This article is arranged according to the following outline.origins and history
Until the First Century
First Century c.e.
desecration and destruction of synagogues (holocaust period)
in the united states
in the soviet bloc
Women and the Synagogue
Design and Location
Furnishings and Interior Design
Proscribed Uses of the Synagogue and Its Contents
ownership and disposal of building
The Earliest Synagogues
The Early Synagogues
The Transitional Type
Outside Ereẓ Israel
From the Middle Ages to the Emancipation
the medieval double-naved hall in central europe
the single-cell hall in central europe
the four-pillared or nine-bay hall polish synagogue and its spread to central europe
wooden synagogues in poland
the sephardi diaspora after the expulsion
synagogues in turkey and in the arab countries
Enlightenment and Haskalah – Synagogues in the 18th Century
19th Century to World War i
Between the World Wars
After World War ii
synagogues in america
synagogues in europe
synagogues in israel
restoration of synagogues in central and eastern europe
The synagogue, together with the *Temple, is the most important institution in Judaism. It has had a decisive influence not only on Judaism throughout the ages, but on organized religion as a whole. As C. Toy points out (Introduction to the History of Religions (1913), 546) "their [the Jews'] genius for the organization of public religion appears in the fact that the form of communal worship devised by them was adapted by Christianity and Islam, and in its general outlines still exists in the Christian and Moslem world." Nevertheless, there are almost no historical dates concerning its origin. As its birth is lost in the mists of antiquity and apparently took place unheralded, so it grew to maturity in conditions of obscurity, and makes its definite appearance about the first century of the Christian era as a fully grown and firmly established institution. There is, however, an almost universal consensus of opinion as to the place and origin of its birth and these best present the conditions under which its birth can be most naturally explained. It is natural that when the synagogue had become the central institution of Judaism, the ancient authorities ascribed it as going back to the very beginnings of Judaism. The Targum (Pseudo-Jonathan to Ex. 18:20), the Midrash (Yal., Ex. 408), and Josephus (Apion, 2:175), as well as the New Testament (Acts 15:21), all ascribe its origin to Moses. Basing itself on a passage in the Talmud (Shab. 32a) which castigates those who refer to a synagogue as "Bet Ha-Am," a Midrash, quoted by Rashi and Kimḥi, applies this phrase in Jeremiah 39:8 to the synagogue. Some have seen in Psalms 74:8 "they have burnt up all the meeting places (the A.V. actually has "synagogues" and it was so rendered by Aquila and Symmachus) in the land" as a reference to synagogue and, on this basis, ascribe the Psalm to the Maccabean period (but see below). All these references, however, must be regarded as merely homiletical attempts to push back the date of the origin of this important institution, and, with the exception of the reference in Ezekiel (see below), they can be disregarded from the historical point of view. It is to the period of the Babylonian Exile that one must look for the origin of the synagogue. Not only has it been assumed that the Exiles, deprived of the Temple, in a strange land, feeling the need for consolation in their distress, would meet from time to time, probably on Sabbaths, and read the Scriptures, but it is in Ezekiel, the prophet of that Exile, that one finds the first probable references to it. It has been suggested that in the repeated mention of the assembly of the elders before Ezekiel (8:6, 14:1, 20:1) one can point to the actual beginning of the synagogue. More definite, however, is the reference to the "little sanctuary" in 11:16, and it may have been a true instinct which made the Talmud (Meg. 29a) apply it to the synagogue. The Jews who had remained in Judea after the Exile of Jehoiachin taunted the Exiles that they were removed from the Temple, which still stood, and Ezekiel answered, "Thus saith the Lord God, Although I have removed them far off among the nations, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet I have been to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they are come." And although, as will be seen, there was an organic relation between Temple and synagogue during the period of the Second Temple, from the moment the Temple was destroyed, and in the Diaspora before then, the phrase "little sanctuary" faithfully indicates the role of the synagogue in the thoughts and lives of the people. There is in rabbinical literature no tradition or legend of any building in their time having been a synagogue during the period of the First Temple; in Babylonia there was a strong tradition that the famous synagogue Shaf Ve-Yativ in *Nehardea had been established by the Exiles of Jehoiachin, and that its name actually meant "that which has been moved and established" (Meg. 29a).
This view of the Babylonian Exile as the time and place of the emergence of the synagogue is not, however, universally accepted. Some have persisted in dating back its beginnings to the First Temple period (see Levy, bibliography, 7–14); Weingreen, basing himself on such passages as Psalm 116:17 and Isaiah 1:11, 15, which indicate that sacrifice in the First Temple was accompanied by prayer, that the prayer of Hannah at Shiloh (i Sam. 1:10ff.) was unaccompanied by sacrifice, and that Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the Temple makes no mention of sacrifice, comes to the conclusion that in them one can see evidence that the synagogue originated during the First Temple. Similarly, according to him, sacrificial acts at the local shrines were accompanied by prayer; when Josiah banned sacrifices at those shrines (ii Kings 22 and 23), religious worship without sacrifice continued. He finds the origin of all the elements of the synagogue – prayer, Scriptural readings, and the sermon – in the history of the First Temple. Friedlander regards it as an invention of the Hellenistic Diaspora, while S. Zeitlin dates it to that, or the Maccabean period.
Although there is no mention of the synagogue in Ezra and Nehemiah and the post-Exilic prophets, it can be assumed that the returned Exiles brought with them the rudiments of that institution to which they had given birth during their exile. In this connection it is germane to draw attention to the fact that the establishment of the synagogue implies the evolution of standard forms of service, and the Talmud ascribes the formulation of the earliest prayers (the *Amidah, *Kiddush, and *Havdalah) to Ezra and his successors, the Men of the Great Synagogue (Ber. 33a). Weingreen, however (bibliography, 69–70), draws attention to an ostracon discovered by N. Glueck at Elath (Basor 82, 7–11), belonging, according to Albright, to the sixth century b.c.e., which C.C. Torrey (ibid., 84, 4–5) reads as Bet Kenisa bi-Yrushalayim ("the Synagogue in Jerusalem"). There is no mention of synagogues or their destruction during the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes which led to the Maccabean Wars, but this is possibly due to the fact that the main interest of the Books of Maccabees is the Temple in Jerusalem. The suggestion has been made that the reference to Mizpeh in I Maccabees 3:46 as "a place of prayer" τόπος προσευχῆ "where they prayed aforetime" is not to an altar or shrine, but to a synagogue, but this is probably another example of the tendency to ascribe to the shrines of old the function of the contemporaneous synagogue. However, there is mention of the fact of public readings from the scrolls of the Torah (i Macc. 3:48) and to the singing of hymns to the refrain "His mercy is good and endureth forever" (4:24). That it does not refer to the Psalms with this refrain is indicated by a whole hymn on this pattern in Ben Sira 51.
It is natural that in the Diaspora the need for local places of worship was much more keenly felt than in Ereẓ Israel, despite the huge throngs of Diaspora Jews who made the pilgrimages to Jerusalem on the festivals (see *Pilgrimages). In Ereẓ Israel the Temple attracted the main religious loyalties and affections of the people; no such rival existed in the Diaspora. It is true that there existed in Egypt the Temple of *Elephantine and of Onias (see *Onias, Temple of) but these did not have the sentimental hold exercised by the Temple in Jerusalem. It is therefore not surprising that it is in the Diaspora, and particularly in Egypt, that archaeological discovery has revealed the remains of the earliest synagogue. In 1902 there was discovered in Shedia, 26 km. from Alexandria, a marble slab stating that the Jews dedicated this synagogue to Ptolemy iii Euergetes (246–221 b.c.e.) and his queen Berenice. The inscription gives the impression of an institution already long established. To the same period and country belongs a dedicatory inscription found in Lower Egypt granting rights of asylum to the synagogue (rej45 (1902), 163–4). The mention in iii Maccabees 7:20 of the founding of a synagogue at Ptolemais during the reign of Ptolemy iv (221–204) is therefore entirely credible.
It is in the first century c.e., however, that the synagogue suddenly emerges as a well established and ancient institution, the very center of the social and religious life of the people, unrivaled in the Diaspora, and harmoniously cooperating with the Temple in Ereẓ Israel. It is a remarkable literary phenomenon that all sources, Talmud, Philo, Josephus, the New Testament and, to some extent archaeology, afford evidence of the existence of the synagogue, with every indication that it is anything but a new institution. Philo (see Legatione ad Gaium, 132f.) states that the large population of Alexandria had many synagogues in many quarters of the city; a great synagogue there, where the members of the various craft guilds sat together and which was so huge that the voice of the precentor was inaudible and flags had to be waved to indicate to the worshipers when they should make the responses, is described in the Talmud (Suk. 51b; tj, ibid. 5:1, 55a; Tosef., ibid. 4:6). It was destroyed during the reign of Trajan (98–117) and could not therefore be later than the first century.
In Ereẓ Israel Josephus mentions synagogues in Tiberias (Life, 280), Dora (Ant., 19:305), and Caesarea (Wars, 2:285–9). The New Testament adds those of Nazareth (Matt. 13:54) and Capernaum (Mark 1:21); the Talmud adds the synagogue in Jerusalem of the Alexandrians (Tosef., Meg. 3 (2): 6; tj, Meg. 3:1, 73d) and of the "Tarsians" (Meg. 26a). (It has been suggested, however, that the two are identical, "Tarsians" meaning filigree workers and refers to the Tarsian carpet industry which flourished in Egypt. Synagogues of the Tarsians existed also in Tiberias and Lydda (see Krauss, Synagogale Altertuemer, 201).) One passage (tj, Meg. 3:1) gives the number of synagogues in Jerusalem at the time of the destruction of the Temple as 480, another (Ket. 105a) gives what looks like an exact figure of 394. Most authorities dismiss these figures as "doubtless gravely exaggerated," but it must be borne in mind that archaeological investigations have proved beyond question that the synagogues of Israel were small (cf. Baron, Community, 1, 92). (The same applies to modern Israel, and Jerusalem today has more than the larger number quoted above and there seems no reason to dismiss the number as fanciful.) Most significant of all, however, was the existence of a synagogue on the Temple Mount itself (Sot. 7:7–8; Yoma 7:1).
Outside Ereẓ Israel, in addition to the above-mentioned synagogues of Shaf Ve-Yativ in Nehardea and the synagogues in Egypt, Philo refers to the synagogues of Rome (loc. cit., 156), and inscriptions have been found of no less than 13 of these synagogues (for details see Baron, Community, 1, 81–82). In 1963 the ruins of a fourth-century synagogue in Ostia built on the ruins of an earlier one, probably dating from the first century, were discovered. The most extensive evidence of synagogues in every community in the Diaspora is given in the New Testament. Paul preached in many synagogues in Damascus (Acts 9:20, 22), and he refers to synagogues in every city he visited in Asia Minor (Acts 13:5, 14, 14:1, 15:21, 17:1, 10, 18:4, 7), including a number in Salamis in Cyprus. Baron enumerates the following list of known ancient synagogues in the Diaspora, compiled about 1922, to which discoveries since then can be added: Syria and Phoenicia, Asia Minor, including Cyprus – 31; the Balkan Peninsula, including Greece and the Aegean Islands – 19; Italy, including Sicily – 181; Spain, Gaul, and Hungary – 5; North Africa – 21. The synagogue in Stobi, Macedonia, dates from 65 c.e. (Baron, Community, 1, 80; A. Marmorstein, jqr, 27 (1936–37), 373–38). In Delos, Greece, was a synagogue dating from the second pre-Christian century (Sukenik, bibliography, 37, and see below, Architecture). There is therefore no doubt but that by the first century the synagogue was a firmly- and well-established institution in every community, both in Ereẓ Israel and in the Diaspora. While the Temple stood there was an organic relationship between synagogue and Temple. The Mishnah (Sot. 7:7) gives full details of the service in the synagogue on the Temple Mount on the Day of Atonement: "The ḥazzan of the synagogue [see below] used to take the scroll of the Torah and hand it to the chief of the synagogue, who handed it to the prefect, who handed it to the high priest, and the high priest received it standing and read it standing, etc." Similarly, in his vivid description of the festivities during the Festival of Water Drawing (see *Sukkot), Joshua b. Hananiah describes the manner in which the day was spent, attending the sacrifices in the Temple alternating with prayer in the synagogue (Suk. 53a). In addition to this, however, the arrangements of the *mishmarot and ma'amadot were that, while the mishmar of priests and levites and the Israelite representatives were present during the weekly rota of service of their mishmar in the Temple, the remaining members of the ma'amad who did not accompany the members of the mishmar to Jerusalem gathered in their local synagogues for prayer and fasting (Ta'an. 4:2; and see *Liturgy).
