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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

Can I call it a shul?

One look at my blog board and there is a little debate. As someone who is attending a Reform Synogogue, am I allowed to say, “I went to shul.” The folks over there say I can’t, it is only for Orthodox. Here is where I get my permission for now.


“Shul, synogogue, and temple are different descriptions for an institution of Jewish life that fulfills so many different functions it needs at least three different names.

“In Hebrew, the place we most often refer to as the synagogue has three different names as well:

  1. Beit Ha-Knesset, literally, House of Gathering. That became the word synogogue, from the Greek synogoge, congregation.

  2. Beit T’filah, House of Prayer.

  3. Beig Midrash, House of Study.

“Which one of these three descriptions would you put on the front door? It probably depends on which of the three functions of a synagogue you consider most important….

“Now you can see why the name by which you refer to the synagogue is so important. If you say “shul,” the Yiddish word for “school,” you’re stressing the educational focus. If you say, “center,” or “synogogue,” you’re emphasizing the social component. The name “temple” is most specifically identified with the role of prayer. The bottom line? Whichever one makes you happy. Just be pleased to know that every one of them is a mitzvah.”

Part 6, Chapter 22. The Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Judaism by Rabbi Benjamin Blech.


However, to be safe I’ve also written Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. He’s an Orthodox Rabbi and when my rabbi gets back from Sabbatical, I’ll ask him. I don’t mind being shown I’ve made a mistake, but I feel this might have to do more with not recognizing Reform as being real judaism. Which is fair and a concern of mine in choosing a reform conversion. It won’t be universally recognized. That might not be a problem for me, cause I don’t know that I’ll ever need an Isreali passport. However, it could be a problem for my children and is something else I need to talk to my Rabbi about.

I say shul for two reasons. 1. I am going to services every week to learn to be jewish. I don’t have a jewish family or a jewish boyfriend or jewish in-laws, so I have to get my education from books and from my experiences at the synogogue. and 2. Typing the word “synogogue” is not so easy. Try it. Try it ten times fast. Shul is SO much easier to type and when I’m trying to get a story in writing, this is a time I want the shorter word.

But if I hear from the Rabbis that as someone attending a Reform Synogogue, I can’t say the word shul… Well, I’ll see what they say first.

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