I am preparing for my first trip to a synagogue after the High Holy Days.

My first visit will be to a Modern Orthodox Synagogue. I have interacted with the Rabbi by email and we will be meeting before my first shabbos service. The rabbi said they are quite relaxed in terms of the dress code, nonetheless I intend to dress modestly yet fashionably without being over the top!

What do I need to know about the following and other general issues:

  • Friday evening service or morning service?
  • What to do and what not to do?
  • Can I touch the siddur?
  • How does the whole service go anyway?

Thanks!!! I can't wait!!

  • 6
    Not from my synagogue nor likely yours but I think you might find this helpful: shaarei.org/visit
    – Double AA
    Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 19:58
  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/18995/472 Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 21:15
  • Also related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/14679
    – msh210
    Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 21:43
  • @MahaliaSamuels: Good question; thank you for posting it. How was your synagogue experience? P.S. It can be fun to visit a variety of Orthodox synagogues. I especially like those affiliated with Aish HaTorah or Ohr Somayach. Commented Dec 6, 2012 at 0:16
  • Unfortunately, I have not been able to visit an Orthodox synagogue. At the time I posted this question, I was in communcation with an the Rabbi of an Orthodox shul regarding my visit. He was too busy over the High Holy days, I waited, I filled in the necessary forms and gave them all the information they required but he did not get back to me - in fact he has ignored me and I do not know why! Perhaps he thinks I'm a 'Messianic' which I am not, or he is trying to discourage me because I want to convert, or he just doesn't like me. I've since been attending a Progressive synagogue regularly.
    – Malka S
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 7:13

1 Answer 1


(This answer has been moved from the comment section and reworded a little bit.)

I would recommend going to a Saturday morning service over a Friday evening service for a first time experience. Friday evening is very sweet but short, and you won't really be able to get a good sense of what a service is all about. Plus, you get to see the Torah Reading Service on Saturday. Expect to spend a good 3 hours in synagogue Saturday morning.

Women and men sit in different sections of the synagogue. Usually (but not always) men and women enter the building through the same door, but then there will be separate doors on the inside which lead to their respective seating sections. You might need to look around first to see which door other men and women are entering before you go in.

In terms of what to do and what not to do: Women should wear a dress or skirt that comes down to at least a little below your knees, and not wear slacks. Men should wear a suit or at least a dress shirt and pants. Your top should cover your arms down to at least a little below your elbows. Do not wear a scoop-neck top. Modest jewellery is fine. All men wear a head covering, but only married women wear a head covering. If you're an unmarried woman, do not wear a head covering. If you're a woman, you do not wear a tallit (prayer shawl), either. Do not bring a purse or pocketbook in to the synagogue, and do not bring in cameras or cell phones, either. Really, don't bring anything in with you.

Sit when everyone else sits, and stand when everyone else stands.

Yes, you can certainly hold the siddur and the humash (Bible). As Shalom pointed out, however, be very careful not to bring any books into the restroom; leave them on your seat if you need to go.

There are certain points during the service when we are not allowed to interrupt the prayers by speaking. If you ask someone a question and they hold up a finger to signal "Wait a minute," just wait a minute and they will answer you as soon as they are permitted to talk again. Don't worry about it; it happens all the time that people interrupt other people at a point when they cannot respond. It's completely normal and usual.

There will always be someone who will be happy and honored to help you follow along in the siddur. Let the details wash over you; if you decide to pursue it, you will learn the details in time. Know, too, that you will not be the first or only person coming in who has never seen a service before. Everyone is at a different level of learning and experience, and it's all okay. May you receive blessings on your journey.

  • 1
    Great answer! I would add: if you're following along in the English during the service, you will almost certainly fall behind -- not only is the text unfamiliar to you, but Hebrew is a more compact language. So you'll fall behind; it's ok. You can glance at your neighbors' siddurim from time to time to see where people are. And as Shemmy already said, people will help you find your place too. Commented Sep 21, 2012 at 12:52
  • 1
    Good answer (and +1) but I disagree with a few points: (1) Bringing in a cell phone is fine IMO if it's silent. And certainly keys or a wallet in you pocket is fine. (2) Re "only married women wear a headcovering. If you're an unmarried woman, do not wear a headcovering", I think it's fine if an unmarried female covers her hair.
    – msh210
    Commented Sep 21, 2012 at 16:36
  • 1
    I think it's fine and even preferable (as per Rav Ovadia Yosef) for unmarried women to wear a headcovering, too, but I was answering based on the culture of a typical modern orthodox shul. I wouldn't want a newcomer to feel more out of place than they already feel. The point about not carrying anything is that no one should notice that you're carrying something. I hold by the eruv and carry keys in my pocket, too, within my city. I was trying not to overwhelm the original poster with details like that, although it is important to know it's okay to carry keys in one's pocket.
    – Shemmy
    Commented Sep 21, 2012 at 21:38

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