Bevis Marks Synagogue: Exploring Religion in London

Welcome to the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue,
in Bevis Marks, here in the City of London: the oldest surviving synagogue in this country,
that is still in daily use. Our synagogue was built in 1701. It was built
during the rebuilding of the City of London, after the Great Fire, and it was built by
Joseph Avis, a church builder who was employed so that the building would blend in with the
other places of worship in the area. The last thing the community wanted was to stand out,
so he was asked to ensure that the building looked just like a church from outside. The reason the synagogue is located where
it is, is because when the planning permission was applied for, the authorities insisted
that the synagogue should not be visible from the street. So, it’s hidden away in this
courtyard and has been for over three centuries now. There are two types of Jews. You have Sephardic
Jews, who are descended from those who escaped from the Spanish Inquisition, which is what
we are. And you have Ashkenazi Jews, who are more descended from Eastern European, Germany,
Russia, Poland, etc. So this is a Sephardic synagogue. The word ‘synagogue’ actually means ‘meeting
room’, so somewhere where Jewish people come together to pray. There’s no actual
ritual involved with the preparation for prayer. The principal thing you do when you come in,
for men, is to cover their head. You show respect to God by having your head covered. Services are held in the synagogue every single
day. So, you have an early morning service midweek, for those who work in the City of
London, and of course on the Sabbath and festivals the services are longer. But there are services
here every day of the week, 365 days a year. The services are held in the main body of
the synagogue. There’s a central reading platform, called the Tevah, which is where
the service is conducted from. The reason the reading desk is in the centre is very
much a Sephardi tradition. Early Sephardi synagogues are based on the layout of the
temple in Jerusalem, where the reading desk was in the centre. Now, more modern synagogues
will have the reading desk in front of the Ark, so that all the seats can face forward.
As you’ll notice, our seats face inwards, and that’s so that we don’t have our back
to the reading while it’s taking place. Men and women pray separately, much the same
as they do in Islam; so the men are downstairs, the ladies are in the gallery. . But during
the services, we pray alone. When you stand in front of the Almighty, you’re alone – whatever
your partner has done or not done is irrelevant really. You’re the one that’s judged. The centre of all Judaism is the Torah, of
course. It’s the law, it’s the five books of Moses, and that’s the basis of the Jewish
faith. All synagogues have an ark, because you must
have the Torah, and it’s got to be kept in a place that is appropriate, and it’s
got to be treated with an incredible amount of respect. In the majority of synagogues
in the world, you will see above the Ark, something representing the Ten Commandments. There are actually seven chandeliers in the
synagogue and they represent the seven days of the week. There’s a larger one in the
centre, which represents the Shabbat ¬– the Sabbath. There’s no religious significance in the
candles – we do light them, but for effect these days, for things like weddings and festivals
and special occasions, because it looks so amazing. And actually, there’s one other
numerical thing in the synagogue and that’s the number of columns that support the ladies’
gallery. There are twelve of them, and they represent the twelve tribes of Israel.

  1. muslims and jews have so much in common. i still believe that the irrational conflict is mainly due to arms deals, oil, and stupidity.

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