Maghain Aboth Synagogue @ Waterloo Street

Along Waterloo Street, there lies a building which is a place of worship for the Jewish community in Singapore. Built in 1878, it is the oldest synagogue in South-East-Asia where members of the Jewish community congregate to worship. Noticeably, you may have seen Jewish males wearing a headcovering. Known as the kippah, it is worn by Jewish males during religious services, religious study, meals, etc while some wear it all the time.

^ Map location: Maghain Aboth Synagogue, No.24 & 26, Waterloo Street.

^ Entrance to Maghain Aboth Synagogue at Waterloo Street. (Photocredit: National Archives of Singapore, circa 1978)

^ Maghain Aboth Synagogue, built in 1878, is the building on the right in the photo. A new annexe known as “Jacob Ballas Centre”, on the left, was recently added.

^ Panels of stained-glass fronting Waterloo Street from the new annexe Jacob Ballas Centre.

Recently the Jewish community in Singapore gathered at the synagogue to celebrate the holiest day in the Jewish calendar known as Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Fasting, prayers, repentance were part of the process that Jews atone for their sins. Here’s some photographs taken by photojournalist Desmond Lim which was published in The Straits Times, Oct 13, 2008 when the Jewish community celebrated the “Sabbath of Sabbaths”.

(I have typed out the description attached to each article printed in the newspaper in case the words are too small to be read.)

^ “Sabbath of Sabbaths”. Click on image to enlarge.

^ Jewish men gather in the Maghain Aboth Synagogue on the eve of Yom Kippur to pray and annul all personal vows and oaths made during the year that have not been fulfilled. The prayer is known as Hatarat Nedarim.

^ Jews gather on the eve of Yom Kippur and pray outside the Maghain Aboth Synagogue in Waterloo Street. It and the Chesed-El Synagogue at Oxley Rise serve as places of worship for the Singapore Jewish community. The Maghain Aboth Synagogue, built in 1878, is the oldest synagogue in South-East-Asia.

^ On the eve of Yom Kippur, Chief Rabbi Mordechai Abergel holds a chicken and prays during a ritual known as the kaparot. It entails holding a white chicken by the shoulder blades and gently swinging it over the person’s head, symbolically transferring one’s sins. The chicken will then be slaughtered and donated to the poor. It is customary that white roosters are used for men and white hens used for women.

^ A Jewish man prays in the synagogue during the morning service on the eve of Yom Kippur. Strapped to his forehead is a small leather box containing scrolls inscribed with biblical verses. The box, which is known as tefilin, is also strapped to the person’s left arm. The tefilin’s proximity to the head and heart is a reminder to Jews to focus on thoughts and emotions.

It is interesting to note that the tradition of strapping the tefilin to the forehead and to the left arm dates back to biblical times. Below are four passages from the bible that describe this tradition which the Jews still practice today.

Deuteronomy 6:8
Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendent on your forehead.

Deuteronomy 11:18
Therefore, take these words of mine into your heart and soul. Bind them at your wrist as a sign, and let them be a pendant on your forehead.

Exodus 13:9
It shall be as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead, thus the law of the Lord will ever be on your lips, because with a strong hand of the Lord brought you out of Egypt.

Exodus 13:16
Let this, then, be as a sign on your hand and as a pendant on your forehead: with a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.

The practice of strapping the tefilin on the forehead and on the left arm serves as a constant reminder to Jews of their Covenant with God and to dedicate themselves to God in whatever they think, feel and do.

^ Worshippers ask one another for forgiveness on the eve of the festival. Since Yom Kippur atones only for sins committed towards God, they have to ask forgiveness from one another. It is necessary that, after forgiving, one must not bear grudges.

^ A congregant is whipped on the back with a leather strap. This is a symbolic punishment for one’s sins. The ritual is traditionally performed a few hours before the start of Yom Kippur.

^ Holy Scrolls. (Photocredit: National Archives of Singapore, circa 1978)

^ The interior of Maghain Aboth Synagogue. (Photocredit: National Archives of Singapore, circa 1978)

For the older folks, you may remember that there exist a Jewish cemetery sited along Thomson Road. Here’s a post from blogger ygblog4 who wrote about the old Jewish cemetery. A notable political figure from the Jewish community was David Marshall who was Singapore’s first Chief Minister in 1955.

Read about “Why do Jewish males wear the kippah?”. Alternatively, you may like to browse at to know more about Judaism, the religion of the Jews, their practices, culture, festivals and traditions.

Lastly, a bit of history about the Maghain Aboth Synagogue from Infopedia.


6 Responses to “Maghain Aboth Synagogue @ Waterloo Street”

  1. Jonanthan Fischer Says:

    I will be staying in Singapore during Rosh Hashannah. I would appreciate it if someone from your congregation will get in touch with me at my email.

    Thanks you

  2. ordinary guy Says:

    Dear Jonanthan,

    Here’s the contact for Maghain Aboth Synagogue:-

    Add: 24 Waterloo Street Singapore 187950
    Tel: (65) 6337 2189
    Fax: (65) 6336 2127

  3. Asher Solomon Says:

    Hello, Its Asher Solomon here, I’m the son of Sonny and Rachel Solomon in Sydney.

    Chag Sameach for the upcoming Pesach.

    My wife Anna will be in Singapore in a couple of days on business, and I know that she’s planning on coming to visit the shule this Saturday. It would be great if someone would come up and say Hi! I know that its a friendly shule, my father and I were there together a few yers, ago.

    Please make Anna feel at home!

    Best regards, Asher

    • ordinary guy Says:

      Hi Asher,

      You may like to know the contact number of Maghain Aboth Synagogue to make some prearrangements for Anna:-

      Add: 24 Waterloo Street Singapore 187950
      Tel: (65) 6337 2189
      Fax: (65) 6336 2127

      Welcome to Singapore.

  4. Timar Alain Yosef Says:

    My name is Alain Yosef Timar. I’m jewish and come from France . I’m working in Singapore to Lasalle College for the Arts for 1 month. I would like to get a contact with the community.

  5. Lydia Choo Says:

    Hi Maghain Aboth Synagogue

    It is to note from this webpage about the symbolic punishment. I understand that it is only upon the flesh of adults but it won’t take away the wrongdoings done in the heart of adults. The preaching in the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ Name to them will be left unto them to think about and decide whether to repent.

    Deuteronomy 30:6 [KJV]. “And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.”

    2 Timothy 3:15-17. ”
    15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
    16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
    17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

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