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The purpose of synagogue

R. Steve Bernstein

October 2016

Most people in Messianic Judaism today accept that Synagogue services are an integral part of the Messianic Jewish relationship with Hashem. Unfortunately, most people also are unaware of the origins and derivation of the Synagogue and the Synagogue service.

Prior to the Babylonian exile Synagogue did not exist. The Synagogue itself is a construct created as a result of the Babylonian exile. Judaism, until that point, was completely centered around the Tabernacle\Temple. The Temple services, officiated by the Kohayns, were the mainstay of Jewish life and the children of Israel’s relationship with Hashem. The Kohayns diligently brought the sacrifices and offerings, both national and individual, and offered them according to the instructions in the Torah. These activities which had been the center of Jewish life from Sinai, came to an abrupt halt when the armies of Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and burned the Temple to the ground.

Most of the children of Israel were carried off into captivity in Babylon, the Temple was no more, and although it was in the hearts of the children of Israel to rebuild the Temple and reestablish ourselves in the land of the promise, there was no immediate thought of the feasibility of accomplishing this as we were carried off into exile. So, a new era began in Judaism. How could Judaism survive without the Temple? What would Judaism look like without the Temple? What would Israel’s relationship with Hashem consist in without the Temple?

The leadership of Israel had these questions and many more to ponder and solve with the onslaught of the exile. 120 of these leaders got together and form what is known as the Anshei Knesset HaGdola, the men of the great assembly. These leaders included people we are well familiar with from Scripture, including Ezekiel, Daniel, Haggai, Zechariah, Mordechai, Ezra, Nehemiah, and others. The men of the great assembly were faced with the problem of finding a way to maintain a relationship with Hashem that did not include the Temple. With Ezra leading the way, the men of the great assembly began fervently evaluate Torah and the Torah relationship Israel had with Hashem. The question arose, for the first time, what if the children of Israel were incapable of performing a mitzvah? With the Temple destroyed, many of the commandments of Hashem were no longer viable. We had no way to bring offerings to the place that God had chosen. It had been destroyed. So how do we do those commandments? The Anshei Knesset HaGdola determined a key principle which very much affects our lives, even today. That is, if one cannot form a mitzvah, instead of ignoring the mitzvah, it is incumbent upon us to do as much of the mitzvah as we possibly can. Even though we cannot do all of the mitzvah we must not ignore it, we must do what we can, this action shows our hearts to Hashem. The principle of the Anshei Knesset HaGdola is the underlying factor establishing the Synagogue and the Synagogue service.

Numbers 28 shows us many of the national offerings Israel is required to make for Hashem in the Temple. The chapter begins with the description of the Tamid offering, the daily offerings at dawn and at dusk. Without the Tamid offering, none of the other offerings could be brought during the day. The Tamid offering provided the bookends of the entire Temple service. Since we no longer had a Temple, how could we fulfill the mitzvah of the Tamid offering? The answer was, of course, we could not. However, following the principle of the Anshei Knesset HaGdola, it is incumbent upon us to do was much as we are able. So, we assembled together and performed the service of the Tamid offering, without actually doing the sacrifice itself, because the sacrifice was required to be made only in the place that Hashem had chosen, the Temple mount. The Synagogue service was born. The basic order of the Synagogue service is a commemoration of the basic order of the service of the Tamid offering we are no longer able to do in the Temple. There are additional sacrifices and offerings in Numbers chapter 28, for instance, there is the additional, or in Hebrew Musaf offering for various designated times, like Shabbat, commemorated in the Synagogue service. Consequently, on Shabbat, we begin with the Shacharit service, which is a commemoration of the dawn Tamid offering. This is followed by a Torah reading, which was instituted by Ezra. Then the Musaf service commemorates the additional sacrifice for Shabbat.

This is why we have Synagogue service today. Many of the elements of our Synagogue services today can be traced back to the actual Temple service that was carried out by the Kohayns. Even though we cannot do the sacrifices as instructed by Hashem, by attending Synagogue service, we do as much as we can of the Temple mitzvoth.

Sat, July 24 2021 15 Av 5781