Rabbi's Weekly Question

Rabbi Bulka's Weekly Question

Rabbi Bulka's Weekly Question


How important is the synagogue, church, mosque or other structure?

Your question seems to address the larger question of why we need a bricks-and-mortar place of worship? Is not everywhere an acceptable place to pray?

In theory, the answer is yes - everywhere, with the exception of places that are in the category of repulsive (such as a dung heap), is appropriate for prayer. Put another way, aside from the aforementioned types of places, there should be no place where prayer is precluded.

Certainly God does not need places dedicated to God. The entire world is a gift given to us by God. Everything ultimately belongs to God. Therefore, any place that we give over to God merely returns to God what already is owned by God.

So why the need for a "place" of worship? Not for God, but for us. There are reasons why we need a space to pray. We need a place so that everyone in the community has a place to go to pray as a community. The designated area becomes the focal point, the gathering locale where everyone comes together.

Those who gather in the community place for public worship are also most likely to pray in other places, including their homes.

Another reason why we need places of prayer is to make it evident on a conscious level that we welcome God and want God to dwell with us. We do this by constructing homes that are more than shabby; much more. Depending on affordability, the extent, within limits of good taste, that we build beautiful structures wherein to pray reflects how important God is in our lives.

Strangers visiting in any city can easily connect with their religious community by finding out when services are being held. As a social vehicle of welcome, it knows few equals.

So, you now have ample reason why these structures are important. Houses of prayer have often doubled as community centres, with place for schools, and other community based activities.

At the same time, prayer is not, as mentioned before, restricted to the bricks-and-mortar edifices. People pray at home, before and after eating, upon awakening and before going to sleep, and if for whatever reason they missed the community prayer.

At home, at places of worship, in hospitals, in the outdoors - we have so many "places" for worship, but the permanent place is what builds the praying community.

Originally published in the Ottawa Citizen on April 29, 2012

Sun, 30 April 2017 4 Iyyar 5777