With the destruction of the Temple, however, and the consequent automatic cessation of the sacrificial service, the synagogue remained without a rival as the focus and center of Jewish religious life. Many of the customs and rituals of the Temple were deliberately and consciously transferred to the synagogue, and on the other hand, some of these rituals were forbidden just for the reason that they belonged to the Temple and the Temple only. Prayer was regarded as the substitute for sacrifice, and it was no accident that the word avodah, referring to the sacrificial system, was now applied to prayer which was the "Avodah of the heart" (Sif. Deut. 41). The service, functions, and the functionaries of the synagogue have remained remarkably consistent throughout the 2,500 years of its history. The order of service laid down in the first chapters of tractate Berakhot for daily and Sabbath service, and Megillah (3:4–end) for festivals, remains unchanged as the fundamental order of service, to which, in the course of the ages, only additions have been made. The function of the synagogue as a center not only for prayer and instruction, but as the communal center, dates from the earliest period. To the one permanent official of the synagogue in Temple and talmudic times, the ḥazzan ha-keneset, the beadle, there were added the professional cantor who was unknown in early times; the ba'al keri'ah who read the scriptural portion where previously the person called up read his own portion; and particularly in western countries, the preacher and/or rabbi of a synagogue, as distinct from the rabbi of the community. Owing to special circumstances, greater emphasis was laid on certain aspects of the synagogue in the Middle Ages and in the modern era. For instance, the function of the synagogue as a communal center is already to be noted in talmudic times, but under ghetto conditions, voluntary or enforced, it assumed much greater proportions. Similarly, social needs of the present day, especially in the United States, have tended to turn the synagogue with its ancillary institutions into an all-embracing social center.
The Talmud justifies the reciting of the *Kiddush in the synagogue, despite the fact that "Kiddush is recited only at a meal" (Pes. 101a; the custom is still universal except in Israel), on the grounds that it was recited for the benefit of visitors and wayfarers "who eat, drink, and sleep in the synagogue" (Pes. 101a). That the reference is not to the synagogue proper is clear from the explicit prohibition of eating and drinking in it (Meg. 28a), but to annexes provided for that purpose, and there has been discovered an inscription from a first-century synagogue recording the name of Theodotus son of Vettenos who built a synagogue "for the reading of the Torah and teaching of the commandments and also built the hospice and chambers and water installations for lodging needy strangers" (Sukenik, bibliography, 70). This aspect of the synagogue was greatly increased during the Middle Ages. There was practically no activity in the daily life of the Jews which was not reflected in the life of the synagogue. Any person having a private complaint could have the service interrupted, until he was promised redress (see *Bittul ha-Tamid) and the results of lawsuits were announced, as were articles lost and found. Even the announcements of certain properties on the market were included in some synagogues. In Italy any man intending to leave the community had publicly to announce the fact, so that any claims against him could be put forward. Proclamations were made of stolen goods (that this was the practice in talmudic times is mentioned in Lev. R. 6:2). Announcements whose purpose was to enforce moral and conjugal virtues were included. In the synagogue mourners were officially and publicly comforted, a custom which prevails to the present day, and the appearance of bridegrooms on the Sabbaths preceding and following the wedding made occasions for congregational rejoicing. The most powerful social sanction was the *ḥerem which, inter alia, banned the person against whom it was issued from participation in congregational worship.
[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]
In the 18th century the rise of *Ḥasidism had a definite effect on the synagogue. The Ḥasidim downgraded the formality of the synagogue service, stressing in its stead the fervor and excitement which should accompany prayer. Their synagogues were much smaller and devoid of elaborate furnishings and decorations; in fact, they were more of the bet ha-midrash type, being places for meetings and study as well as for prayer. Communal meals, particularly the *se'udah shelishit, were held there, and indeed the synagogue was known in ḥasidic parlance as the shtibl ("small room") or Klaus ("close," in the archaic sense). The ḥasidic synagogue did away with salaried officiants; members of the congregation led the prayers themselves, and generally the whole atmosphere was very informal. By and large pews were replaced by tables and benches, and the internal appearance was very much more austere than that of the regular synagogue.
With the *Reform movement a century later, the synagogue took a turn in the opposite direction. The Reform synagogues were elaborate, dignified, buildings, lavishly and formally furnished. Unlike the ḥasidic synagogue buildings, which were rarely constructed for that purpose but were existing buildings made over, the Reform synagogues were usually designed and built for the specific purpose for which they were to be used. The *ark was an impressive edifice within the sanctuary, as were the almemar and the pulpit. Most Reform synagogues, which were known as "temples," included an organ and choir loft, and the almemar was at the front of the auditorium (see below and *Bimah). Pews were arranged in straight rows with no special section for the women. Officiants in such synagogues were salaried employees of the congregation. There can be no doubt that the Reform synagogues were influenced both in structural style and internal organization by prevailing trends in the various Christian churches. Decorum, dignity, and contemporary aesthetic values became important aims in the planning of the synagogues. These were achieved at the cost, to a large degree, of warmth, excitement, and spontaneity.
Orthodox congregations in western Europe, England, and the U.S. also began to erect elaborate synagogues, with the proviso, of course, that the halakhic requirements were met. A gallery was usually provided for the women from which they could see, as well as hear, the service in progress. Salaried officials led the services and great importance was placed on decorum and dignity. Most synagogues had, in addition to the main sanctuary which was used for sabbaths and festivals, a smaller, less lavish, synagogue, variously called a bet ha-midrash or chapel, for weekday services. In the chapel the service was less formal and usually conducted by the congregants. Most synagogue buildings began in the 20th century to have facilities attached for the synagogue school or talmud torah, as well as halls for meetings or banquets. These halls are, in many cases, utilized for "overflow" services on the High Holidays, when the seating in the main auditorium is inadequate. Many synagogues also have a "bride's room," in which the bride prepares herself for the wedding ceremony and in which the yiḥud takes place afterward (see *Marriage). Some ultra-Orthodox congregations include, in the synagogue building, a *mikveh. An interesting development in modern times, particularly in the U.S., is the "expanding" synagogue; a hall is immediately adjacent to the main sanctuary divided from it by a movable wall. For the High Holidays the wall is removed, thus increasing, sometimes even doubling, the seating capacity and obviating the need for extra personnel to lead the "overflow" services. However, side by side with these large, formal synagogues, there continued to exist smaller, less elaborate prayerhouses and indeed, in attempting to establish statistical information, one is faced with the difficulty of defining what a synagogue is (see below).
The desecration of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries during World War ii by the Germans and their collaborators was a carefully planned operation, executed with utmost thoroughness. It was accompanied not only by vandalism and looting, but by cruelty and malice. In many cases Jews were ordered to burn down their houses of worship for which they were afterward blamed, while those who refused to obey were punished. "Fire Brigades" were formed in some Polish towns, their task being to set fire to synagogues and religious articles, and sometimes even the worshipers, who were forced inside the building to be burned alive. It is impossible to ascertain the vast number of art and religious treasures destroyed or stolen by the Nazis and their fellow travelers and collaborators in the non-Jewish population. Synagogues were destroyed in thousands of communities in eastern Europe, in the large Jewish settlements in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the Ukraine, Belorussia and such central European countries such as Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and the Balkans. The religious art treasures of these synagogues ran into hundreds of thousands of items, for every synagogue was virtually a repository of ritual and traditional objects. These included Torah scrolls, Torah mantles, Torah shields and pointers, and Holy Arks, often made of carved wood or stone, with their curtains; there were also Chairs of Elijah, chandeliers, candlesticks, prayer books, and megillot. The comparatively sparse documentary evidence on the destruction to be found in various archives includes actual destruction orders, the names of those who issued and executed them, and the dates of destruction.
The first attempts to describe the extent of this destruction were made during the war by eyewitnesses, such as Emanuel *Ringelblum and Rabbi Simon Huberband. The latter participated in Ringelblum's "Oneg Shabbat" (code name for secret documentation work of the Warsaw Jewish underground movement). Huberband listed the destruction of Polish synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. According to data in the *Yad Vashem archives, the deportation and liquidation of the Jewish population of Europe was accompanied by the destruction of 33,914 Jewish communities, of which a few thousand were in Poland. It is estimated that 98% of movable Jewish art treasures in Poland, which had been preserved in synagogues or art collections, disappeared during the war. The first official attempt to list the losses in the domain of ritual art objects throughout Poland was made by the Ministerstwo Kultury i Sztuki (Ministry of Culture and Art) in a series of publications of the Claims and Reparations Office. A few of the synagogues in Poland were restored and converted by the authorities for cultural needs (libraries, museums, movie theaters, and cultural centers) or became cooperative grain stores. The architecturally interesting wooden synagogues in Poland were all destroyed by the Germans (see *Poland, and below, Architecture).
Testimony on the destruction of synagogues in Germany and Austria, especially with regard to *Kristallnacht (1938), was given at the *Eichmann trial. On Kristallnacht, about 280 synagogues were destroyed and burned in Germany alone. Of the 23 Viennese synagogues that had existed before the Anschluss, the only remaining one was restored in 1964, and two batteimidrash were left. The monetary value of 56 synagogues destroyed in Austria on November 10, 1938, alone, is estimated at 5,000,000 dollars.
In Oriental countries and in Oriental communities in Israel the synagogue has hardly changed throughout the centuries. Low seating is generally provided around the walls of the room and the almemar is always in the center. Occasionally a special chair, of Moses or Elijah, is attached high up on the wall. Prayers are usually led by congregants, although in some of the modern Sephardi synagogues in Israel salaried officials are employed. In Europe and the United States the Sephardi synagogues are much as the Ashkenazi, except for the liturgical rite. (For further information, see *Ottoman Empire: Restrictions on Building New Synagogues.)
While the situation described above holds good for the United States, a further development took place there which in turn influenced the synagogue in the whole western world. Mordecai *Kaplan formulated the concept of the "synagogue center." He felt that the synagogue, if it were to continue to play its role in Jewish life, had to be more than a prayerhouse and, in view of the disintegration of traditional Jewish values in the U.S., more than a house of study. He therefore advocated that the synagogue become an all-embracing center of Jewish social and cultural activity, with the aim that the Jew spend a great deal, if not most, of his leisure time within the confines of the synagogue building. Such a building would no longer be a synagogue but a "Jewish center" and "instead of the primary purpose of congregation organizations being worship, it should be social togetherness…. The history of the synagogue… is a striking illustration of the importance of creating new social agencies when new conditions arise that threaten the life of a people or of its religion" (Mordecai M. Kaplan, "The Way I Have Come," Mordecai M. Kaplan: An Evaluation (1952), 311). According to Kaplan, the Jewish center should contain a swimming pool, gymnasium, library, club rooms, public hall, and classrooms, in addition to facilities for worship. It should provide professional club leaders to supervise groups for adults as well as children, and they should include all the activities in which the membership is likely to be interested, and not only of a Jewish nature, but such activities as photography, drama, music, sport, etc. Although most congregations were unable to provide this comprehensive program, both because of financial inadequacy and the fact that other existing organizations such as the ymha already provided some of them, it remained the ideal for which to aim, with the results varying from synagogue to synagogue. The "center" idea, which was in fact a reformulation of what had always been the synagogue's role, has been generally accepted, and most synagogues provide such activities for their congregants.
