Inside Toronto’s Oldest Synagogue

Ok, so the title is a little disingenuous, but the Knesseth Israel Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in Toronto that’s been in continuous use as a synagogue. Located in Toronto’s Junction, it also took part in the Doors Open festival and the photos are too good not to share!

Knesseth Israel is designated a heritage building by the province of Ontario:

Once inside the building there is much to look at. First things first, is the ark where the Torah are kept. Knesseth Israel has thirteen Torah, each hand copied as per Jewish Law.

This synagogue features a few rosettes, which have eighteen petals. As stated in the heritage plaque above, this is related to the gematria for the Hebrew word chai, meaning life.

This beautiful painting is on the second floor of the synagogue. It is supposed to represent a story from the bible. I do not speak Hebrew (nor am I very familiar with the Bible!), so if anyone can “decode” this mural, please do so in the comments!!! [EDIT: Mystery Solved! Kalagni of Blue Flame Magick was able to trace this to the Pirkei Avot which states: “Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion, to carry out the will of your Father in Heaven.”]

Another beautiful mural, this one above the ark at the front of the synagogue.

The following picture is a glimpse at how synagogues used to work. Seats in the synagogues were reserved, and the numbers denoted where individuals would sit. The gentleman who explained this to us related his own personal experience with regards to this “priority seating.” He said that when he first started attending Knessseth Israel, if he sat in the wrong seat, he would get dirty looks from the other members! It took him a bit to figure out which seat it was ok to sit in, and which were held by families stretching back generations!

Like the Masonic Temple, the ceiling of the Synagogue was covered with the signs of the zodiac. I found this strange as the bible is usually quoted to show how astrology is forbidden by God (Example: Jeremiah 10:2, Deuteronomy 4:19). Yet here we have  not just a generic depiction of the heavens, but a rather specific portraiture of all of the zodiac signs! I know, I should have asked someone how this fit into the Jewish faith!

Anyway, here are most of the signs. Enjoy!

Gemini

Cancer

Leo

Scorpio and Libra

Sagittarius

Capricorn

Aquarius
(Why does Aquarius always get stuck with the suckiest symbols?
Seriously. Nice bucket there, water carrier.)

Pisces

I had never been inside a synagogue prior to this, so I was unsure of what to expect. I was surprised at how colourful the inside of the building was—crikey, look at all those murals! Again, if anyone can provide further insight on some the the pictures here, I would appreciate your feedback in the comments!

3 thoughts on “Inside Toronto’s Oldest Synagogue
  1. The mural says roughly “Light like an Eagle” but I’m not sure to what it is referencing in the Torah. I know in the Pirkei Avot there is a line about being as strong as a tiger, light as an eagle (same Hebrew words), fast as a deer, float like a butterfly, sting like a…wait, not those last two.

    Also some forms of the Jewish Qabalah did include some astrology, but from what I understand it was less natal/predictive and more talismanic and informational, as in this is how the spheres work. Though like you, the inclusion in a synagogue is something I find surprising.

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