Jewish Journal

What Do You Want to Know About Synagogues?

by Susan Esther Barnes

August 29, 2012 | 8:00 am

I recently received the Fall edition of Reform Judaism magazine, and quickly came across the article, “What Do You Know…about Synagogues?” on page 10. The Editor’s note at the start of the article says, “This is the first article in a series designed to increase your Jewish knowledge in an interesting way.”

That sounded good, so I quickly began to read the series of questions. And I was thoroughly disappointed with what I found there.

Instead of a list of interesting questions that would actually have a chance – and I mean any chance at all – of increasing the reader’s knowledge about Judaism, it was instead a list of completely useless trivia questions. The kind I hate the most.

Rather than questions whose answers would help a person to learn about synagogue buildings, rituals, or life, they are mostly “gotcha” historical questions that have absolutely no bearing on Jewish life as it is lived today. What a wasted opportunity.

Then I thought, “Well, if I were going to write a quiz under that name, what would I write? Could I come up with ten questions that have some actual educational value, as well as relevance?” The answer is, “Why yes, I could.” See below:

1. What feature does a building need to have in order to be considered a synagogue?
    a. A good sound system
    b. A window
    c. Prayer books in English and Hebrew
    d. Carpet

2. Who in a synagogue is considered to be part of the clergy?
    a. The synagogue president
    b. The rabbi
    c. The cantor
    d. Both b and c

3. Who may conduct a synagogue prayer service?
    a. The rabbi
    b. The cantor
    c. Any knowledgeable Jewish person
    d. All of the above

4. Where are the Torah scrolls kept in a synagogue?
    a. The ark
    b. The synagogue office
    c. The synagogue safe
    d. The geniza

5. Where in a synagogue are old, unusable documents with God’s name on them kept before they can be disposed of properly?
    a. The recycle bin
    b. The geniza
    c. The ark
    d. The supply room

6. What can you find in any synagogue over the place where the Torah scrolls are kept?
    a. A chuppah (canopy)
    b. A box of prayer shawls
    c. An eternal light
    d. A star of David

7. Is it proper to put a mezuzah on the doorpost of a synagogue?
    a. Yes, but traditionally, only if people eat and sleep in the synagogue building
    b. Yes, all synagogues should have one
    c. No, no synagogues should have them
    d. Yes, but only if a rabbi lives in the building

8. Is there a traditional prayer for a person to say upon entering a synagogue?
    a. No
    b. Yes, it is called, “The Sh’ma” and is about God being one
    c. Yes, it is called, “Hinei Ma Tov” and is about how good it is to be together
    d. Yes, it is called “Ma Tovu” and is about the loveliness of the dwellings of the Israelites

9. Who should wear a kippah (yarmulke) in a Reform synagogue?
    a. Anyone who wants to
    b. Only men
    c. Only women
    d. Only Jewish people

10. Who should wear a prayer shawl (tallit) in a Reform synagogue for daytime services?
    a. Anyone who wants to
    b. Only men
    c. Only women
    d. Only Jewish people

Answers: 1b, 2d, 3d, 4a, 5b, 6c, 7a, 8d, 9a, 10d

Tell me, honestly, which list, either the magazine’s or mine, do you think has a better chance to increase a person’s Jewish knowledge in a useful or meaningful way? Why isn’t the difference obvious to the editors of the magazine?

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Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

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