Synagogue (Gr. συναγωγή assembly, place of assembly; Heb. beth hakkeneseth, house of assembly), a building appropriated to worship and the performance of public religious rites in Jewish congregations. Corresponding to the word church in Christian terminology, the term is also applied to the Jewish community in general. The earliest synagogues, established in the times of Persian and Greek rule in Judea, were also for deliberative purposes. (For the "great synagoguo" or assembly see Hebrews, vol. viii., p. 591.) In subsequent centuries they were also used as seats of popular as well as higher instruction. In modern Jewish communities this is mostly imparted in a separate building, called beth hammidrasli, house of study. The synagogue is generally a high building, facing the four cardinal points, and provided with seats and desks on the floor for the male members of the congregation, and with galleries for the females. The east wall, which all must face during the recital of certain prayers, encloses the "holy ark" (aron hakkodesh), in which Hebrew copies of the Pentateuch, written on vellum, are deposited; and opposite it, near the centre, is the platform (bimah) on which the reading from the same is performed by the reciter or cantor (hazan), or by a special reader (kore). Sermons or lectures are delivered from a smaller platform adjoining the " holy ark," by the rabbi or a special preacher or lecturer.
The offices of reciter, reader, and lecturer are often united in the same person. Of late the use of the choir has become frequent, and the internal arrangements of the synagogues have been more and more assimilated to those of Christian churches.