Thursday, October 16, 2008

Visit to a Synagogue at Waterloo Street

Last Sunday, as part of my Field Education Tour at Trinity Theological College, I had the privilege of going to Maghain Aboth Synagogue at Waterloo Street.

This was by far the most interesting trip, as there was so much to learn, and so much culture to absorb!

The name of the synagogue translates to "Shield of our Fathers" and it is the oldest Synagogue in Southeast Asia. It was built in 1878 and is currently gazetted as a National Monument.


There are 2 synagogues in Singapore, with the other located at Oxley Rise.

Interesting Fact: This synagogue was originally located at Synagogue Street, but as it was too small, it shifted to this location in 1878. Synagogue Street still exists, but there is No Synagogue there.

A tour of the synagogue was given to us by the Yeshiva boys (Overseas Rabbis-in-training, that come to Singapore to assist the local Jews). It was a real pleasure, having them to show us the place. A Big Thank you to our guides Eliyahu and Yossi, for their patience and willingness to answer all our questions!

From the front, the Synagogue has 2 entrances. Women were separated from the men, and they have to be in the balcony during a service. As a result, the ladies had to enter the building from a separate entrance.

men and ladies

Here's a video of the overall tour of the place. Forgive me for the lousy sound, as the Blackberry does not pick up sounds that well. I miss my N95 8GB on this trip.

The Ark:

We started with a tour of the inner sanctuary or the ark. Inside the ark, beyond the curtains (or called a  parochet - a fringed curtain with detailed embroidery) one will find scrolls of the Torah. They are encased in wooden containers and there were quite a few scrolls inside. In fact, when a member passes away, he/she can commissions a scroll to be hand-written and given to the Synagogue in his/her memory. 

holy of holies

The Bema:

We were then brought to the center of the room where the pulpit (Bema) is placed. The Chief Rabbi will make prayers here with the reading of the Torah. The reading of the Torah can take place in English or Hebrew, but all prayers all made in Hebrew, as this is the original language given to them by God.

Famous Seats:

The Jews have played a prominent role in the development of Singapore & all the people of influence had seats in the sanctuary.

Making a quick scan of the place, I found the seat of David Marshall. He is the First Chief Minister of Singapore and he is also dubbed the "Father of Independence". This man was the No 1 guy before MM Lee came onto the scene.

Another famous seat I recognized were the seats of the whole Benjamin family. Remember FJ Benjamin - these are the people who bring in brands Giorgio Armani, DKNY, Guess, Etc.

famous seatsInteresting Fact 2 - A service can only start when there are 10 men present.

On an average Saturday service, there will be about 150 Jews worshipping in the Synagogue.

Situated In the complex, one can also find a Kosher shop which sells Kosher produce. The shop even sells Kosher Chocolate (Kosher - food fit or allowed to be eaten or used, according to the dietary or ceremonial laws)

The whole trip was really fun and eventful and I really enjoyed myself.


The Yeshiva boys also have a blog, and you can check out the team photos there.

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