Is a gentile allowed to participate in Shabbat prayers in a Synagogue (of course he/she will not count for a minyan) if they do so in order to gain knowledge of Jewish customs for the purpose of conversion?

As far as I know it is forbidden for a gentile to 'observe Shabbat' but I do not know what does it exactly mean and I would like for someone with more knowledge to clarify what is forbidden for a gentile to do on Shabbat that Jews shall do.

Also how should a gentile behave in a Synagogue, are there any special rules different than the 'normal' rules applicable to the Jews?

As a prospective convert I was told by a rabbi to start celebrate Jewish holidays and customs, but what am I forbidden from doing on Shabbat?


3 Answers 3


Gentiles can certainly attend synagogue services on Shabbat (or at any other time). I know many converts and all of them were required by their rabbis to start doing this fairly early on in the process. Conversion is in part about joining a community, so you'd better get to know it. Also, while you can practice prayers on your own, you need the experience of praying in that setting to really start to "get" those skills.

Further, sometimes non-Jewish friends of the family attend a bar mitzvah on Shabbat morning. If it's ok for them, who are there out of friendship and not out of belief, then how much the moreso should it be ok for someone who wants to join with the Jewish people?

It is forbidden for a gentile to fully observe Shabbat (see discussion here, thanks @ba). So long as there is one aspect that you violate, you're not doing that. If there's no eiruv where you live, carrying your keys in your pocket would satisfy that.

As far as behaving in a synagogue in general, decline any honors that are offered to you (like an aliyah) and you already know they can't count you in the minyan. Beyond that, you can just do what other people are doing. It it usually expected that men cover their heads; it's ok to use a kippah to do that. (Kippot are not restricted to Jews.) For more on head-covering see this question (thanks @ba again).

I wish you well on your journey.

  • "Wearing a kipa is not restricted to Jews." See this question and answers
    – b a
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 20:37
  • @ba, thanks. I've added both your links to the answer. Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 22:09
  • 2
    Would carrying keys be sufficient? As most places are only a karmelis that would only be a Rabbinic violation.
    – Michoel
    Commented Sep 9, 2012 at 3:22
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    @Michoel Perhaps they're "relying" on the majority opinion in Rishonim that most city streets are Reshut haRabbim Deoraita. Furthermore see Lechem Mishneh on the linked to linked to Rambam who argues that the 'death penalty' in this case is only Rabbinic in nature.
    – Double AA
    Commented Sep 9, 2012 at 3:32
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    @DoubleAA That opinion is certainly not accepted by anyone who relies on an a city eruv. Why would they rely on any opinion when there are simple methods of breaking Shabbos according to all opinions..
    – Michoel
    Commented Sep 9, 2012 at 3:41

According to one rav, a goy can keep shabbos without doing a single melecha.

I just thought I'd throw this out there.

  • 3
    That's quite a novel interpretation of the prohibition. I wonder if he has any classical support for it.
    – Double AA
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 8:25

Only that someone who is not Jewish may not refrain from doing "work" in the same manner that a Jew must. Here "work" refers to 39 specific categories of of creative work. Someone who is in the process of converting need not publicly break shabbos and your example of carrying something small in your pocket would work just fine, or any of the other 39 categories of "work" (malachoh in Hebrew)

As far going to synagogue there is no problem there with the exception one should decline any requests to lead parts of the prayers or to receive an aliya. Also if it a small synagogue to let someone be away not to count you for a minyan.

no there aren't any special rules regarding specific behaviors. Best thing is to focus on one's prayers along with the rest of the congregation (kehilla). If you don't know where to follow along you can ask someone you are sitting next to show you. Wishing you all the best in your journey. A website that you will find a lot of helpful information on is chabad.org

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