Judaism in Kerala


Traditionally, synagogues or the place of worship of the Jews have always been small structures.  It is said that imposing synagogues are not permitted in Judaism.  Therefore there appears to be a uniform quality about them, whichever the place and whatever the time. The interiors of all the synagogues also have a very significant common feature.  They are designed in such a way that when the worshippers look towards the Holy Ark (a niche at the end of the prayer hall where the holy book of the Jews is placed) and pray, they face Jerusalem.

Entry into a synagogue is through a rounded gate.  Immediately, on the right hand side, the worshipper finds a font which she touches respectfully and thereafter applies her fingers on her lips.  A step leads down to the sanctuary (the hall where the religious rituals are performed), as if in physical conformity with the prayer in Psalm 130: 1 “Out of the depths, I cry to you, O LORD!”

Right ahead of her, at the end of the prayer hall is the Holy Ark wherein the Torah, the holy book of the Jews, is housed behind curtains.  When not in use during the prayer service, the Torah is covered in a cloth mantle and a breastplate, topped with a silver crown. 

She can also find the Star of David (also known as Magen David, Hebrew for “The Shield of David” and the Star of Redemption), an important symbol of the Jews, in a synagogue. Through deep symbolism, this six-pointed star made up of two interwoven equilateral triangles serves to remind the faithful of their connection with the Creator. According to Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929), one of the towering intellectuals in the Jewish world, the apex of the top (upright) triangle stands for God, and the points at the base, World and Man.  The points at the base of the bottom (inverted) triangle stand for Creation and Revelation whereas its apex symbolizes Redemption.  The message that the configuration conveys, in Rosenzweig’s interpretation, is that God’s Creation made the World.  God’s Revelation made Man distinct from all other creatures.  When Man absorbs the essence of the Revelation, he is granted Redemption.