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Recently, I was on vacation in Asia, and was walking through a district on a Saturday afternoon. I noticed that there was a synagogue in the area, which appeared to have some architectural features that I was interested in taking a look at, so I went to the area to just look at the exterior of the synagogue and perhaps take some pictures for myself. I had absolutely no plans to go inside: for one thing, I'm not Jewish and I didn't know if it would be open anyway, and for another, I had a feeling that as a woman, I might not be appropriately dressed, since I was wearing a low collar and trousers and the place was described as MO on Wikipedia. In any case, I ended up being told by a security guard that I wasn't supposed to take pictures.

Since the impression the guard (erroneously) gave me was that photography was outright forbidden (perhaps for privacy or security reasons), I was wondering if I wasn't aware of something and decided that I would email the place for a clarification (in case I go there again). I ended up on their website, and noticed that they prohibit photography and mobile phones on Shabbat (which I understand the motivations for, and which explains what happened).

Is this a common restriction (for both Jews and Gentiles) that I should be aware of for synagogues in general?

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    I wonder if the prohibition on external photography was more security oriented. – Double AA Mar 29 '15 at 7:03
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    @DoubleAA: I had been thinking it was that (hence why I was almost going to send an email to double-check just so that I could get things clarified), but it turns out from their "FAQ" section that it's just prohibited on Shabbat and on the High Holidays. – user8555 Mar 29 '15 at 7:10
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It's understandable that the synagogue rules would ban photography inside the synagogue on the sabbath, even for gentiles. (As far as I'm aware, Jewish law does not.) Photography is forbidden for Jews then; therefore, having someone around snapping photos can be disconcerting and disturb people's sense of sabbath. That may even apply in the synagogue courtyard, but presumably not to to photography from the street. I suspect that the latter was forbidden to you either by a security guard who didn't understand why photography was forbidden inside, or for security reasons (in case you were casing the joint).

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