2/17/2006

Observations about the Naming of Synagogues

How do synagogues decide on their names?
I’ve always thought it interesting, and you can sometimes tell something about the character of the place. Here are some of my observations regarding shul names. I should note that I don’t know a darn thing about the naming of R or C synagogues:

  • Any shul which bears the word ‘ahavah’ or ‘shalom’ in it’s title is a breakaway.
  • Any shul which has a ‘siege-mentality’ name, such as Shearith Israel, Machzikei Torah, Shomrei Emunah, etc. was started by a group of people who refused to go along with the movement of an Orthodox synagogue away from Orthodoxy (either by the membership or in practice). Alternatively, it was established by a group of Holocaust refugees.
  • Chassidic shuls will often couch the identity of the Chassidus they follow in the title of the shul - Tzemach Tzedek, Aish Kodesh, Arugas HaBosem, etc.
  • The word ‘Tefilah’ is more likely to be in the name of an MO shul. The word ‘Torah’ more likely to be a more yeshivishe or chareidi shul.
  • A shul won’t be known by the last name of the Rabbi unless the Rabbi is actually the founder of the shul. No shul that progresses from a minyan of balabatim to an actual kehilla with a Rabbi will be known by the name of the Rabbi.

And some funny shul names:
  • I was once in a shul known as ‘Kesser Israel’. On one plaque, I saw it spelled as ‘Kesher Israel’ in Hebrew (i.e., quf-shin, not kof-sof). I suspected that the shul was founded by Jews of Lithuanian descent (who were notorious for not distinguishin between the ‘s’ and ‘sh’ sounds), and it turned out to be correct.
  • 15 years ago, when the Kosher hot dog stand opened at Camden Yards in Baltimore, they instituted a minyan there (Mincha at day games, ma’ariv at night games). Many wanted to call it ‘Congregation Bais Ball’. I thought that was thoroughly uncreative, and so suggested ‘Khal Ripken’.
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