My House Shall Be a House of Justice (Beit Tzedek) for All Peoples

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Last Friday at Erev Shabbat services, Temple Beth Hatfiloh was blessed to host Meg Martin, the Program Director of the Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter, who spoke to us about the impact of the warming center that TBH, along with two churches, has been hosting and she and her staff have been running these past four months. She also expressed her appreciation to TBH and presented us with a sweet gift (pictured).

We in Olympia all owe Meg and her great staff much appreciation and thanks for the tremendous work that they do every single day.

Here are just the brief words I shared before Meg spoke (I spoke extemporaneously, so this is an embellished recreation):


I’m often asked what the name of our congregation, Beth Hatfiloh, means. I tell them it means “House of Prayer,” and explain how “Beth” is actually an Anglicization of the Hebrew word “Beit,” which means house.

For someone who has been around the Jewish world, they know that a synagogue being named “Beth Something” is not uncommon, that many synagogues have a variation of that name. And while “Beth Hatfiloh” isn’t that common (I’ve checked), the use of the word “Beth” is.

And it is not random, for the term beit, or house, is a common designation for Jewish communal institutions. Aside from “beit” showing up in proper names, the Hebrew term for “synagogue,” as you would find around the Jewish world or in Israel, is beit knesset, a house of assembly.

We know of a synagogue being a beit tfilah, house of prayer. And there is also a beit midrash, a house of study, a place to learn Torah and Jewish wisdom. We maintain, like other places too, a beit sefer, a school to teach our children (literally, “house of a book”). And synagogues are sometimes referred to as a beit am, a house of the people.

I wanted to add one more designation to that list; I think synagogues should also strive to be a beit tzedek, a house of justice or righteousness. At the root of our word for charity, tzedakah, is tzedek, justice. And we should use our resources to do what we are called upon to do, our obligation to help those around us and provide for their needs.

For the past four months our congregation was literally a beit tzedek as we opened up our physical space to help those in our community in need. My hope is that as the warming center closes, we have set the stage for further developments in our greater community to help those facing homelessness and the associated challenges that go with it, as well as thinking anew about how we at TBH can continue to fulfill that ideal of being a beit tzedek, a house of justice for all people.

2 responses

  1. bodyliketealeaves

    “I think synagogues should also strive to be a beit tzedek, a house of justice or righteousness. At the root of our word for charity, tzedakah, is tzedek, justice.”

    My mom recently shared this nugget of etymological wisdom with me. So inspiring. Thank you and your congregation for what you do, especially for hosting the warming center this winter! ~Renata


    1. Rabbi360

      Thanks Renata! Thanks for all you do!


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