In the Jewish world of Eastern Europe the shul (synagogue) was the very heart of community life, a life that was inseparable from religion. Probably few shetls (villages) or towns in Russia had a synagogue as richly decorated or worshippers as well dressed as those in the painting at left. But every shtetl had its shul , and to it the people resorted not only to pray, but for many other important occasions, whether festive or solemn. There were circumcisions, confirmations, weddings, high-holyday services, and funerals. On ordinary days the shul was the discussion center, where neighbors gathered to gossip or to debate, endlessly, the precise meaning of a passage in the Talmud—the explication of the Bible that prescribed almost every act of their lives. Religious training also dominated the heder (below), the elementary school attended by every Jewish boy. Yet this narrow curriculum had an outstanding result: in the midst of a largely illiterate empire, practically all Jewish males could read and write.