[Greek, synagog� = assembly], beit kneset [Hebrew, house of assemblies] - The building in which Jews pray, known in Polish as boznica.

The synagogue is the focus of religious life, and to some extent also for the social life in traditional Jewish communities. Its institutional origins reach back to antiquity, most probably to the period of the Babylonian captivity, when the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed. Judaic religious observance became decentralized at that time: each Community created a place where men could pray together and decide about Community matters. After the Jews returned to Judea, the synogogal liturgy coexisted with the cult of the temple. The synagogal liturgy represented the first form of organization of the Jewish diaspora.

After the destruction of the Second Temple (70 AD), the synagogue assumed all religious functions. At first, the synagogue's function was not strictly sacral: sacrifices were not made there, and the priests had purely symbolic roles. With time, Jews began alluding to the symbolism of the temple, particularly in the synagogue's interior. The synagogue continued to have non-religious roles as well: it remained a place for study (beit midrash), court was sometimes held there, and it became a makeshift shelter at times for travelers or the homeless.

Synagogues reflected the architectural styles of the period (in the Hellenistic period-classical architecture, in the Middle Ages-Gothic, etc.) and countries in which they were located. Some elements were nevertheless constant. The Aron HaKodesh for example is where the Torah, an object of veneration, is kept; it is always located on the wall facing Jerusalem. In the middle of the prayer room was a bima [Hebrew, podium]-a raised pulpit from which the Holy Scriptures were read and the priests would bless the faithful. In Sephardic synagogues, benches line three of the walls, while in Ashkenazy synagogues the benches are in rows, facing the Aron HaKodesh.

When women began taking part in prayers in the Middle Ages, a separate room was added for them, linked to the main part of the synagogue by windows. The women's section was later located in a balcony.
In Poland, synagogues' special features stemmed both from cultural differences and legal regulations. For example, synagogues could not be built near the church, nor could they be taller than it, or have towers. In order to attain a sense of monumentality, the level of the floor of the prayer room as often lowered. It was entered through a large doorway, known in Hebrew as the polish. In some towns, Jews built massive, fortress-like synagogues, which were sometimes located outside the city walls, as was the case in Rymanow.

The Chasidim, particularly in the Kresy, developed a type of wooden synagogue, elaborately decorated, in the folk Baroque style. Its style was influenced by the art of Orthodox carpenters and woodworkers. Chasidic religiosity, requiring spontaneity and the sacralization of daily activities, meant their prayer rooms, shtibl [Yiddish, "little room"], were located in private homes. Although these usually only served for everyday prayers, during some holidays or on the Sabbath feasts were held there for the men, without their families. Small synagogues, called kloyz or klauz, were specially organized by professional or neighborhood groups.

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