Jewish FAQs

Jewish FAQs

This list of questions and answer pertains mostly to Judaism in general but contains a few that are specific to Kingston Synagogue.

2black-hatsWhy do men wear a head covering?

It is said that one of the ancient Sages of the Jewish tradition would not walk four steps without his head covered, since he felt the presence of God above his head. Thus a man covers his head as a sense of respect and awe that results from believing in God being close to us. Different types of head covering may be worn, and the name used for such covering is either kippa or yarmulke.

Why must married women cover their hair?

Whereas it is a custom for a man to cover his head, it is obligatory for a woman to cover her hair. This is because a woman’s hair is considered attractive and therefore something that should be reserved only for her spouse. Some women will only cover their hair outside the home, but not do so inside the home whoever is present. Others will only reveal their hair to their husband.

Why are there no vowels in the Torah Scroll text?

In the Hebrew language, vowels are represented by groups of dots placed under each letter. Because we believe that the Torah is the word of God, it contains many layers of meaning. The access to these layers would be very much restricted if these vowels were written on a Torah scroll. Without them the Torah words are open to different understandings, which might have relevance for different situations. The Torah therefore is like a sponge, from which we can squeeze out many levels of significance.

Why do women sit behind a partition?

In orthodox synagogues, a partition – a mechitza – divides the men and women. This custom dates back to the times of the Temple, and serves an important purpose within a prayer setting. It ensures that at times of prayer, the minds of those praying should be as fully as possible concentrating on God. The mixture of men and women might impede this and so men and women pray separately. According to some authorities, men and women may see each other; they simply should be separated.

Where do  children sit?

There is no special place for children, so they can sit with their parents, or with their friends. They are, however , encouraged to become involved in the services. Educating children in the ways of Judaism is a paramount value in our religion.

What is the significance, in 2013, of the year 5774?

This is the number of years according to tradition since Adam, the first man referred to in the Bible, was born.

What are the origins of Kingston Synagogue?

The foundation stone for Kingston and Surbiton District Synagogue was laid in 1954; however, services were held as early as the 1930’s at a house in Catherine Road. Our Kingston’s Jewish History entry has more information.

What areas does KSDS cover and where are the nearest Orthodox communities?

Our community covers a ten-mile radius. Neighbouring Orthodox communities to us are in Sutton and Richmond.

Do Sephardi (Spanish-originated) communities have Reform and Liberal branches?

Jews who were living in Spain and North Africa did not experience the Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th centuries to the same extent as was experienced in Central Europe, so Reform groups are much less evident. In fact in Israel, Sephardi Jews are amongst the strongest believers and are extremely traditional.

What is the meaning of the two phrases over the ark?

The ark

The ark

The saying engraved in wood means “Know before whom you stand”, which should help the individual in synagogue to focus his or her prayers towards God.

On the cover of the ‘Ark’ in which are housed the Scrolls of Law, is written, “How awesome is this place”. Jacob said this when he dreamt of a ladder going up to heaven, while sleeping on the spot that would become the Jewish Temple. A synagogue is treated as a mini-Temple.

What is the significance of the light over the Ark (where the Scrolls of Torah are kept)?

We want our synagogue to also contain some of the holiness that existed in the Temple in Jerusalem. In the Jewish Temple, a seven-branched candelabrum would burn. The western branch of this candelabrum, known as a ‘Menorah’, would constantly burn whereas the other six would be extinguished for cleaning purposes. Our ‘everlasting light’ (‘ner tamid’ in Hebrew) is a commemoration of this constantly burning light. Its message can be that although we have no Temple, our people can continue in strength through the prayer of the synagogue.

How long does it take to write a Torah scroll?

Writing a Torah Scroll can take at least a year, and in many cases a number of years. The Scribe or Sofer must learn the special forms of each Hebrew letter,  and mistakes can sometimes render the Scroll unuseable for religious purposes.

Why are there so many identical Scrolls?

Each week, Orthodox Jews gather to read a portion of the Torah, God’s law to the Jewish people. This process is completed in precisely one year and then is started again. Sometimes, special groups of verses need to be read on special occasions such as Festivals or the beginning of a month, and so a separate Torah scroll would be needed for this purpose. Some combination of events can require three scrolls.