Passing by "the frowning face" of a Salvation Army establishment in Lombard Street, Bloom recalls the rudiments of Hebrew that he learned from his father to decipher the significance of its name: "Bethel. El, yes: house of: Aleph, Beth." As Bloom observes, "Beth" is both the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet (Aleph, Beth, Gimel, Daleth) and a word meaning house or (as he thinks) "house of." Bloom seems to recognize the meaning of "El"—God—but he does not articulate it.
The ancient Israelite city of Bethel, about twelve miles north of Jerusalem on the border of the tribes of Benjamin and Ephraim, is mentioned frequently in the Hebrew Bible. It was the site of Jacob's dream of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven (Genesis 28:12), and later the place where the ark of the covenant was kept (Judges 20:27), so it could be seen quite literally as the house of God. If Bloom is thinking of the name's religious significance, the "frowning face" of the Salvation Army building may insinuate some comment on his, or Joyce's, view of the deity.
A walking map published online by the Dublin Tourism authority (www.visitdublin.com/iwalks) notes that the Bethel Salvation Army Hostel once resided at 19-20 Lombard Street, near Lombard's intersection with "Townsend" Street, which Bloom has just crossed. It has been replaced by a more modern building, however.