According to a 2001 study published in the American Jewish Year Book, there were 3,727 synagogues in the United States, among them 1,501 Orthodox, 976 Reform, and 865 Conservative. New York City had 995 synagogues, followed by California with 425.
Because of the fact that it is a "Jewish" country, many of the functions performed by the synagogue in other countries are provided in Israel by other agencies, often governmental. The nature of the country also obviates the need to affiliate with a synagogue to express one's Jewish identity. Education, including religious, is the concern of the state; burial is the concern of independent burial societies; kashrut is supervised and arranged by the *Rabbinate, at its different levels, which institution is financed by the government and independent of the synagogue. Thus, in the Jewish country, a paradoxical situation has arisen; one would have thought that the synagogue would flourish and expand its influence, when in fact it has become little more than a house of prayer. The population, even the religious section of it, finds its expression within other frameworks (see *Israel, State of; Religious Life).
While the main function of synagogues in Israel is to serve as places of worship, many also organize daily or weekly lectures or classes for their congregants. A vast variety of synagogue services can be found throughout the country, each community of the Diaspora bringing to Israel its own customs and manners. The multiplicity of traditions presents a peculiar problem for the army, since there is no possibility of establishing synagogues suited to the specific customs of diverse communities in every military camp and base. Nor can the army "melting pot" permit soldiers to be divided in prayer. Thus, by force of circumstances, a uniform type of synagogue has emerged, encouraged also by the way in which children from different communities join in prayer and study at religious schools and yeshivot.
This pattern has been followed by the younger generation in civilian life, and about 300 synagogues of a unified type have been set up, combining elements from the rituals of Ḥasidim and Mitnaggedim, and from Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Before the establishment of the State, there were few distinguished synagogue buildings in the country. Baron Edmond de *Rothschild erected a synagogue in every settlement that he endowed, and the buildings are still to be seen in Zikhron Ya'akov, Rishon le-Zion, Mazkeret Batyah, and elsewhere. The old yishuv in Safed, Tiberias, and Hebron had a number of poor synagogue buildings. The Jewish Quarter of Old Jerusalem contained 58 synagogues which had served the Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities from the time when *Naḥmanides renewed Jewish life in Jerusalem after the Crusades. Among them was the Sephardi Great Synagogue of Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai, which included four synagogues in a single large block. The largest synagogue of the Ashkenazi community was called the Ḥurvah ("Ruin"), since it was built on the ruins of the House of Study of Rabbi *Judah Ḥasid. Other notable synagogues were the Bet El synagogue of the kabbalists and the Tiferet Israel synagogue, also called Nisan Bak, after its founder. The oldest synagogue was that of the *Karaites, ascribed to the tenth or eleventh century. During and after the 1948 War of Independence, 55 of these synagogues were destroyed by the Arabs, but some others (Ramban, Ḥabad) were restored after the liberation of the Old City in June, 1967 (see *Jerusalem).
During the British Mandate (1917–48) synagogue building proceeded slowly, principally in the larger cities and with the financial assistance of the local community. Thus in 1923–24 the Great Synagogue and the Sephardi Synagogue Ohel Mo'ed in Tel Aviv, and Yeshurun in Jerusalem, were established, and in the 1930s the Central Synagogue of Haifa was founded. At the time of the establishment of the State in 1948, there were about 800 synagogues of all kinds throughout the country, serving a Jewish population of 650,000. The rapid growth of immigrant housing and the development of townships necessitated new synagogues, particularly where there were liturgical and ritual differences. New buildings were also erected to replace the provisional structures in the veteran religious settlements.
By 1970 there were about 6,000 synagogues. These new synagogues were jointly financed by the Ministry for Religious Affairs, the Ministry of Housing, the Jewish Agency, the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization, the Silverman Fund, the Wolfson Trust, and other agencies. The complete interior furnishing of nine synagogues from Jewish communities destroyed during World War ii, and 28 arks from old synagogues in Italy, were transferred to Israel and reconstructed in various places throughout the country. The first of these came in 1952 from Coneglia, near Venice, and was reestablished as the Synagogue of Benei Roma in Jerusalem. Others came from Mantua, Padua, and Florence.
There is no distinctive form of synagogue architecture in Israel. Some local congregations have, however, evolved an architecture suited to their specific needs or exploiting local building materials – eucalyptus, olive wood, and marble from the Negev and Galilee. A modern Israel style seems to be emerging gradually, one of its features being the exterior menorah (candelabrum), which symbolizes the light of the Torah and is also the emblem of the State of Israel. The synagogue interiors usually conform to the pattern of the congregation's place of origin, and contain carpets and rugs and European or Oriental furniture. There is some new artistic expression in adornments by famous artists, such as Marc Chagall's stained-glass windows at the Hadassah Medical Center Synagogue in Jerusalem. The vast majority of synagogues in Israel are Orthodox, and the traditional partition between the main hall and the women's gallery (see *Meḥiẓah) prevails in all of them, with variations as to the form and height of the grate or curtain. The bimah (platform) is situated in the middle of the synagogue, while the ammud (precentor's lectern) is close to the ark at the front wall. Sephardi synagogues, however, have no lecterns, and the entire service is conducted from the platform. In 1963, a Union of Israel Synagogues, embracing all the Orthodox synagogues, was established by Hechal Shlomo, Jerusalem. In 2005 there were about 50 Conservative and Reform synagogues in Israel. The most prominent of these is the *Hebrew Union College's synagogue in Jerusalem. The Karaites, who number about 25,000, have their own houses of prayer. They are concentrated mainly in Ramleh, but are also to be found in Ashdod, Ofakim, Beersheba, Ra'ananna, Maẓli'aḥ, Beth-Shemesh, and Acre.
In the Soviet Union, where the constitution guarantees "freedom of religious worship and anti-religious propaganda," a group of 20 citizens was legally entitled to apply for permission to organize a religious congregation and to acquire a building or a plot for the erection of a building to serve as a place of prayer. Thus, those synagogues which still existed in the U.S.S.R. were each a separate society, not belonging to any federative or other country-wide framework (see below, Synagogue Organizations). Each of them was administered by a "committee of twenty" (in Soviet usage, Dvadsatka), which was responsible to the local authorities concerned with religious affairs that it should not engage in any illicit activity, such as "religious propaganda" (propaganda was explicitly reserved only for anti-religious purposes), religious education of children, social welfare work, etc.
In the early period of the Soviet regime, and particularly during the existence of the Jewish section (*Yevsektsiya) of the Communist Party, when suppression of the Jewish religion was regarded as part of the revolutionary remolding of Jewish society, the closing of synagogues and their transformation into "workers' clubs," cinemas, etc., became a mass phenomenon. In a matter of a decade or so, innumerable synagogues and other prayerhouses (of the shtibl or minyan-type) disappeared, and the meeting of Jews, particularly of the younger generation, for organized prayer or Torah study became a hazardous enterprise. After World War ii, and especially during the rule of Khrushchev (1957–64), a drastic reduction of the remaining number of synagogues took place (from over 400 to about 60–65), some of them, mainly in Moscow and other larger cities, remaining intact in order to serve both as showplaces for visitors from abroad as well as centers for the supervision of the remnants of Jewish traditional life by the secret police. At the same time the authorities manipulated from behind the scenes the election of the congregation boards by the Dvadtsatka, so as to infiltrate them by agents or collaborators.
Paradoxically, at the same time in the early 1960s, while synagogues were closed down en masse – their congregants vilified in the press as "speculators" and criminals, and even previously tolerated minyanim, congregating in private homes on the High Holidays, brutally dispersed by the police – thousands, and later tens of thousands, of Jewish youth, reawakened to Jewish national consciousness, chose the synagogues and their courtyards and surroundings to demonstrate their Jewish identity by singing and dancing on Simḥat Torah and other holidays. These spontaneous gatherings in and around the few remaining synagogues, which at first were dispersed by the police, later became a constant feature of Soviet Jewish life, followed closely by diplomatic and press observers from abroad, which thus gave them, indirectly, some measure of immunity from persecution.
There were three synagogues in Moscow under the Soviet regime: the central Great Synagogue at Arkhispova Street and two small ones, in wooden houses, in the suburbs, Maryina Roshcha and Cherkizovo. In addition, a town near Moscow, Malakhovka, also had a synagogue of its own. There was no official connection whatsoever between these three, or four, synagogues, as no Jewish body of any character was allowed to exist in the U.S.S.R. outside its strictly circumscribed local function. Some cities in Georgia, Daghestan, and Uzbekistan also had more than one synagogue – one for the local, non-Ashkenazi community (Georgian Jews, Bukhara Jews or *Mountain Jews) and one for the Ashkenazi ("Russian") Jews who settled there, mostly as evacuees or refugees during World War ii. There was a conspicuous difference in character between these two categories of synagogues.
Whereas the non-Ashkenazi synagogues served as prayer and meeting houses for the local Jewish population as a whole, comprising entire families and teeming with children and young people (similar to the prayer houses of their non-Christian neighbors), the Ashkenazi synagogues were, as in the European U.S.S.R., only visited by some elderly men and women (except sometimes for the demonstrative Simḥat Torah gatherings of the young). In all other places (such as, e.g., Leningrad, Kiev, Odessa, Riga, Vilna, Cemauti, Minsk, Novosibirsk, and others), there was only one synagogue in each. In some of them, such as Leningrad, Kiev, or Riga, the prerevolutionary buildings were still in use, and in addition to the large hall, used on holidays, there were also shtibl-type prayer rooms attached for weekday and Sabbath services. In others, such as Odessa or Minsk, shabby buildings at the outskirts of the town served this purpose. There were cities with large Jewish populations, such as Kharkov, in which the last synagogue was closed down some time after World War ii and no other allowed to be established. There the militia (police) systematically persecuted Jews who congregated "illegally" on the High Holidays in private houses for prayer, but on the whole these persecutions did not succeed in deterring Jews from repeating this "misdemeanor" every year anew.
A specific trait of almost all the synagogues in the U.S.S.R. was the heavy atmosphere of fear of the secret police which was generally believed to listen to all conversations and keep a sharp eye on any contact between Soviet citizens and visitors from abroad. In many synagogues, including the central synagogue of Moscow, foreign visitors, including (until 1967) Israeli diplomats, were physically segregated from the rest of the congregation by specially erected wooden partitions, the gabba'im being responsible for preventing any contact with them. In other Communist countries in eastern Europe, the limitations imposed on the remaining synagogues were less stringent than in the U.S.S.R. In most of them countrywide federations of Jewish congregations, or religious communities, were allowed to exist and to cater to religious needs (baking of maẓẓot, distributing prayer books, etc.) through the synagogues. In Prague the famous Altneuschul was maintained by the authorities as a historical monument, at the same time still serving as a meeting place for prayer. In other Communist capitals possessing modern, imposing synagogue buildings from the 19th or early 20th century, such as Budapest, Bucharest, or Sophia, they were in use, and the atmosphere prevailing in them was less suffocating than in the synagogues of the Soviet Union, though the authorities supervised all of them for all kinds of "security" reasons. Most of them also served as showplaces for visitors from abroad.
With the collapse of Communism, Jewish religious life revived in a freer atmosphere, and numerous synagogues with officiating rabbis, often from Chabad, opened throughout the Russian Federation as well as in other former Communist countries. In 1992 a Rabbinical Alliance was formed, which by 2006 had 90 rabbis as members in 13 countries. In addition, 94 synagogues were affiliated with the Federation of Jewish Communities, which had purchased and restored 80 buildings for use as synagogues.
See also *Russia.
A modern phenomenon has been the organization of synagogues of a like type into a Synagogue Union. In the past, particularly in central and eastern Europe, there were periods in which kehillot were so organized (see *Councils of the Lands), but the organization of actual synagogues is comparatively new. The reason for this "unionization" is the fact that an individual synagogue is not able by itself to provide adequate educational and religious facilities, whereas several synagogues together have enough resources to take care of such things as religious education, kashrut, burial, etc. Another reason might be the influence of the Christian churches which are affiliated to different church organizations.
