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How We Worship

Founding Influences

Services at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim follow a traditional Orthodox ritual, with men and women separated. The style of worship has remained true to the founding vision of our congregation, and is the result of three major influences:
  • The Spanish and Portuguese Congregation, which the founding members of Shaar Hashomayim had previously attended.
  • The English, German, and Polish roots of the Congregation (the early by-laws of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in fact prescribed that the prayers be read according to the practices and traditions of the Great Synagogue of London).
  • The physical architecture and layout of the Main Sanctuary.
Visitors to the congregation are struck by the dignity, elegance, and majesty of the services.

Our Music

Congregation Shaar Hashomayim is one of the few remaining synagogues in the world to maintain, on a weekly basis, the traditions of the great Choral Synagogues of Europe. The services are focused on the chanting of the Cantor, who is accompanied by an all-male choir dating back to 1887. Both the Cantor and choir sing at all Shabbat and festival services. The music is a seamless blend of traditional prayer modes (nuscha’ot), compositions for choir and cantor (traditional and contemporary), music for choir alone, and congregational melodies.
The sheer size of the Sanctuary, its acoustics, the specifically designed seating arrangement, and the beauty of the unaccompanied choir all work together to create a special, awe-inspiring ambience.

Where Services are Held

Shabbat, festival, and High Holy Day Services are held in the Main Sanctuary. Weekday, Friday Night, and some evening holiday Services are held in the Chapel. During the quiet months of January and July, most services are held in the Chapel.

Who Does What

In the Main Sanctuary, the services are chanted by the Cantor and the Ritual Director, who also reads from the Torah. The Rabbi reads special prayers, oversees life cycle events, makes special announcements, and delivers the sermon. The Parnass is responsible for congregational honours (call-ups, Ark openings) and other matters pertaining to the ritual (page numbers, addition of prayers etc.). The Parnass is assisted by “bimah boys” (pre and post Bar Mitzvah boys).

What They Wear

The members of the clergy of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim are robed for every Shabbat, festival, and High Holy Day service, with the Cantor and Ritual Director wearing traditional cantorial hats. Clergy and officers wear morning suits, with the President, Parnass, and other congregational officers seated on the bimah wearing top hats. On festivals, tailcoats replace the morning coats. Male congregants typically wear business attire and women are required to cover their shoulders.

Our Rabba, A North American First

In 2013, Congregation Shaar Hashomayim became one of the first synagogues in North America to hire a Rabba, or Orthodox female member of clergy. The Rabba is a spiritual leader and teacher in our congregation and provides a clergy presence in the women’s section of the Sanctuary.

Notable Customs

  • While on the bimah, worshippers bow before the ark.
  • Mourners come to the front of the synagogue to recite Kaddish.
  • After reciting the prayers for the Government of Canada, the Welfare of the State of Israel, and the Israel Defense Force, the Rabbi includes a prayer for those who are known to be unwell.
Saturday, May 18, 2024 10 Iyyar 5784