The Orthodox Synagogue in Swansea

The picture shows the outside of the synagogue in Swansea. The synagogue is the Jewish place of worship.  The word ‘synagogue’ means ‘meeting place’. Jews come here:

  • to worship God
  • to learn more about God and the Jewish religion (for example they may study the Torah, the Jewish sacred writings) 
  • to meet and socialise with other Jews.

Although there is no name on the building, there is a clue that this is a synagogue. Can you see star shapes on the blue and white tiles?  The six-pointed star is one of the symbols of Judaism and is called the ‘Star of David’.  

Orthodox and Reform synagogues

The synagogue in Swansea is an Orthodox synagogue. There are various different groups within Judaism, with two important groups being 'Orthodox' and 'Reform'. There are some differences between Orthodox and Reform synagogues and the worship that takes place within them, but all types of Jews are equally important.

Orthodox Jews believe in keeping all the teachings set out in the Torah. They believe that the Torah is God's Word - the actual words he spoke to the prophet Moses - and it cannot be changed. It sets out how God wants them to live and contains 613 mitzvot (rules) which they should keep. Orthodox Jews believe that it is important to keep all these rules, because that is what God has told them to do. They believe that these rules are just as important and relevant now as they were over three thousand years ago when God spoke to Moses.

Reform Jews also believe that the Torah is very important and that it was inspired by God. They do not, however, think it is literally the words which God spoke to Moses. They believe that some of the rules have become out-dated and that they can be changed to suit the modern world.

In the synagogue, one of the main differences to be seen between Orthdox and Reform Judaism is the place of women. In Orthodox synagogues, men and women sit separately. It is only men who can become rabbis and who can read from the Torah scroll. Women are considered to have a more important role in the home than in the synagogue. In the reform synagogue, women play an equal role to men - they can become rabbis and read from the Torah scroll. Here, men and women sit together. The picture below shows a girl reading from the Torah scroll at her Bat Mitzvah in the Cardiff Reform synagogue.

Another difference is that in the Orthodox synagogue, the service is in Hebrew, whereas in the Reform synagogue in Britain, part of the service is in Hebrew and part of it is in English.