The *United Synagogue of England has a chief rabbi, a bet din, a kashrut division, and a religious educational framework. Salaries of the officials in its constituent synagogues are scaled, and candidates for such positions are required to obtain a certificate of competence from the chief rabbi. The rabbinical school, Jews' *College, is under its auspices and the chief rabbi is, ex officio, president of it. There are two other Orthodox synagogue organizations: The Federation of Synagogues, and, more extreme, the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (Adath Yisroel). Both these latter organizations provide services for their constituents, though not on the same scale as the United Synagogue. The Reform synagogues of England are organized, as are the Liberal synagogues.
In the United States there is a "Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations," a "United Synagogue" (Conservative), and "Union of American Hebrew Congregations" (Reform). Besides the above, orthodoxy in the U.S. has several other synagogue organizations varying in their degrees of orthodoxy. A more recent development has been the creation of international synagogue organizations. The Conservative movement is organized into a "World Council of Synagogues," which embraces Conservative-type synagogues in several countries and meets every two years to discuss problems of mutual interest; there is also considerable movement of Conservative rabbis to synagogues in other countries due to the existence of this organization.
In Israel synagogues are organized into the "Union of Synagogues in Israel," and the Conservative and Reform synagogues have their own organizations. Most other countries with a sizable Jewish population have similar organizations to those described above.
Evolving redefinitions of women's place and role within the synagogue are an integral part of the institution's long history. Recent scholarship demonstrates that women were a regular presence in the ancient synagogues of the Hellenistic Diaspora during the first centuries of the Common Era, and that they were not separated from men during public worship. Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew inscriptions identify women as regular donors and sometimes as synagogue officers, although scholars still debate whether these titles referred to honorary or actual posts. Although rabbinic sources indicate that women were not unknown as participants in synagogue ritual, the overwhelming tendency in rabbinic literature is against granting women active roles in communal worship.
Cairo *Genizah documents describe the separation of men and women in 10th- and 11th-century Egyptian synagogues, but also reveal the full engagement of women in their synagogues as worshipers, community members, and contributors. Early medieval European synagogues, built without specific women's areas, do not give evidence either of women's presence or absence. In the 12th century, however, women's sections adjoining the sanctuary began to be added to existing buildings. It is unclear whether these new women's annexes, in spaces such as attached rooms, grilled balconies, and basements, represented greater inclusion of women or an expulsion from the main sanctuary, perhaps because of growing anxiety over the threat of women's ritual impurity (see *Niddah).
Integration of women into the synagogue space came with the 1639 and 1675 synagogue buildings of the Spanish Portuguese Jews in Amsterdam. These synagogues, built as galleried halls, used their balconies as women's sections, thus integrating women's space into the buildings' symmetrical design. This influential architectural model found imitators around Europe resulting in many synagogues with women's galleries overlooking the sanctuary, although ubiquitous opaque screens, grilles, or lattice work obstructed the view of those within. In these women's sections, beginning in the Middle Ages, the *firzogerin would lead other women in prayer, either by relaying the prayers and hymns recited in the sanctuary or by using Yiddish devotional prayers that paralleled the Hebrew liturgy. Although attendance at regular communal worship was not central to a Jewish woman's religious obligations, many married women did traditionally attend synagogue on Sabbath mornings and during festival services. Unmarried women were less likely to be present.
As Enlightenment ideas began to undermine traditional Jewish communities in western societies, a growing desire to demonstrate Judaism's bourgeois respectability brought accepted models of Jewish female religiosity into question. Jewish reformers assailed what they saw as Judaism's undignified treatment of women. Nineteenth-century German reformers, especially, lamented the demeaning nature of women's treatment in the traditional synagogue and championed new models of worship, including vernacular sermons, in which women could see themselves as welcome participants. When the pioneer Reform congregation, the Hamburg Temple in Germany, opened in 1818, its open women's gallery was also meant to integrate women into the congregation. It was chiefly in North America, however, that structural changes in women's place became fundamental elements in an evolving redefinition of the synagogue.
Colonial America's earliest synagogues adopted the women's gallery modeled in Amsterdam, yet the second synagogue built in what was to become the United States – in Newport, Rhode Island in 1763 – dispensed with the additional grilles and curtains that surmounted the balustrades of European versions of this space. The almost universal repetition of this innovation in subsequent American synagogues was not, however, a mark of reform; open galleries occurred in congregations which saw themselves as settings for traditional worship. Eighteenth-century American synagogue records indicate the growing presence of young unmarried women assertively attending worship services and suggest that many women began to see synagogue attendance as a central aspect of their Jewish identity. As these women adapted to a religious context where women were highlighted for their public piety, the closed-off women's gallery became increasingly problematic and was quickly abandoned.
By the mid-19th century, many traditionally inclined synagogues in western Europe had adopted open women's galleries. American synagogues, where women were an increasing proportion of the congregation, were moving on to mixed seating of men and women. First introduced in reforming congregations in Albany in 1851, and then in New York City in 1854, family pews had become an almost universal feature in the new synagogues of acculturated American Jews by the 1870s, resisted only by a few of the colonial-era Sephardi congregations.
Seats in the main sanctuary, however, did not confer additional religious agency upon women in the late 19th century. Religious and lay governance remained exclusively male prerogatives. Even the female mutual aid societies which animated female charitable activism before the Civil War faded in importance. It took the arrival of the first waves of what would become two million Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe and Russia between the 1880s and 1920 to spark meaningful public activism among acculturated American Jewish women. The first Jewish synagogue sisterhood groups emerged in the 1890s in Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox congregations to address the needs of, and to Americanize, immigrant coreligionists. Many of these groups also addressed the physical and social needs of their own congregations. This infusion of women's energy is reflected in the construction of large synagogue complexes in the 1890s and early 20th century – suddenly necessary to house the expanded institutional life significantly fueled by female activism.
Meanwhile, immigrant Jews established religious communities of their own, often storefront shuls that generally excluded women. But as immigrant synagogues Americanized, they understood that attracting and retaining members meant incorporating women and children into institutional life. The earliest grand immigrant shul buildings boasted large and open women's galleries – preserving traditional gender separation, but conveying the American message that women were expected to be present and seen in the synagogue.
As immigrant Jews moved away from their initial neighborhoods, many joined synagogues associated with the Conservative movement. Most of these synagogues adopted mixed seating as a key marker separating them both from the Old World and the ghetto. Another sign of the Americanized synagogue, whether Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox, was the presence of women's organizations as facilitators of congregational sociability and activity. National coordination of such synagogue groups was initiated with the founding of the *National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods within the Reform movement in 1913. This was followed by creation of the *Women's League for Conservative Judaism in 1918, and an Orthodox counterpart in 1926. For decades, these groups contributed energy and money that enabled a vital congregational life.
While American synagogues evolved in continuous dialogue with women's changing roles, synagogues elsewhere in the world did not share in the conversation. They generally maintained more traditional patterns of public worship, including gendered spaces and roles. Even highly acculturated European Jewish communities felt less compelled than their American counterparts to sweep away basic structures like the women's gallery. Mixed seating, even in Reform congregations, remained rare well into the 20th century, and only a few British and German synagogues featured this innovation prior to World War ii. Postwar attempts to reconstitute a tiny fraction of the synagogue communities eradicated during the Holocaust have rarely reconsidered traditional gender roles in public worship. Similarly, in the Jewish settlement in Palestine, and then in the new State of Israel, the emphasis on creating a traditional religious establishment precluded efforts to consider women's changing roles.
In North America, however, women's engagement in the work and life of their congregations and growing equality in the religious education of boys and girls raised questions about limitations on Jewish women's religious opportunities. Progress toward equality for women in Reform and Conservative congregations advanced sporadically through the 1950s and 1960s. While Conservative leaders acted to remove some of the formal restrictions on women's ritual participation, Reform leaders discussed the possibility of female religious leadership. A few women did find their way into lay and spiritual congregational leadership during the 1940s and 1950s, but in general, apart from the increasing prevalence of *bat mitzvah ceremonies in the 1960s, little changed until the entry of women into the rabbinate and cantorate beginning in the 1970s (see *Hazzan; *Semikhah; *Rabbi, Rabbinate). Women's assumption of religious leadership had profound symbolic and practical implications for every variety of Judaism, reconfiguring expectations of what women should be allowed and encouraged to do. The influence of female rabbis ranges from a deepening emphasis on spirituality, a turn to the healing possibilities of Jewish tradition, challenges to continued exclusions within Jewish tradition and life of marginalized communities, including single people and gays and lesbians, and a general democratization of access to ritual participation, education, and leadership.
Orthodox congregations continue to segregate men and women and to prohibit women rabbis, but some of the most dynamic creativity in contemporary Jewish life can be found in Orthodox feminism. Recent decades have brought transformations in the Jewish education of traditional girls and young women. Unprecedented female engagement in advanced textual study has intensified challenges to what remains the largely male domain of Orthodox public worship. The first International Conference on Feminism and Orthodoxy held in New York City in 1997 led to the creation of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, which continues to assert that traditional Jewish legal processes should be pushed to deal with questions of Jewish women's leadership and participation. Although these ideas and regular women's tefillah (prayer) groups face strong opposition from within Orthodoxy, they have nonetheless done much to shift both possibilities and realities in the traditional synagogue.
Great Britain's Reform movement ordained its first woman rabbi in 1975. Since then, the Liberal and Reform movements (representing a minority of British synagogues) have embraced the principle of gender equality, though they face the same struggles as North American synagogues in translating this commitment into true access for women to positions of status and authority as religious leaders. Among Britain's Orthodox Jews, women's prayer groups with the support of the chief rabbi have become an active mainstream movement. Women rabbis are just beginning to serve in small numbers of congregations in western Europe, and little change in women's roles has been seen in congregations further to the east. Yet as Jewish communities struggle with the continuing task of reconciling patriarchal traditions with contemporary values, it seems a certainty that the challenge of finding a place for women will continue to define the evolving shape of synagogues around the world.
[Karla Goldman (2nd ed.)]
Halakhah regulates the following aspects of synagogue construction and use: design and location of the building; furnishings and interior design; proscribed uses of the synagogues and its contents; and ownership and disposal of the building.
Halakhah governs only very specific components of synagogue design and makes no stipulations for the building's general external appearance. Historically, there does not seem to have been a conventional style of synagogue architecture. Synagogues, after satisfying the halakhic structural requirements discussed below, have been built in nearly every conceivable form, usually in the architectural styles prevailing at a particular time and place (see below, Architecture).
The synagogue must have windows, a requirement stemming from Daniel 6:11 which describes how Daniel prayed by windows facing toward Jerusalem. The Talmud (Ber. 34b) warned against praying in a room without windows and the halakhah (Sh. Ar., oḤ 90:4, from the Zohar, Parashat Pekudei), perhaps symbolic of the twelve tribes, states that a synagogue should have 12 windows – a stipulation that is rarely met because of architectural and other problems. Rashi commented that windows are required because they allow the supplicant to see the sky, the sight of which inspires reverence and devotion during prayer (Ber. 34b). Indeed, if a wall was built in front of the synagogue windows, it was not only demolished, but the usual requirement of its removal six feet (four cubits) away was insufficient because "… the synagogue needs a lot of light" (Sh. Ar., oḤ 150:4). The entrance to the synagogue, according to the Tosefta (Meg. 4:22), should be on the side of the building facing Jerusalem, i.e., the east side, reminiscent of ancient practice in Ereẓ Israel.
Excavations of early synagogues in the northern part of Israel have revealed that the main entrances are located in the southside, i.e., toward Jerusalem (see below, Architecture). The halakhic codes, however, require that the very opposite should be done because the Holy Ark is placed on the side facing Jerusalem, and it would be unfitting to enter the sanctuary from the same side on which the ark stands. In addition, doors thus located allow the supplicant to bow to the ark as he enters. This difference in the law can perhaps be explained by the institution of a fixed ark inside the synagogue (see below). When possible, it is required that one should go through a vestibule to the main sanctuary to preclude entering directly from the street (Ber. 8a).
