What is the significance of the synagogue in Jewish life today? How has that role changed over the years? What are some of the challenges facing the modern American synagogue?
What is the significance of the synagogue in Jewish life today? Do you think that the role of the synagogue has changed over the years? What are some of the challenges facing the modern American synagogue? And how are we responding to these challenges?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
The synagogue is important for Jews to gather together and pray to God, as explained in the verse "A multitude of people is a kings glory" (Proverbs 14:28). In other words, when many people gather together for a spiritual purpose it shows respect to God. In fact, Jewish law requires that prayer services be conducted with a "minyan" of 10 adult men.
The synagogue also serves as a central point of community gatherings – such as lifecycle events and Torah study.
The phenomenon of suburbs is a challenge for the modern American synagogue. For many years, Jews lived together in one small neighborhood, and therefore the synagogue was located within walking distance of each home. This is important because there is a Torah prohibition against driving on Shabbat ("You shall light no fire on Shabbat" – Exodus 35:2).
But with the advent of suburbs, people live far apart, and now they are driving to the synagogue rather than staying home. Some argue that this is an appropriate exception to Jewish law (i.e. surely God would approve!). But in fact, a community driving on Shabbat eliminates the necessity to live close together. There is no longer a need for the neighborhood Jewish school, Jewish bakery, Jewish clubs, etc. The experience of growing up in a Jewish community is lost, and children are absorbed into the melting pot of secular society. The result is that the American Jewish community is experiencing massive assimilation and 60 percent intermarriage, with many Jews being lost to the Jewish people forever.
Fortunately, there are many people today dedicated to doing something about it. Aish branches, community kollels and others are forming core communities that attract young people with a warm, open and intellectually stimulating approach. These communities continue to grow and expand, and are now found in virtually every city around the Jewish world.
If you tell me what city you're located in, I'll be happy to recommend a place for you to contact.