Maghain Aboth Synagogue
The Maghain Aboth Synagogue is a synagogue in Singapore. It is located at Waterloo Street in the Rochor Planning Area, within the Central Area in Singapore's central business district. The synagogue was constructed by 1878. It is the oldest Jewish synagogue in Southeast Asia. Till today, there are still several Jewish buildings standing within its vicinity. Descendants of some of Singapore's earliest Jewish settlers are still living and doing business in Singapore.

In 1841, three Jews " Joseph Dwek Cohen, Nassim Joseph Ezra and Ezra Ezekiel " were given a land lease to build a synagogue in Synagogue Street. The area is the earliest settled part of Singapore that today still has many of Singapore's religious monuments and preservation buildings. Near Raffles Lane, Synagogue Street was in the first Jewish quarter in Singapore just off South Canal Road, as a synagogue by custom is supposed to be within an easy walking distance from home. When Manasseh Meyer returned to Singapore in 1873, he found the synagogue in Synagogue Street in a deplorable state and set about planning a new one for the Jewish community. Meyer asked the government for land for a new synagogue. He was given the site in Waterloo Street, then called Church Street because of the presence of the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul nearby. The Jewish community soon began moving into the surrounding areas of Dhoby Ghaut, Waterloo Street, Prinsep Street, Selegie Road and Wilkie Road. Today, there are still several Jewish buildings standing there. Construction of Maghain Aboth, which means Shield of Our Fathers, began soon after the community was given the land, and it was completed in 1878. A well was sunk for use as a mikvah ( ritual bath). The consecration service was held on 4 April 1878 and conducted by either Lucunas or I.J. Hayeem or both men. In 1924, extensions were made to the building. Nevertheless, with the growth of the community, Maghain Aboth became rather crowded, prompting Manasseh Meyer to build a private synagogue for his family and friends. The Maghain Aboth Synagogue was gazetted as a national monument on 27 February 1998.

A synagogue is any building that is used for prayer. In Judaic thought, the synagogue is to be distinguished from the Temple, an important sacred building constructed by King Solomon to serve all the people of Israel. With the destruction of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem in AD 70, the Temple ceased to exist as a physical entity, but remains intrinsic in Judaism. A synagogue can be in any building so long as the congregation has a quorum of ten Jewish men above the age of thirteen. This quorum is known as a minyan in Hebrew. Manasseh Meyer used to pay elderly men who were staunch and religious to attend service with him to form the minyan.

  • The raised pulpit in the centre of the prayer hall is one of the main features of a synagogue. This pulpit is known as the bimah . The rabbi conducts prayers from here. There is where the Torah is read out during the service.
  • Opposite the bimah, away from the entrance, is the Ark with a niche where the Torah is stored. When not in use, the Torah is kept in silver caskets inside the Ark. If the Scroll is accidentally dropped for whatever reason, the congregation has to fast for a day.
  • The Ark is orientated west towards Jerusalem and on a raised platform. It is normally covered with an embroidered curtain called the parochet . It is considered an honour to be asked to embroider the parochet. In some synagogues, there are wooden doors in front of the Parochet.
  • In front of the Ark is the Eternal Lamp. This is a reminder of the perpetual lamp of the Temple and links the synagogue, the lesser sanctuary, with the ancient great Temple that once stood in Jerusalem. It is sometimes interpreted as a symbol of God's presence, the symbol of the Torah or of the spiritual light from the sanctuary in Jerusalem.
  • There is usually a menorah in front of the Ark. The menorah is a eight-branched (with an extra place for the lighter candle) candlestick, the number seven being the number of completion. It is the emblem of the state of Israel.
  • The Torah is handwritten on parchment prepared from the skins of animals slaughtered according to kosher laws. They are divided into 54 Sidras or Orders and are read in rotation every Sabbath. Only male members of the community can read the Torah.
  • The Scrolls are never touched with the finger while reading but a special pointer shaped like a hand with a pointing finger is used instead to follow the reading. It is considered a privilege to be called upon to read from the Torah.
  • Oil lamps burn day and night to commemorate those who have died during the year. At the end of the year, relatives hang silk or velvet banners on the walls to replace the burning oil lamps.
  • The seats in the front of the synagogue nearer the Ark are the most important seats and they go to the important people in the community. Some of these seats have names inscribed on them.
  • The walls of a synagogue are devoid of decorations, images or pictures of any kind containing human figures as Judaism expressly prohibits images or icons of God or the prophets. One of the commandments handed down to Moses forbids the making of images of God. Contrary to a common misconception, all image-making is not forbidden. Many synagogues include depictions of lions, floral motifs, and scenes of the land of Israel, and a number of mideval and renaissance manuscripts written in Hebrew contain illuminations of the sort found in contemporary Christian manuscripts.
  • Women and men are kept segregated in the synagogue during service. There are separate entrances for the women.
  • The synagogue was originally a single-storey building until a second-storey balcony was added. The balcony is reserved for female members of the community during the prayer service. Jewish women do not have the duty to learn Hebrew and read the Torah. Because the sacred duty of reading the Torah falls only on the men, the women's section is very simple. The section is also very small because few women attended the service. Jewish law exempts women because of their obligations at home.
  • A vestibule is common in most synagogues with a second door into the prayer hall. A fountain for cleaning the hands is often found there.
  • Shoes are permitted in the synagogue but the head must be covered with a cap, hat or shawl. The traditional headgear is the skullcap or yamulka . During worship, a prayer shawl is worn. This shawl has fringes at its four corners to remind the worshipper to obey God's commandments at all times. Although the covering of the head is not mandated on a day to day basis, it is require by the vast majority orthodox and conservative synagogues, and encouraged by many reform congregations
  • A covered porch fronts the building with steps leading up to the vestibule originally designed for horse carriages.
  • Along the corners and sides of the building are pilasters topped with decorative capitals.
  • Most of the windows are of a similar rectangular design and are timber- louvred.
  • The Star of David is a Jewish symbol seen in Jewish buildings and elsewhere. It is on the flag of the Jewish state of Israel.


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