In the vestibule, Judah Loew b. Bezalel (Maharal) of Prague explained, the thoughts and cares of the outer world are shed before entering the holiness of the inner sanctuary. Solomon's inaugural prayer (i Kings 8:30) and the fact that Daniel prayed facing Jerusalem (Dan. (Dan. 6:11) are the sources for the requirement that synagogues be oriented toward Jerusalem, and that those in the Holy City itself face in the direction of the Temple. The Talmud clearly demands this orientation for the recitation of the *Amidah (Ber. 30a). Since it has not always been possible to orient the building in this direction, it became acceptable for the synagogue to be orientated as close to the ideal direction as circumstances would allow. The site on which the synagogue is to be built, according to the Tosefta (Meg. 4:23) and codified by the posekim (Sh. Ar., oḤ 150:2), should be the highest spot in the city, and the synagogue should also be the highest building. Jews have been unable to comply with this law in many times and places. As a result, Jews in the Middle Ages attempted to fulfill this law by erecting on the roof of the synagogue a pole or rod which would rise higher than the surrounding buildings. As long as the extension was a "built one" rather than just a simple attachment, this method of compliance was acceptable (Sh. Ar., oḤ 150:2, see Ba'er Heitev, ad loc., and Mishnah Berurah, para. 8). Rav said (Shab. 11a) that "any city whose roofs are higher than the synagogue will be ultimately destroyed, for it is written 'to exalt the house of our God' [Ezra 9:9]."
Jews generally construct their synagogue within the areas they inhabit. But as early as talmudic times some synagogues were built outside the city (see Kidd. 73b), which created a problem of personal safety. For this reason special prayers were inserted to lengthen the service, so that those who came in late could finish with the congregation and thus not have to return home alone. Among these prayers are "Blessed be the Lord for evermore…" recited during the weekday Ma'ariv service and the reading of Ba-Meh Madlikin during the Friday evening service.
Often synagogues were constructed near bodies of water. Josephus (Ant. 14:258) speaks of a custom of Hellenistic Jewish communities "who make their places of worship near the sea." Paul refers to prayer meetings held by a river where "prayer was usually made" (Acts 16:13). Perhaps the same idea which motivated the institution of the *Tashlikh ceremony on Rosh Ha-Shanah also lay behind this custom, although the site may have been chosen to obviate the need for a mikveh. It has also been suggested that synagogues were built near water because the "contaminated" soil of the Diaspora would be "cleaner" near a body of water. (See Isaac Levy, bibl., p. 31 and n. 7, p. 48.)
The requirement to house the Torah scrolls was usually met in the form of an enclosure or closet known as the aron kodesh ("holy ark"). In ancient synagogues there was no permanent ark, and if there was one at all it was of a portable nature. There is evidence that the ancient custom was to house the scrolls either outside the building entirely – for reasons of safety – or in an adjoining room.
The reader's desk was placed immediately in front of the ark and sometimes below the floor level (see below, Architecture); since the ark was in an elevated position, the Talmud describes the prayer leader as yored lifnei ha-tevah ("he who goes down before the ark," Ta'an. 2:2).
The Torah should be read from the bimah, sometimes called almemar, an elevated platform, surrounded by a railing for safety, located at the center of the synagogue to enable the entire congregation to hear the reading and sermon properly (Sh. Ar., oḤ 150:5). The modern custom of placing the bimah at the front of the synagogue in order to create more seating space aroused much opposition (Responsa Ḥatam Sofer, oḤ 28; Meishiv Davar, oḤ, Be'ur Halakhah 150:5). In 1886 the rabbis of Hungary and Galicia issued a ḥerem against this practice. Nevertheless, the practice spread, especially in the U.S., even among the Orthodox who found a hetter ("permit") in Joseph Caro's remark that the position of the bimah may change "according to the place and time" (Kesef Mishnah to Yad, Tefillah, 11:3).
The Shulḥan Arukh (oḤ 150:5) specifies that the seating arrangement in the synagogue should provide for the elders to sit adjacent to the ark and facing the congregation, an arrangement which gave rise to the general desire to sit near the mizraḥ vant – the eastern wall – because it was the most prestigious place in the synagogue. However, commentators have since decided that this seating plan is no longer valid because people now buy seats, with the best seats going to those who can afford them. It was ruled that this provision of the Shulḥan Arukh applied when the seats were not sold but rather allocated by the community.
For the seating of women in the synagogue see *Meḥiẓah.
Although not possessing the same holiness as the Temple, the rabbis have ascribed to the synagogue a holiness patterned after that of the Temple. Accordingly, the Shulḥan Arukh (oḤ 151) proscribes certain kinds of behavior in the synagogue; for example, frivolity, gossiping, eating, drinking, beautifying oneself, sleeping or napping, entering with an unsheathed knife, or to escape bad weather, or as a short cut, transacting business (other than charity and the redemption of captives), and delivering eulogies (unless for one of the city's great men). One may run going to synagogue, but on leaving one must walk, so as not to indicate a desire to get away from it (Ber. 6b).
Dirt and rubbish are not permitted to collect in the synagogue, and although one may enter with one's staff and satchel, it is first required that one clean one's shoes of mud. The upper stories of the building may be used only for purposes which do not violate its spirit as a sanctuary, and it is doubtful whether one may live on top of a synagogue. Even after a synagogue has become a ruin these regulations apply, except if specific conditions were made at the time of construction. These exemptions, however, must never result in the use of the ruin for "a degraded purpose" such as transacting business. If a private home is used as a synagogue, many of these stipulations do not hold.
A distinction in the degree of holiness is drawn between a bet keneset and a bet ha-midrash. Because Torah is studied in the bet ha-midrash, its sanctity is greater than that of the bet keneset. Yet teachers and students are allowed to eat and sleep in the bet ha-midrash because doing so increases the amount of time available for study. The holiness attributed to the synagogue and the analogy to the Temple led some authorities to rule that a menstruant woman (*niddah) and a person suffering from leprosy be excluded. These views, however, were minority opinions, and the general rule was that such people were to be admitted since the actual laws of ritual impurity apply only to the Temple itself (see *Purity and Impurity, Ritual).
All objects in the synagogue acquire sanctity by virtue of the sacred purposes which they serve; therefore halakhah governs their use. The Shulḥan Arukh specifies that bookcases which held sacred books, the ark in which the Torah stood, and the curtain (parokhet) which hung in front of the ark are endowed with sanctity and, for this reason, when no longer usable must be stored away rather than destroyed (oḤ 154: 3).
The holiness of objects is determined by their proximity, in space and use, to the Torah scroll, the most sacred object in the synagogue. The Talmud forbids using synagogue objects in a way which would cause them to "go down" in holiness. Thus a discarded ark may not be used to make a chair on which to set the scroll – the chair's holiness being considered less than that of the ark. The reverse order of appropriation, to elevate an object in holiness, is permissible.
The synagogue is owned by the congregation and those who contributed toward its construction. The concept of synagogue ownership in a small village differs from that in a large town or city. In the former it is assumed that there are no donations from outsiders; therefore a decision of the congregation or their representatives – the "seven good men" of the city – is sufficient in order to sell the synagogue building. But in the city the sale of the building is more difficult, it being uncertain as to whether strangers contributed to the building, and selling without their consent would deprive them of what is, in part, rightfully theirs.
Halakhah suggests ways to resolve this difficulty, e.g., selecting, at the time of construction, either a specific rabbi whose decision would be accepted by all, or reserving this power to whichever rabbi is serving when the decision must be made. It is forbidden to demolish a synagogue until another is provided to take its place, to preclude the possibility of being without a synagogue should the construction of the second building be delayed or interrupted. In the event that the first synagogue is in such a state of disrepair that it is in danger of collapsing, however, it is permitted to demolish the building and to begin construction of the new one immediately.
If a congregation decides to split into two, the holy objects must be divided between the two congregations in proportion to their membership. The rabbis, however, debated whether women and children are to be included in working out the proportions (oḤ 154; Mishnah Berurah, 59). Those who donate articles to the synagogue have the right to have their names inscribed on them. Such inscriptions are permitted only for the persons who actually gave money or contributed personal service for synagogue construction, maintenance, or beautification. Synagogue officers during whose term alteration or expansion is undertaken or completed are forbidden to inscribe their names on the improvements or additions.
According to one talmudic tradition (Ber. 26b) *prayer is in place of the sacrificial cult. Even while the Temple was standing, prayer meetings used to take place in synagogues at the times the sacrifices were offered (see *Liturgy; *Mishmarot and *Ma'amadot), and after the destruction of the Temple the prayer services became a substitute for the sacrifices.
The rabbis also extended the concept of holiness which originally attached to the Temple to embrace the synagogue as well (for the halakhic manifestations of this, see above) and saw in the synagogue a substitute for that spiritual center. This idea applied even to the synagogues outside Ereẓ Israel which were seen as extraterritorial units in the foreign lands: "In the times to come the synagogues of Babylonia will be transferred to Israel" (Meg. 29a). The verse "Yet I have been for them as a little sanctuary (mikdash me'at) in the countries where they are come" (Ezek. 11:16) was taken to refer to synagogues (Meg. 29a), and one sage even went so far as to say that God is to be found in the synagogue (Ber. 6a), notwithstanding the accepted rabbinic theology that the whole world is full of His glory. Another sage interpreted "Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place" (Ps. 90:1) as referring to the synagogue, thus extending the idea. One of the reasons for the esteem in which the rabbis held the synagogue was its central role in holding the community together and in perpetuating the Jewish people. Talmudic homilies by the score are aimed at encouraging attendance at synagogue. "A man's prayer is only heard in the synagogue" (Ber. 6a) and "anybody who has a synagogue in his city and does not attend there is called 'a bad neighbor' [cf. Jer. 12:14] and brings exile on himself and his children" (Ber. 8a). Furthermore, "a person who usually attends synagogue and misses a day causes God to inquire after him" and "God becomes angry when He comes to synagogue and does not find a quorum" (cf. Is. 50:2; Ber. 6a). One sage attributed the longevity of Babylonian Jews to the fact that they attended synagogue, and another recommended that one should pray simultaneously with the synagogue service if one is unable to attend (Ber. 7a, 8a).
The synagogue is the longest surviving religious building type in the Western Hemisphere, spanning a history of over two and a half millennia. Still, due to historical circumstances and the nature of Judaism, the synagogue lacks the stylistic continuity and architectural readability of churches and mosques. Judaism was largely indifferent to the visual; its requirements regarding the synagogue were never enough to create a precise architectural program, which spurred the Jews to borrow some elements and solutions from their neighbors. The frequent migration of the Jews across the Mediterranean and the Middle East, as well as the European mainland, and their frequent political subordination to other people (host nations) also contributed to a fragmented architectural history of synagogues, particularly in terms of exterior. The different building customs, materials, and climates, as well as stipulations of the ruling population, resulted in divergent synagogue appearances.
A coherent style and codified interior space arrangement seems to have emerged only in the Polish region between the 16th and 19th centuries, when Jews lived in relative isolation. Attempts were made after the Enlightenment to create a similarly coherent genre, but this effort dissolved in the stylistic variety of 19th-century Europe and America. Twentieth-century modernism, on the other hand, washed away the stylistic particularity of synagogue architecture, and it became again an organic part of gentile architecture in terms of language.
The interior, however, has displayed a number of common features during most of synagogue history: the orientation of the Ark toward Jerusalem or the east; the separation of men and women; the duality of the Ark and bimah; the intimacy, relatively modest scale, and unpretentious design; the use of some specifically Jewish symbols or decoration – all of which justify the use of the term synagogue architecture.
[Rudolf Klein (2nd ed.)]
