternoon offerings and special offerings on holidays. These include a prayer service that is recited to this day. The untranslated name given to the Temple is Beit HaElohim, which literally means House of God.

Some of the differences between a temple and synagogue are stated as follows:

 The first temple can be traced to that built by Solomon in Israel while the Synagogue’s establishment can be traced to the exilic period where the Israelites with the absence of a temple for worship, had to create synagogues for worship.
 There could only exist at a time, one temple in Israel while there could exist at a time, many synagogues in Israel.
 The temple had a complex building structure while the synagogues were simple and square shaped. . The temples always emphasized on sacrifice while in the synagogue, there was no sacrifice made since there was no altar for sacrifice.
 The temples always had approximately 50 officiating personnel while the synagogues always had two officiating personnel.
 The Sadducees were more attached to the temples while the Pharisees were more attached to the synagogues.
 The Temple proper was always restricted to priests while the synagogue proper was always open to all and sundry.


As you can see, there are some differences between the terms temple and synagogue. However, in most areas in modern times, the two terms frequently refer to the same thing-a Jewish place of worship.

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