Kenesa is the term for a Karaite or Persian synagogue. The word derives from the Aramaic word for "assembly" (in Hebrew, the word for synagogue is beit knesset).


Kenesas, generally, are similar to the synagogues of Rabbinical Jews. Uniquely, they are always laid out along north-south axis. Starting from the northern entrance, kenesa contains:
* Vestibule ("azar"), where worshippers take off their shoes. Shoes are not permitted anywhere further
* Moshav Zekenim ( _he. מושב זקנים‎, "old men's pews") - wooden benches for the old and the mourners, usually under a low ceiling. The loft above this ceiling is reserved for the women, who remain invisible to the men on the main floor
* Shulkhan (שולחן) - the main hall, where men and boys worship on their knees. Traditional kenesa floors were carpeted, however, modern kenesas have pews in the main hall, too
* Gekhan, or altar (היחל‎) - raised stand for the ritual Ark and the priest

urviving kenesas

There were 20 kenesas in former Russian Empire, 9 of them in Crimea (by 1918, two more were added). All surviving kenesas are listed memorial buildings, however, many are in dilapidated state, and others, like Sebastopol kenesa, although in better shape, are managed by public authorities or private owners, not the karaite communities. The principal, operating place of Karaite worship in Ukraine is located in Eupatoria, Crimea. It actually contains two independent kenesas, re-opened to the public in 2005 and 1999.

Kenesas in Lithuania were built in the 14th century; in Trakai, Biržai, Kėdainiai, Panevėžys and Vilnius. An early 20th century kenesa still stands in Trakai, Lithuania and another one in Vilnius; both are in service.


* (Russian): Альбом "Комплекс караимских кенасс в Евпатории и другие кенассы в мире", ред. В. В. Минеев, Cимферополь, 2006 // Karaite kenassas in Eupatoria and other kenassas of the world, ed. by V. V. Mineev, Simpheropol, 2006

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