In contrast to the Temple, in which the ritual was conducted inside the sanctuary by the priests only, while the rest of the worshipers were kept at a distance, the synagogue was a new type of religious building. It was based on the participation of all the faithful in a collective act of worship conducted around a focus inside the building. It had therefore to provide an ample interior space suited to the size of the congregation, well lit so that the Torah could be read and the precentor seen, and providing places for rest during the lengthy services. These considerations explain why the design of the synagogue was not found in any of the existing pagan sanctuaries of the Greco-Roman worlds. But it can be seen in the remains of the assembly hall of the Greek democracies, the bouleuteria or ecclesiasteria, in which large groups of people could gather and listen to the discussion. A further complication arose from the requirement of special accommodation for women based on a rigorous interpretation of the existence of women's galleries in the "women's court" of the Temple. This could be provided by the basilica plan, in which columns surrounded a central space, with a gallery on top of the interior porticoes. Another consideration which the synagogue architect had to take into account was the positioning of the building and its orientation. According to Tosefta Megillah 4:23, synagogues had to stand on the highest point of a Jewish town; another tradition, attested in Josephus (Ant., 14:258) and Acts (16:13), was the building of synagogues on the bank of a river or the shore of the sea. At Gush Halav in Galilee, for instance, one synagogue was built on top of the town hill, the other in a valley near the spring. The synagogue of Chorazin stands on a high terrace, those of Capernaum and Caesarea near the shore of the sea. In the matter of orientation, the rule implied in Daniel 6:11 that one should pray toward Jerusalem was interpreted in various manners.
There is epigraphical evidence for the existence of a synagogue at Schedia, near Alexandria, in the time of Ptolemy Euergetes iii (246–21 b.c.e.) and in Jerusalem before its destruction (the synagogue of Theodotus, possibly referred to in Acts 6:9 as the "synagogue of the Freedmen"). Archaeological evidence of synagogues has been discovered in the two Herodian fortresses of Masada and Herodium. At Masada the synagogue passed through two stages, the first probably from the time of Herod, the second certainly from the time of Zealot occupation. In the earlier, the E-shaped arrangement of columns is reminiscent of the transverse row of the Galilean synagogues; in the later synagogue at Masada a corner of the building was separated by a wall from the rest, probably to serve as a receptacle for the Torah scrolls. In both stages of development there were stepped benches along three of the walls, leaving the wall opposite Jerusalem for the entrance. The Herodium synagogue is similar in plan.
This group includes the synagogues in the Galilee dating from the third and fourth centuries c.e. Over 15 have so far been identified. They are rectangular in plan, the largest (Capernaum) measuring 360 square meters (428 square yards), the smallest 110 square meters (131 square yards). The usual proportion of length to width is 11:10. The buildings are built of stone ashlars and paved with stone. The gallery, which ran along three sides of the building (excluding the facade), rested on two rows of columns going lengthwise and one row across. A staircase giving access to the gallery was provided outside the building. Some of the synagogues had an annex probably used for the storage of the (movable) Torah ark. Stone benches ran along two or three sides. In some synagogues there was a porch outside the facade, in others a terrace accessible by staircase. In some cases a courtyard surrounded by porticoes was adjacent to the synagogue. This might have served as a place of rest during the services, or as a sleeping place for wayfarers.
With regard to orientation, the early type of synagogue presents a unique feature: the facades of these buildings are toward Jerusalem. It follows that if the worshipers entered through the main doors (usually three) in this facade, and if they had to face the Holy City in prayer, they had to make an about-turn after entering. In these synagogues no trace of a fixed place for the Torah ark has been found, and it can be assumed that it was a movable object, carried or wheeled in for the services. The architectural origins of this type of synagogue, apart from its general basilica character common to the whole Greco-Roman world, are to be found in the Syro-Roman type of buildings. The architects of the synagogues were probably trained in the Syrian schools of architecture. We know from inscriptions the names of a few of them, in particular Yose the son of Levi "the craftsman" who built at Kefar Biram and Almah. In other cases it is not certain whether those who are mentioned as "making" (abdun) a synagogue were the builders or the donors. One feature is noticeable in synagogues of all types: no one seems to have been able to afford to donate the whole building. The various parts were offered by separate donors, and the gift of each was duly recorded in a column, lintel, or "chair of Moses." The execution of the buildings was in the hands of local craftsmen, who introduced a strong Oriental element into the classical orders (mainly Corinthian) of the columns ordered by the architect. The architectural ornament of the exterior facade of these buildings was rich and varied. The builders, it seemed, were interested in proclaiming the importance of the building in the life of the community, not only by its lofty position but also by the splendor of its decoration. Thus not only were the door and window lintels decorated with molded profiles, but they were often surmounted by conches set in a gable to which a rich floral decoration was added. The facade of the two-storied buildings was surmounted with a gable of the type
known as "Syrian." It consisted of a triangular pediment with its base cut into by an arch. It seems probable that the corners of the building had decorations in the form of lions or eagles. Some of the lintels are of special interest because they had in the center a relief of a wreath held by two winged figures. Occasionally the consoles flanking the doors were made in the form of palm trees. In contrast with this rich, almost flamboyant, exterior, the interior of the building was kept deliberately bare. It was lit by windows above the doors, the one facing the source of all light, Jerusalem, being the largest. The columns within the building were smooth and stood on high pedestals; the double-corner columns at the meeting of the three rows had heart-shaped bases in section. The capitals were of a simplified Corinthian order. The architects, it appears, were interested in avoiding within the synagogue anything which could distract the worshipers while at prayer. One exceptional feature in this respect was the richly decorated frieze; scholars are still discussing the exact position of this architectural feature. Most of them are inclined to place it over the wall of the women's gallery. The frieze usually consisted of a running garland of acanthus or vine scrolls, with various images and symbols set within the medallions. The symbols include a number of Jewish religious objects, such as the menorah, the shofar, etrog, and lulav, and the holy ark. Geometric figures such as the hexagram (Shield of David) or the pentagram (Seal of Solomon), and the fruits of the land, in particular the "seven species" (Deut. 8:8), were also commonly used. Sometimes the tolerant attitude of the communities went so far as to include images derived from the world of Greek mythology. At Capernaum a griffin and a capricorn were included in the decorations, while the artists at Chorazin went still further and featured such pagan elements as Hercules with his club, a centaur, a Medusa, a human face, and a vintage scene. Occasionally, even the symbol of the Romans, the eagle, was represented on synagogue lintels. All these were, however, in relief; the only three-dimensional sculpture depicted lions (found, e.g., at Chorazin). It is clear that these symbols were used in a general and non-pagan sense.
In the second half of the third century c.e., architects attempted modifications of various kinds. Sometimes these were made in existing buildings; a typical case is the synagogue of Bet She'arim in which an extra structure was built against the central door, blocking it. The two side doors were left for the entrance, but a new focus of worship was evidently created in the direction of Jerusalem. Other synagogues show a number of architectural experiments. In one of the early-type synagogues, that of Arbel (Irbid), a niche was included in the wall facing the facade, presumably as a fixed receptacle for the scrolls of the Law. At Eshtemoa (el-Samu) in Judea, the problem of the relation of facade versus entrance was solved by changing the traditional plan. One of the long walls of the rectangle faced Jerusalem, while the entrance was through doors made in the short wall. A niche in the wall facing Jerusalem
served as a focal point of worship. The same arrangement was adopted in the earlier of the two superimposed synagogues at Caesarea. At Hammath near Tiberias, two synagogues were excavated. One has a basilica plan, ending in a straight south wall – the direction of Jerusalem – with the entrance from the north. At a later date a square room was attached to the center of the south wall, to serve as Torah ark. Over this fourth-century synagogue a pure basilica type was built in the sixth century. The other synagogue at Hammath (excavated in 1924) also had a basilica plan, ending in a straight wall, with a small niche flanked with small columns in its center. The same arrangement (without the niche, as far as we know) was found at Yafi'a near Nazareth. Here the synagogue was apparently oriented west, with its facade east. If it is assumed that, being in the territory of the Tribe of Zebulun, Yaf 'ia was presumed (in accordance with Gen. 49:13) to be in the coastal area, this would mean that the builders followed the earlier plan, with the entrance facing the Holy City. Another synagogue of the transitional type, at Usifiyya (Isfiya) on Mount Carmel, also had a plain back wall with no sign of niche or apse, but its entrance was likewise to the west – with the east wall orientated toward Jerusalem. The transitional type also introduced another innovation in the architecture of the synagogues – mosaic pavements which now replaced the former stone slabs. These pavements were first decorated with geometric designs only, but from the fourth century onward (as we know from a saying of R. Abun recorded in the Jerusalem Talmud (Av. Zar. 3:4, 42d) figurative drawings were permitted. Hammath has the earliest example of the standard type of synagogue pavement, figuring the signs of the Zodiac, with the sun in the center of the circle and the seasons in the four corners. The Zodiac circle was placed in the center of the pavement, with a representation of the ark flanked by two menorot beyond it. While the latter image is self-explanatory, it has been suggested that the Zodiac, representing the regular succession of months and seasons, also stood for the fixed holidays and the succession of priestly mishmarot and ma'amadot in the Temple.
A new type may be said to have emerged in the fifth century. This dating is confined by the fact that the synagogue of Gerasa was rebuilt as a church in 530 c.e. Once established, this type continued to be built until the eighth century. This later type was based on the pure basilica plan of the same kind as that used in contemporary churches. The building was elongated, with an apse pointing in the direction of Jerusalem. It sometimes had a court (atrium) and forecourt (narthex). The entrance was through three doors in the facade opposite Jerusalem. The interior was divided into a central nave and two aisles by two rows of columns. At the apse end a space was separated from the rest by a chancel screen with columns and chancel slabs. Within, there is sometimes a lower space, probably in order to fulfill the verse "Out of the depths I cry to Thee O Lord" (Ps. 130:1). In the apse, which served as a receptacle for the Torah ark, was another depression, used either as a place for keeping worn-out sacred texts (genizah) or for the community chest. The exterior of the building was kept plain and usually had a staircase leading to the women's gallery above the aisles. The lack of external ornament in these later-type synagogues is explained by the fact that they were erected under Byzantine rule, at a time when harsh anti-Jewish laws forbade the erection of new synagogues and only allowed old ones to be repaired when they threatened to collapse. The law was not strictly observed, but certain precautions had to be taken; hence the inconspicuous outer aspect of the synagogues. As far as can be judged, the splendor of the buildings was now concentrated in the interior. This is shown by the mosaic pavements and the elaborate marble capitals and chancel screens. Naturally, plans of these latter synagogues are not identical, but many of them, Bet Alfa, Jericho, Naaran, seem to have followed a standard plan. There were minor changes: at Naaran the porch was altered in shape because of the exigencies of the site; at Gerasa the apse was square in plan, not circular. At Hammat Gader the synagogue was hidden inside a building complex, with indirect entrances from two sides, but the interior of the building was in the basilica plan. At Maon (Nirim), only part of the nave was paved with mosaics, while the aisles and the southern part of the nave had a stone pavement and served as a kind of ambulator. At Gaza the synagogue had apparently a series of additional aisles. In the design of the mosaic pavements of three synagogues of this later type, there is a combination of the Torah ark motif and the Zodiac, with biblical scenes from stories in the Bible: at Bet Alfa there is a representation of the Offering of Isaac; at Gerasa, Noah's Ark; and Daniel in the lions' den at Naaran. In these cases the Jews of that time do not seem to have had any qualms about treading on biblical imagery, including, in one case (at Bet Alfa), a hand symbolizing God. At the same time they seem to have had much more respect for the written explanations added to the figures. At Naaran, for instance, when the images were removed as offensive, the writing accompanying each of them was carefully preserved. Other mosaics in synagogues follow the prevailing Byzantine trend toward a closely knit design that divided the surface into a series of medallions. The basic element is usually an amphora flanked by peacocks; a twisted vine trellis issued from the mouth of the jug, and formed medallions with images of animals inside them. This decoration occurs at Maon and Gaza; both pavements are the product of the same Gaza factory. In the Gaza pavement (508/9 c.e.) the image of King David as Orpheus is added, while at Maon (c. 530) there are representations of animals to which a wedge-shaped part has been added, with specifically Jewish symbols, such as a menorah with lions guarding it, a palm tree, a shofar, an etrog and a lulav. In later synagogues (Hammat Gader, Jericho, and En-Gedi), there seems to have been an increasing reluctance to use representations of living beings: at Hammat Gader there are only two lions, and in Jericho all images are absent; at En-Gedi the designs have been replaced by an inscription. The only synagogues which carry actual dates are those of Gaza and Bet Alfa (518–27 c.e.). Of the artists, only the names of the makers of the Bet Alfa pavement have been preserved: Marinos and his son Hananiah. It is interesting to note that the same two artists worked on the pavement of a synagogue which was apparently Samaritan at Bet-Shean, not far from Bet Alfa. As could be presumed concerning the Samaritans, who were restricted in their biblical lore to the Written Law, the ornaments were much more austere than those in the Jewish synagogues: only the ark of the Law and flora or geometric ornaments were allowed. The same is true of the Samaritan synagogue at Shaalbim.
