Mordechai Aviam, Ze’Ev Safrai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the rabbinical literature, synagogues are the typical example of public building. Today it is general accepted in the research that the Second Temple synagogue served mainly for community gatherings, Torah study, as a community centers, and so on. Prayer was of secondary importance, and the synagogue served as a place of prayer only starting in the second or third century. In this ar-ticle, we are going to discuss that the term “private synagogue” or “synagogue of an individual” or in Hebrew which is mentioned few times in the Jewish sources from the second century Mishnah to the later Talmud. However, on the estate there was no need for such a place for community gatherings. We will show here, with the help of five sites, that archaeological discoveries can shed light on the phenomenon of “private synagogues” during the first century and in the Byzantine period. These synagogues or “assembly rooms” were built in small farmsteads, away from the village, and in private, wealthy mansions in the Byzantine period. We may conclude that during the Second Temple period, the synagogue was used mainly, or also, for prayer. We should recall that: for the Sages “prayer” is the term that describes only what we call the “Shemoneh Esrei prayer”. Nevertheless, at the same time there were other prayers recited by the Jews: Kriyat Shema accompanied by blessings, the Priestly Blessing, the prayer in fast days, and so on. All these were common already in the first century and were performed in a ritual manner and in public – in spite of the fact that the Sages try to downplay the ritual elements. There are also hints for public dinners in the synagogues even that the rabbis opposed it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-126
Number of pages30
JournalJudaisme Ancien - Ancient Judaism
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Religious studies
  • Archaeology
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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