Photo Credit: Jewish Press

For me, the term will always be associated with another German word, schuld – meaning guilt – probably because of the times I was reprimanded in connection with it.

Whether it was when I played soccer instead of being at shul, played in shul instead of davening, or was at shul, but in the wrong section, not comporting with the seriousness of the place came at a cost. Perhaps that is as it should be: despite the fact that the kiddush that often follows the prayers, and more broadly the various social services that are offered by the synagogue, have softened the image of the institution, shul, from the German for school, evokes the building’s intended purpose.


Literary evidence from the time of the Second Temple, such as the works of Josephus and Philo, and even archeology, indicates that it was a place of instruction and learning. In this sense, our German word, which became popular in the 19th century, very much builds on the role that the synagogue originally served.


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Yonatan Milevsky PhD, is an author and lecturer. His book on Jewish natural law theory was recently published by Brill. He teaches at TanenbaumCHAT in Canada.