Guide for non-Jewish visitors

Guide for non-Jewish visitors

We welcome non-Jewish visitors to our synagogue – whether you have an interest in interfaith or finding out more about Judaism.

Synagogue services are very different to other faith services and this guide will help prepare you for what to expect.


Before you visit

  • Contact our office at least a week before you intend to visit – we’ll need to know who you are and your interest in visiting and will try to have someone sit with you to explain the services. We’ll also need your:
    • Name.
    • Address (back home and where you’re staying in New Zealand).
    • Email.
    • Phone number (here in New Zealand).
    • Photo or scan of photo ID (which you’ll need to bring when visiting).
  • Famliarise yourself with the tips below before visiting.
  • You may also wish to read about the history of the Wellington Jewish community as well.


Coming to services

  • Jewish services are longer than you might expect. It’s usually best to time your arrival for the Torah service on Shabbat or festivals – the Torah service usually starts around half an hour after the start of services.
  • Wear modest clothing and men should cover their heads. Men can wear a hat to cover their heads or borrow a yarmulke or kippah (skullcap) inside the synagogue.
  • Don’t bring any food or drink.
  • Turn off electronic devices and don’t use phones, cameras, tablets, writing pens/pencils while at the Centre – we don’t use electronic devices on Shabbat or festivals as they would disrupt these days of rest.
  • Bring photo ID and be prepared to show any bags – you may be asked to show photo ID and show the contents of any bags when greeted at the entrance.


In services

  • Read our introduction to Jewish services, below.
  • Men and women are seated separately as was the custom in the Temple in Jerusalem with large gatherings. For services in the Van Staveren Room where evening services are usually held, women sit on the near side by the entrance and men sit on the far side of the room. For services in the main Beth El synagogue where morning services are usually held, men sit downstairs and women upstairs.
  • You may sit in any free seat – but be prepared to move if you’ve sat in a member’s seat and they arrive after you.
  • Stand when the entire congregation is standing. This isn’t always obvious as congregants may be at different stages of the service and may be following different customs. Non-Jewish visitors aren’t expected to know these details but for those familiar with Jewish services, our custom is to stand:
    • When the ark containing the Torah scrolls at the front of the synagogue is open or when someone carrying a Torah scroll is standing.
    • During kaddish (a prayer recited at different points of the service, at some points by mourners).
    • During kedusha (a responsive prayer recited during the repetition of the amida prayer).
    • When the Rabbi or one’s parent is receiving an aliyah during the Torah service.
    • When special portions of the Torah are being read during the Torah service, such as the Decalogue, the Song of the Sea, or the final aliyah of one of five books comprising the Torah. These are usually announced.
  • Avoid disruptions – such as walking or talking – when the Torah is being read, during kaddish, or during kedushah. A member can let you know when this is.
  • Avoid interrupting someone while they are concentrating on prayers – although you will notice that there is more conversation during services than in other faiths.


After services

  • There is usually a kiddush (a light meal, or a larger meal for a festive occaision) after services which visitors are welcome to attend. Please wait for the blessings before food (usually led by the Rabbi) before eating or drinking.
  • Financial contributions towards the kiddush are appreciated but should be made beforehand or afterwards (for example, through our Givealittle page) as money cannot be handled on Shabbat or a festival.


Introduction to Jewish services

Friday evening services

Friday evening services consist of several services held back to back: a mincha or afternoon service followed by a kabbalat Shabbat service to welcome Shabbat, followed by ma’ariv or evening service for Shabbat.

Mincha is recited in the late afternoon and consists of:

  • An introduction based on Psalm 145.
  • Amida or silent prayer, which is repeated aloud by the leader if there is a minyan or quorum of 10 adult Jewish men.

Kabbalat Shabbat consists of:

  • Yedid Nefesh, a 16th century poem.
  • Psalms 95-99, 29.
  • Lkha Dodi, another 16th century poem.

These passages are normally put to melodious tunes by the leader accompanied by the congregation.

Ma’ariv is recited in the evening and a modified version is recited on Shabbat, consisting of:

  • Introductory Psalms 92 and 93.
  • Shema – a prayer central to Judaism repeating passages from the Torah which Jews are commanded to recite.
  • Amida or silent prayer (which is significantly shorter than the weekday version).
  • Silent recitation of excerpts from mishnah and talmud (texts of Jewish law) relating to Shabbat.
  • Concluding prayers – including aleynu, which is recited towards the end of all Jewish services.
  • Yigdal, a poem setting out the thirteen principles of faith codified by Maimonides.

Following the service kiddush is recited over wine or grape juice and refreshments to fulfill the commandment to remember Shabbat.


Saturday morning services

Saturday morning services consist of:

  • Shacharit or morning service.
  • A Torah service where a portion of the Torah is read.
  • A sermon.
  • Musaf or additional festival service for Shabbat and other festivals.
  • Kiddush or festive meal.

Shacharit consists of:

  • Introductory blessings and Psalms of thanksgiving and praise to God. Many additional readings are said on Shabbat in its honour making this section longer than on weekdays.
  • Shema – a prayer central to Judaism repeating passages from the Torah which Jews are commanded to recite.
  • Amida or silent prayer, which is repeated aloud by the leader if there is a minyan or quorum of 10 adult Jewish men.

The Torah service then begins with a procession bringing a sefer Torah (Torah scroll) from the ark to the bimah or reading platform in the centre of the synagogue. (On festivals and special Shabbatot more than one sefer Torah may be removed for additional readings.)

Seven congregants are then honoured with an aliya where they are called up to the Torah to have a portion of the week’s reading read in their name. An additional person is honoured with reading a related passage from the writings of prophets.

After the reading, prayers are read for the congregation, the royal family and the New Zealand government, the Israeli government, and for any Jews held in captivity.

The sermon is delivered, usually by the rabbi.

Musaf consists of:

  • Amida or silent prayer, which is repeated aloud by the leader if there is a minyan or quorum of 10 adult Jewish men. The musaf amida is significantly different as it is an additional service for Shabbat and festivals.
  • A series of concluding passages – with some led by children.

Kiddush is a festive meal, usually served in the Myers Hall after services. Kiddush is recited over wine or grape juice and refreshments to fulfill the commandment to remember Shabbat. The extent of the refreshments will vary with a larger offering for a special occasion like a bar or bat mitzvah (coming of age ceremony) or other commemoration.



The kaddish is a passage of praises of God requiring responses from the congregation, recited only in the presence of minyan, a quorum of 10 adult Jewish men.

Kaddish is recited at several points during services with a minyan and usually by the leader. However, it is associated with mourning as it recited by mourners – someone who has recently lost a close relative or is commemorating the anniversary of losing a close relative – at specific points during services.

We stand and don’t interrupt the kaddish out of respect for the prayer and for mourners.