The finds of synagogues in the Diaspora cover a wide geographical and chronological range, from the Hellenistic to the Byzantine. Among the earliest is one at Delos, which must antedate 69 b.c.e., and one of the latest that of Aegina, sixth century c.e. On the whole the development of the Diaspora synagogue follows the same lines as those of Ereẓ Israel. The three earliest of the list, Delos, Priene, and Miletus, follow the basilica plan; at Priene there is a square apse and at Miletus none; in all cases the synagogues are built within a group of buildings and provided with a forecourt. The second-century synagogue of Sardis (Asia Minor), recently excavated, is the largest and most sumptuous of those of the Diaspora, as befits the wealthy community it served. It is integrated within the central marketplace of the town, together with a gymnasium
and other public buildings, thus indicating the status of the Jews of Sardis. The synagogue consists of a courtyard and an elongated basilica, with an apse at its western end and the entrances at the east. Thus the elders sitting on semicircular benches within the apse faced Jerusalem, but the position of the rest of the congregation is in dispute. The synagogue had a reading table set in front of the apse and two raised platforms between the doors of the east side. The various ritual objects were beautifully worked. Of the later synagogues, one of the most famous is that of Dura Europos on the Euphrates. Two buildings were found there, one superimposed on the other; the later one is dated 244/5 c.e. They are similar in plan, with a broad central room and three entrances on the east side, a niche for the ark of the Law in the west (facing Jerusalem), and benches round the walls. The synagogue of Dura Europos was hidden between other houses and had an indirect entrance, which was even more obscure in the later building. This synagogue was decorated by famous frescoes; another possible indication of a liberal attitude was the absence of a women's gallery or a special room for the women. Of the synagogues of the fourth century in the Diaspora, three are outstanding: that of Ostia, in which the original arrangements resemble those at Sardis, had a semicircular bimah facing Jerusalem. The entrances were later changed by the addition of an aediculum to house the ark. The synagogue of Naro (Hammam Lif, in Africa) was biaxial, with the main entrance on the south and a subsidiary entrance on the west. There was a small interior apse with seats, a special room for the "instruments," a bimah, and a room for women. The principal donor was a woman, Julia. This synagogue is distinguished by a richly decorated mosaic pavement with images of animals and plants. The synagogue of Apamea (392 c.e.) was apparently entered from the side, while that at Aegina is a typical basilica.
The first synagogues known to modern science in Ashkenazi space emerged concomitantly with the rising prosperity of European lands during the Romanesque period, in the 11th century. This was also the period when Christian-based European antisemitism appeared. In medieval conditions Jews could hardly follow halakhic requirements for the location and design of synagogues. Compromises characterize this period, in which great ingenuity is displayed in creating a space for Jewish worship.
The medieval Jewish communities of the period were small, and this determined the intimate scale of synagogue buildings, which sometimes were hardly more than rooms set aside for public prayer. Moreover, the insecurity of Jewish life, and the frequent threat and fear of the surroundings, were factors which determined building plans. In some places regulations by the Church authority or by the secular government often prohibited the building of new synagogues, and sometimes even the enlargement of old buildings. Further, while Jewish customs decreed that synagogues had to be higher than the surrounding buildings, ecclesiastical regulations required that they be lower than Christian places of worship. Frequently, such laws were spitefully interpreted. It can therefore be assumed that the tradition that grew up of lowering the synagogue floor below ground level was not simply in accordance with Psalm 130:1, referred to above ("Out of the depths I cry"), but was also the result of the need to increase the height of the interior without transgressing the law restricting the external height.
Up until the 18th century the Jews endeavored to retain a degree of external unpretentiousness in their synagogue buildings, however splendid they were internally. This phenomenon is found throughout the lands of the Jewish Diaspora – and the few exceptions (such as the "Altneuschul of Prague) are generally the product of a temporary relaxation on the limitations.
The synagogue interior presents a peculiar duality, the existence of two spatial foci characterized by the interrelationship between the Torah ark and the bimah. In many of the Diaspora communities of long standing, the ark appears in the form of a small apse or a niche in the east wall oriented theoretically to Jerusalem. In fact the ark is always facing east, even if Jerusalem is to the south or southeast, unlike the qibla in mosques, which strictly follows the direction of Mecca. Jerusalem in the synagogue architecture of Europe becomes a somewhat fictional direction. Although the ark housing the scrolls was one of the most salient features of the building, it did not as yet dominate the interior completely, for the synagogue was also a "house of assembly," a meeting place for the congregation. In the synagogue interior there is another focal item, namely the bimah – the dais from which the service is conducted. The relative proximity of two foci in one interior, the ark situated in the east wall and the bimah at the center, and the search for a balance between them constitutes the basic feature of the synagogue interior. The relationship between the two and their reciprocal relation to the entire interior space is the principal conceptual and ideological factor in synagogue design. This spatial duality reflects the existential duality of Diaspora Jews who lived between their ancient tradition (and the idea of the return to Ereẓ Israel) and the actual geographical location and indigenous gentile culture.
Later, when Europe was dominated by the late Renaissance and Baroque styles, the ark attained an importance expressed by its size and by the high level of its artistic execution. It was in this period that monumental built-in arks were created, such as can be seen in the Diaspora communities in modern times. Existing synagogues began to be rebuilt and fitted with arks in the new style. Generally, however, European Jewry was conservative in matters of form, still clinging to earlier cultural conceptions, and using medieval idioms while Renaissance architecture was at its height.
The segregation of sexes during prayer, introduced in ancient times and necessitating a women's section, attached but separate, continued in the synagogues of the Middle Ages. In the early synagogues a gallery sometimes served this function. Often the place allotted to women was a separate hall on the same level as the main space, as at Worms. Sometimes the women's section was below the level of the main congregation hall or even actually beneath it as, for example, in Provençal synagogues. In the synagogue of Don Samuel ha-Levi Abulafia in Toledo (subsequently the Church of El-Transito), built in the 14th century, there was an upper gallery alongside the rectangular hall. It was only at the end of the 16th century, when the presence of the woman in the synagogue became an accepted fact, that the women's section acquired full importance. Synagogues began to be built with well-planned women's accommodations, the first such being the major synagogues of Venice, and the Veneto and other Italian communities, and the synagogue of R. Isaac Jacobowicz at Cracow, Poland. Generally, in the medieval period, the ezrat nashim, as the women's section was named, was simply added to the existing building as an external "lean-to." The gallery (or galleries) pitched internally over a row of columns is a later development, of which the earliest famous example is the Spanish-Portuguese synagogue of Amsterdam (1685).
The synagogues of medieval Central Europe fall into two main types: synagogues with a twin-naved hall and those with a vaulted or timber-roofed single nave.
Similarly to Antiquity, Jewry borrowed a type of building suitable to its needs not from the Church but from the existing secular forms. The choice was usually a building which was as far as possible removed from the monumental religious character of the Christian church. Jews took as their models town halls or monastic refectories, which were usually vaulted structures with either a single or double nave, the latter distinguished by a row of columns carrying the intermediate portion of the double span. Some scholars pointed out that when copying the ribbed ceilings prevalent at the time, a fifth rib was sometimes added. This helped perhaps to avoid the cruciform vaulting but also contributed to the overall centralizing space-form tendency. However, there are churches to be found having this fifth rib also, but rarely.
The oldest building surviving in its original form until *Kristallnacht (November 9–10, 1938) was the renowned synagogue of Worms. Its construction began in 1034, but the structure underwent a fundamental change at the end of the 12th century, when buildings in the city were marked by a transition from the early to the late Romanesque style. The cathedral of Worms was being built in the same period, and some architectural connection exists between the two buildings, especially in the details of the carvings, the column capitals, and the characteristic Romanesque adornments. The internal space arrangement, however, differs radically. While the cathedral shows a tripartite division – a larger nave and two narrower and lower isles – the synagogue avoids this arrangement by having two equal naves. The Worms synagogue is the prototype of the double-naved synagogue, characteristic of medieval central Europe. The ground plan is a simple rectangle in
which two centrally positioned Romanesque columns support the six groined and cross-vaulted bays. The columns and their capitals, and the portal whose details and decoration are identical with those of the columns (also the chandeliers, known from description only), may have been the work of a Jewish artist. An inscription preserved for nearly 800 years on one of the columns reads: "The pride of the two columns/He wrought diligently/Also the scroll of the capital;/And hung the lamps." The two-naved hall is a centralizing space, the bimah being placed midway between the two columns. The women's section attached to the main building's north wall at the same level is smaller and was built in 1213, not long after the completion of the second building of the main hall. This section is also a particular instance of a double-naved hall. The four bays are roofed by four groined cross-vaults, subdivided by the four arches supported on wall-corbels and converging on the capital of the central column. As a bimah was not needed in the women's section, it was possible to achieve spatial unity here by using only one column.
A double-naved hall of centralizing design, with four bays around a single pillar, was built in the 14th century for the Eger (today Cheb) synagogue in Bohemia. (It was destroyed in 1856.) In Germany itself few traces of this type remain. The interior and structure of the synagogue and porch at Regensburg, destroyed by order of the town council after the expulsion of 1519, are known from two engravings by the 16th-century artist Albert Altdorfer. The synagogue in Regensburg has three central columns which support eight bays of groined cross-vaults. A similar arrangement characterizes the great synagogue of Buda on the Castle Hill of Budapest, but with ribbed vaults built in the 14th century, severely damaged during the siege of Buda in 1686 when the town was liberated from the Turks and the Jews were expelled. This is the largest medieval synagogue known to modern science, and it was discovered after heavy bombardments during World War ii, excavated and reburied in the Cold War era.
The second best-known central European synagogue besides Worms is the old synagogue in Prague, the Altneuschul (literally, the Old New Synagogue, or Al tenai, "on condition"). The very narrow windows cast a pall on the interior in keeping with the traditional folk stories woven around this synagogue. The Altneuschul was built in the 13th century and is unique in the Middle Ages for its impressive exterior – so different from the other synagogues of that period. This can be explained by the fact that the building was built in the heart of a large Jewish quarter and there was no fear of offending a hostile environment. It's rectangular plan and double-naved arrangement with two central columns is similar in layout to that of the Worms synagogue, but the vaults and arches are pointed, of rib and panel construction, five ribs to each vault. Only one other synagogue with similar fifth-rib vaulting is known – the double bay, single-nave building at Miltenberg on the Main.
The Old Synagogue (Alte-Schul or Stara Boznica) at Kazimierz, Cracow, was built under the direct inspiration of the Prague Altneuschul in terms of six-bay arrangement, in the second half of the 15th century. This is the largest still-standing medieval synagogue. It is also impressive from the outside with its Renaissance Polish parapet added after the fire in 1557. The ezrat nashim is also coupled to the men's prayer room with small windows on the western and northern sides.
