Looking at Buildings

Building Types

The Prayer Hall

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Bevis Marks Synagogue, London

The synagogue proper is the "little sanctuaryGlossary Term," the equivalent of the "Holy Place"(HaKodesh) in TabernacleGlossary Term and Temple. Usually placed (in the western world) on the E or SE wall (i.e in the direction of Jerusalem) is the "Holy ArkGlossary Term" (Aron HaKodesh). The ArkGlossary Term recalls the Biblical "Holy of Holies" (Kodesh HaKodeshim) that contained the "ArkGlossary Term of the Covenant" (Aron haBrit). The portable ArkGlossary Term carried on staves described in the Bible has been replaced by a feature containing the "Scrolls of the Law" (Sifrei Torah) which are the most precious items owned by the congregation.

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Synagogues, The Ark (ehal)

The ArkGlossary Term may, at its simplest, takes the form of a movable piece of furniture, like a wardrobe, or it may be a built-in cupboard, often placed inside an apseGlossary Term, a complete architectural feature in itself. The ArkGlossary Term protects the scrolls which, when not in use during the service, are hidden behind a curtain (Parohet), recalling the veil in Mishkan and Temple. Hanging over the ArkGlossary Term is the Ner Tamid: the "perpetual lightGlossary Term" which is a reminder of the candelabrum which burned continually in the Temple.

The ArkGlossary Term is usually elevated on steps, perhaps based on the rabbinic injunction to "go up" to the ArkGlossary Term and the words of the Psalmist calling on God from "out of the depths"(Psalm 130). A common Hebrew inscription, adapted from the Mishneh, found over the ArkGlossary Term is translated as "Know before Whom you stand."



Semicircular or polygonal end of an apartment, especially of a chancel or chapel. In classical architecture sometimes called an exedra.


Chest or cupboard housing the tables of Jewish law in a synagogue.


Compartment of a window defined by the uprights or mullions.


Used for the area around the main altar of a church.


Canopied structure in a church or chapel to contain the reserved sacrament or a relic. Also an architectural frame for an image or statue.