Synagogues are prayer spaces (sanctuaries) and places for worship in the Jewish faith. This list provides the ten largest synagogues in the world and they seem to share a common historical trend of surviving against historical odds that threatened their existence. Such challenges include Judeophobia, wars, intra-religious infighting, and other political processes. These synagogues also act as important centers for the preservation of endangered Jewish literature and cultural heritage as well as a place where Jews, spread all over the world, meet and worship. In all these challenges, the continuous resilience and dedication of global Jewish communities proved to be their greatest asset.
10. Breslov Center, Ukraine
The Breslov Center in Uman, Ukraine is the biggest synagogue in Europe with a sitting capacity of up to 5,000 people. Founded over forty years ago, the synagogue has grown tremendously and now includes a museum, a school, and other institutions. Located next to the burial place of one of the greatest figures of the Hasidic groups, Rabbi Nahman of Breslov, the center receives thousands of pilgrims every year, especially during Rosh Hashanah. In the late seventies, the Soviet Union turned the synagogue into a metalwork factory and consequently prohibiting Jews from entering the worship place, or at the burial site of Rabbi Nahman. Today, Breslov Center is an active institution with several projects in the community helping to build community structures.
9. Dohany Street Synagogue, Budapest
Being the largest of its kind in Europe, Dohany Street Synagogue is a center of Neolog Judaism with a sitting capacity of 3,000 people. Built from 1854 to 1859 in Budapest, Hungary, the synagogue’s decorations resemble North African Islamic art with elements of medieval Spain art. This synagogue has a complex that includes the Heroes Temple, a graveyard, a memorial site, Jewish Museum, and the Synagogue itself. The synagogue has three aisles, two balconies, an organ and an ark that holds scrolls from synagogues that the Nazi rule and Holocaust demolished. After Hungary reverted to democracy in the 1990s renovations began and Jews from all over the world sent donations. However, this synagogue has faced several anti-Semitic attacks suspected to be as a result of political instigation, for example, hooligans set an Israeli flag ablaze outside the synagogue in 2012.
8. Synagogue of Trieste, Trieste
The Synagogue of Trieste is in Trieste, northern Italy and its construction began in 1908 and ended in 1912. As from 1942, the Synagogue closed its doors following the ascent of the Fascist regime to power that introduced race laws. After this, Nazi occupation used the synagogue to store works of art and books. The exterior style copies largely from Roman architecture used in the fourth century in what appears to be a deliberate attempt of reviving ancient Jewish designs. The ceiling has geometrically arranged pendants and pictures of stars together with several verses from the book of Psalms. The Synagogue of Trieste is among the largest and valuable Jews’ worship place in Europe.
7. Great Synagogue, Plzen
Building of the Great Synagogue in Plzen, Czech Republic finalized in 1892 at a cost of 162,138 guilders. This synagogue is the second largest in Europe and owes its Gothic design to Viennese architect named Fleischer. This synagogue’s architecture has a neo-Renaissance and Romantic theme covered with decorations and a big Star of David. The dome resembles the architecture of the Russian Orthodox church while the ceilings have mixed Indian and Arabic styles. During World War II, the Great Synagogue became a storage facility and, therefore, spared from destruction. After 1973, the communist rule neglected the worship place and the synagogue did not see any repairs until 1995 and thereafter reopened in 1998.
6. Satmar synagogue, New York
Satmar Synagogue is in Brooklyn, New York and has a close relationship with its neighboring synagogue, Congregation Yetev Lev D'Satmar. The Satmar is a Hasidic dynasty with close to 75,000 followers globally and is religiously strict. Members of the Satmar Synagogue in New York use the Yiddish language with the same language used by their media and educational materials. Considered a sect, Satmar opposes the State of Israel and bans followers from civic duties like voting in Israel and in return, they do not accept Israeli government services. In rejecting modernity, Satmar followers the phrase, “the Torah forbids all new” believed to be from Moses.
5. Congregation Yetev Lev D'Satmar, Brooklyn
Congregation Yetev Lev D'Satmar is a Hasidic synagogue in Brooklyn and the followers of Aaron Teitelbaum, the eldest son of Satmar Rebbe Moshe Teitelbaum and Zalman’s brother, constructed it in just fourteen working days in 2006 and, therefore, referred to as a miracle synagogue. During the construction, over 200 people worked for 18 hours a day, except on Shabbat, racing to complete the building by Jewish New Year. Steel frames, cider blocks, and stucco were the main materials used in the building which currently holds a maximum of 7,000 people. With an Orthodox Jewish tradition, the Synagogue faced some judicial hurdles during construction due to the neglect of safety measures but the work did not stop at any time.
4. Beth Tzedec Congregation, Toronto
The Beth Tzedec Congregation in Toronto, Ontario is the largest conventional synagogue in North America. This synagogue is a product of a merger between Goel Tzedec and Beth HaMidrash and currently has approximately 6,000 regular members. Beth Tzedec strictly adheres to the traditional Jewish culture and history. Initially, the synagogue was an Orthodox worshipers’ place observing the principles of Judaism. With a strict mission of building an affirmative Judaism which brings Bible miracles into the lives of people, members of this synagogue aspire to love the Jewish tradition, respect the religion, and fellowship with each other.
3. Temple Emanu-El of New York, New York
Jews with German backgrounds founded the Temple Emanu-El in New York in 1845 and became the first Reform Jewish worshipers in Manhattan, New York. Being the ninth largest synagogue in the world, this Synagogue dwarfs most of the largest synagogues in Europe and boasts of roughly 3,000 families who worship there. Emanu-El simply means “God is with us” and, because of history, this Temple hosts the Bernard Museum of Judaica. From as early as the 1870s, this temple abolished sex segregation and also allowed men to worship without wearing kippot. Large groups of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe joined Emanu-El in the 1930s bringing along their Yiddish dialect and Orthodox traditions.
2. Kehilat Kol HaNeshama, Jerusalem
Kehilat Kol HaNeshama dates back to 1965 and is in Baka, Jerusalem also being the largest reformed as well as a non-Orthodox synagogue in Israel for Jews. The Synagogue has affiliations with the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism with strong beliefs in Zionism, pluralism, volunteering, civic action, peace, and social justice. Describing itself as progressive, the synagogue openly supports the LGBT pride and community in Jerusalem and have organized several LGBT related events in the US and Israel. This support has led to several criticisms from conservative Jews from all over the world.
1. Belz Great Synagogue, Jerusalem
The Belz Great Synagogue, located in Jerusalem, took fifteen years to build and has a main sanctuary with a capacity of sitting up to 10,000 people but which only opens on Shabbat and other Jewish holidays. Being the largest Synagogue in Israel, the Belz Hasidic community and a network of global supporters funded the synagogue’s construction. This synagogue has four main entrances accessible from the four streets around it and has a Guinness Book of Records’ recognized wooden ark holding 70 Torah scrolls.
Where Is The Largest Synagogue In The World?
Israel is home to some of the world's largest synagogues. The Belz Great Synagogue and the Kehilat Kol HaNeshama are both found in Jerusalem. The main sanctuary of the Great Belz Synagogue can seat up to 10,000 people.
About the Author
Mark is a student at Maseno University and community commentator in Kenya. Mark also has interests in geography, African history, and international development.
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