Original Research

Those who require ‘[…] the burning of incense in synagogues are the Rabbinic Jews’: Burning incense in synagogues in commemoration of the temple

Abraham O. Shemesh
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 73, No 3 | a4723 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v73i3.4723 | © 2017 Abraham O. Shemesh | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 28 June 2017 | Published: 21 August 2017

About the author(s)

Abraham O. Shemesh, Department of Israel Heritage, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Ariel University, Israel

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This article focuses on the burning of incense in synagogues subsequent to the destruction of the temple, in commemoration of the incense formerly used in the temple rites. We hear about the implementation of this custom in Samaritan and Rabbinic synagogues only several centuries after the destruction of the Samaritan and Jewish Temples. The Samaritans still burn incense in their synagogues at certain times, but among Rabbinic Jews the custom came to an end, probably in the Middle Ages. Burning incense in the synagogue was a point of controversy between the Karaites and the Rabbinic Jews. The Karaites argued that acts involving burning incense and lighting candles are only appropriate for the Temple and their status is like that of sacrifices or offerings that are limited to this complex. It may have been that the rabbinic custom discontinued as a result of the strict Karaite objections to this custom for concern of idolatry. In fact, burning incense in commemoration of the Temple indeed ceased, but this practice remained in evidence until the 19th century for purposes of conveying respect or on festive occasions.


Rabbinic Jews; Incense; Synagogues; Temple; Karaites; Samaritans


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