Jewish communities of worship are referred to by different English words:

  • temple
  • synagogue
  • congregation

(Feel free to edit the question to add to this list.)

What are their differences?

I am assuming that usage for an adherent depends on his or her branch of Judaism.

Information about Hebrew or Yiddish words corresponding to these is also very welcome.


3 Answers 3


A synagogue is a Jewish house of prayer. The term refers to both the building and the institution. You'll also hear the Yiddish word shul, which is actually derived from "school" but has come to mean "synagogue".

Some liberal Jews also use the word "temple" to refer to a synagogue. Usually it's used as a semi-proper noun, e.g. "are you going to temple tonight?". I don't hear "the temple" much in this context. Some (a minority, I think) do it for theological reasons, holding that the Temple has been replaced by synagogues; others do it because that's what they've heard. As somebody who belongs to a "Temple (something)" who doesn't use the word "temple" in this way, I notice this a lot.

The Temple (usually written with a capital 'T', for both clarity and respect) is the temple in Jerusalem that was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, rebuilt, and destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Jews pray for the rebuilding of this temple with the coming of moshiach (the messiah).

A congregation is a religious community. Often it has an associated synagogue, but congregations can also gather in other places -- people's homes, schools, etc. The generation that spent 40 years in the wilderness was a congregation (the torah uses the word kehal to refer to them at times).

People sometimes use the word "congregation" to refer to the synagogue, too.

  • Not liberal Jews consider a Shul a mini Temple
    – hazoriz
    Aug 5, 2015 at 13:27
  • @hazoriz, a minority of Reform Jews hold like that (I'm told), but I've never heard this ascribed to liberal Jews in general. (Not Conservative in my experience; I don't know the others as well.) Aug 5, 2015 at 13:36
  • I might not have been clear, but i ments the connection between the temple and synagogues (mini temples) can be seen in rashi on yeheskel 11.16 on the words mikdash miat m.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16109#showrashi=true
    – hazoriz
    Aug 5, 2015 at 13:45

A synagogue (Yiddish: shul, Hebrew: ''bet knesset'') is an Orthodox or Conservative house of prayer. A temple is a Reform house of prayer. To Orthodox Jews, the Temple refers to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Reform Jews believe that nowadays the synagogues have taken the place of the Temple, so that's why they call it that.

A congregation usually refers to the people who make up the general population of a synagogue.

  • 2
    +1, but two things to add: I have seen conservative synagogues that use the word "temple", even though this is probably not theologically correct for Conservative Judaism. Second, the word "Kehillah" corresponds to congregation in Hebrew.
    – user5540
    Jun 28, 2014 at 20:42
  • 2
    While some Reform communities use the word "temple" to refer to synagogues, it is not correct to say that "synagogue" applies only to Orthodox and Conservative. "Synagogue" applies to everybody; some may also use other words too. Jun 29, 2014 at 2:53
  • 1
    The Conservative movement announced last year (2013) that they want to encourage the use of the word "Kehillah". I believe the logic is that it also covers small minyanim in private homes, and to promote involvement even if not through a traditional "synagogue building". See What is a Kehilla
    – Mike
    Jun 30, 2014 at 1:57

In the United Kingdom, Liberal, Reform, and Masorti congregations use the word "synagogue". Some Liberal communities use the term "congregation". The word "temple" is not used for any of the denominations in the UK.

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