Another type of synagogue building in central Europe in the Middle Ages was the vaulted single-cell hall, i.e., a structure consisting of one nave. There were, of course, timber-roofed synagogues without stone vaults, often with open woodwork, in rare cases with wood panel ceilings. The best-known single-nave synagogue, without stone vault and with visible roof trusses, was at Erfurt. Many were, however, proper stone-vaulted Gothic single-cell buildings. Among the few that still exist, or existed up to World War ii, were Bamberg, Miltenberg, Leipnick, and also the still existing Pinkas-Schul in Prague ghetto first mentioned in 1492 and the newly renovated synagogue in Maribor (formerly Marburg a/d Drau) built probably in 1190, in the northeast of present-day Slovenia. The rest of the medieval single-cell hall type synagogues are known from records, drawings, and documents. They developed particularly in Bohemia and Galicia.
In time, throughout central Europe, synagogues began to show the influence of the non-Jewish environment. The ark in particular was influenced by the form of the altar in Catholic churches, and this influence later became common to all the European Jewish communities. German Jewry continued to live and create in earlier cultural conditions. The longitudinal axis was later often enhanced by the addition of the women's accommodation alongside the main building. It usually had small windows along the full length of the interior. These late medieval rectangular synagogues were equipped with built-in arks in a niche or small apse. The bimah remained in its central position. Direct descendants of the medieval single-cell hall type synagogue are the Renaissance and Baroque single-cell synagogues, like the ones in Trebic and Holesov in the Czech Republic.
In the central European area the change from the medieval to the Renaissance style exerted a relatively minor influence on the scale and space conception of synagogues and influenced mainly their architectural language.
The Meisel (Meysel) Synagogue in Prague was built in 1592 under a special license granted by Emperor Rudolph ii to Mordecai Meisel in recognition of his philanthropic activities. The Meisel Synagogue was burned down completely in 1689 and rebuilt two years later on a basilical plan. The wide nave was barrel-vaulted with lunettes, and the two flanking galleried aisles were cross-vaulted. The building, in which characteristic early Renaissance elements and Gothic forms are intermingled, is a deviation from the previous practice. The Klauz, also in Prague, was built at the end of the 16th century and altered in the 17th. It was barrel-vaulted and stuccoed, with plant scroll and flower ornamentation in the local Renaissance idiom. The stylistic hesitancy of these two examples arose from the architectural setting of Prague, and its outstanding Gothic and Baroque traditions.
The Remo synagogue of Cracow-Kazimierz also falls into the category of the single-cell hall, built on the edge of the Jewish cemetery as a private prayer house in 1553 under special royal dispensation by Israel Isserles, head of the Cracow Jewish community and father of Moses *Isserles (Rema). The initial synagogue, possibly made of wood, burned down and was rebuilt in masonry in 1556–7, standing until 1940, when the Nazis burned it down. It was re-erected and serves as the synagogue of the Cracow Jewish community.
Between 1556 and 1563 the High Synagogue (Wysoka Boznica) was built in Kazimierz over a row of shops. Like the Visoka Sinagoga in Prague, it has no direct access from the ground floor, but via the staircase of the adjacent building.
In 1644 the Isaac synagogue (Ajzykova Boznica) of R. Isaac Jacobowicz was built. The architect was the Italian Francesco Olivieri, who designed many other buildings in Cracow. It had a western women's gallery over the entrance hall, screened off from the main hall by an elegant arcade on Tuscan columns. The structure was barrel-vaulted with high lunettes.
The synagogue of R. Isaac Nachmanovich in Lvov was built in 1582. It is a typical Polish Renaissance synagogue with a square, lunetted, monastic vault. This type of design was repeated in Poland in synagogues at Szczebrzeszyn (end of the 16th century), Zamosc (17th century), and Gusyatin (beginning of 18th century).
In Bohemia and Moravia the same type of square synagogue gained acceptance and spread to Germany (like the timber synagogues from Poland, for which see below) with one of the waves of immigrants at the beginning of the 18th century. These buildings, too, more particularly in Bohemia, were built and decorated in the pronounced Baroque style of south Germany and Austria. In 1757 a synagogue resembling the above was built in the town of Kuttenplan, situated in the center of the Jewish settlement of western Bohemia. The floor of the hall was still below the level of the street, as tradition dictated. A similar synagogue was erected in 1764 at Koenigswart, and other buildings of the same kind were built in many towns of that region. The synagogue in the town of Neuzedlisch (Nove-Sedliste) was built in 1786. It shows the Austro-Bohemian Baroque characteristic of the middle of the century and contained an ark resembling a Catholic high altar. The women's accommodation had two stories built as part of the original plan.
Unlike the gradual change from the medieval to the Renaissance and post-Renaissance in central and western Europe, in eastern Europe these centuries witnessed the most dramatic change in synagogue design, the introduction of the four-pillared hall, also called the nine-bay arrangement. This type represents the apex of synagogue design before the Enlightenment. This arrangement can be found in stone/brick and also in timber structure. It started to appear in Poland in Renaissance times and spread gradually all over central and central-eastern Europe – Moravia, Hungary – and it was built in the eastern parts of the Hapsburg Empire as late as mid-19th century, as in Huszt, today Ukraine.
In eastern Europe, especially in Poland, the historical circumstances differed from the Renaissance and Baroque conditions of Bohemia and Moravia described above. The isolation of the Jews from the mainstream European environment, already perceptible at the end of the Middle Ages, grew. Jewry created a world of its own in the midst of Polish society. Within this Jewish region an independent art also arose. At first this was of a folk character, which expressed itself in decorative painting and in various arts and crafts, penetrating eventually into the building crafts.
The four-pillared or nine-bay arrangement can be ascribed to the influence of Renaissance central spaces, but in the hands of Jewish craftsmen and rabbis it became a genre of its own, clearly distinguishable from earlier centralized buildings, like Roman and Early Christian mausolea, Byzantine four-pillared churches on a square plan, Crusader "temple-churches," and baptisteries employing the columned or pillared "space-within-space" layout. In synagogue design the principal question was the placement of the bimah and giving it architectural emphasis. The advantage of the nine-bay arrangement was the connection of the bimah with the building's shell in a firm manner, by placing the bimah in the internal space formed by the four pillars. Thus, the bimah was integrated into the structural system of the building – pillars, vaulting, and buttressing – creating a four-pillared sub-space within the shell of the building.
Until mid-19th century this type spread over neighboring countries and is to be found today in Mikulov (Czech
Republic), Mád, Apostag, Bonyhád (Hungary), etc. The synagogue in Mikulov is an interesting case: it possesses the four columns, but they are very close to each other – there is even no real bimah among them and the vaulting has only four Baroque domical bays. This arrangement reinforces speculation, along with the similar timber structure, about the four pillars as representations of the divine throne, because here they are not functional.
In parallel to the nine-bay arrangement with unequal spans (a-b-a rhythm, in which b is smaller than a) described above, a less tightly knit layout type was in use in which the four supporting pillars which contained the bimah divided the hall into nine equal bays. The Vorstadt synagogue of Lvov and the synagogue at Zholkva are the most characteristic examples of this type of hall. This type is exemplified by Rzeszow (Reia), Maciejow, Vilna, Nowogrodek, Lutzk, Lancut, and other places.
The four-pillared synagogue can be considered one of the highlights of synagogue architecture. Its validity can be seen in the fact that many of the contemporary and later wooden synagogues were designed with four timber-posts surrounding a bimah. This was structurally superfluous, as timber can bridge relatively large spans. It is also interesting to note the prevalence of similar concepts in the vernacular synagogue architecture of far-away North Africa. The four-pillared, stone-vaulted 14th-century synagogue of Tomar, Portugal, has different proportions, but still reflects the basic idea of the four-pillar plan.
The exterior appearance of these buildings reflected both local conditions and influences of the architecture of the period. Many of the nine-bay synagogues, especially those which stood outside the city walls, were built as fortresses, as clearly expressed in the elevations. These included a roof surrounded by a fortified parapet equipped with loopholes and sometimes with small towers, as part of the arcaded attic-story typical of the Polish Renaissance. This exterior appeared in the Vorstadt (suburban) synagogue of Lvov, and in the Zholkva, Lutzk, Pinsk, and other 17th-century synagogues. These features were adopted for the needs of defense against the Cossacks or the Tatars.
Location of the synagogue in medieval and early modern times shows a great variety. When located in the core of a medieval town, it appears usually in the courtyard well hidden from the street façade, like the two synagogues in Sopron (formerly Ödenburg, in Hungary). But if the synagogue stands in a Jewish quarter it may have a quite exposed location like the Altneuschul in Prague. In some cases the synagogue may be
located on the city wall, like the medieval synagogue in Maribor or the Stara Boznica in Cracow-Kazimierz, in which case the synagogue's wall is the city wall at the same time, which may influence the synagogue's fenestration.
The location of the entrance of the synagogue varies according to the building's micro-location and the design of the interior. In the Altneuschul in Prague and the Alte-Schul in Cracow, the entrance is off-center in the southern wall. In other Romanesque and Gothic synagogues (Speyer, Worms, Fuerth, Frankfurt, and elsewhere) the entrance is in the sector furthest from the bimah. Only in the 16th century was a firm decision taken on the question of the location of the entrance, following the ruling in Joseph Caro's Shulhan Arukh, although for some time synagogues continued to be built with unorientated entrances. This informal location was typical of small medieval structures, notwithstanding the basic symmetry of the synagogue interior.
The Polish wooden synagogues constitute a unique architectural genre, an expression of a Jewish folk art which developed especially from the mid-17th century under the influence of the Polish vernacular tradition. It spread over the entire Jewish settlement area of eastern Europe side by side with the four-pillar stone synagogues. Many of these synagogues were designed and built by Jewish craftsmen. The Jewish builder, aware of his special theme, began by giving the eaves an upward curve, and piled roof on roof. In a later period the form of building becomes quiet and restrained, but in the 17th century the synagogues were imaginative, dynamic compositions inside and out, of a complex design. The plan was generally simple, a square measuring in the interior about 15 by 15 meters. The women's hall was an annex, or sometimes built as an internal gallery. Characteristic is the special additional "winter room," designed as a shelter for very cold weather, which was generally plastered to facilitate heating.
The oldest known timber building was at Chodorov near Lvov, built in 1651. The roof over the central chamber is internally lined with wooden planks, with the central portion shaped like a barrel-vault. The wall paintings were done
by Israel b. Mordecai and Isaac b. Judah Leib. The same artists executed the drawings in the Gwozdziec Synagogue, which had an octagonal wooden dome over the center. Many other famous wooden synagogues were known, such as Jablonov, Lutomirsk, Zabludow, Wolpa, and countless more. Most of them were built at the end of the 17th or the beginning of the 18th century. The tradition also spread swiftly westward, and in 1767 a wooden synagogue was built at Kurnik near Posen. This synagogue had a quiet and restrained exterior and contained wooden columns in the classical Tuscan order, common in the manor houses of landed gentry in the region. Inside was a very complex timber vaulting, adorned with paintings and wood carvings. The wooden synagogues spread into Germany, the best known among them being at Beckhofen, Horb (presently at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem), and Kirchheim. The construction of the walls in eastern Poland was of horizontal beams of fir or pine, with dovetail joints at the corners and interior plank lining. The normal construction in western Poland was an oak frame covered with pinewood planks. The wooden synagogues built in south Germany according to the Polish tradition changed their exterior appearance due to the half-timber (frame and plaster fillings) system used in Germany. Internally, these buildings retained their traditional form and finish, and their wall paintings.
Historical circumstances created two periods in the history of Spanish Jewry – the medieval period, until the expulsion in 1492, and the "Sephardi" period, associated with the Spanish-speaking communities established in various parts of the world after the expulsions.
A type of synagogue interior was created among Spanish Jewry which made a contribution to the recurring problem of balance between the ark and the bimah. This solution much later found further expression and development in Italy.
In terms of architectural language Spanish synagogues followed Islamic forms. Synagogues built during the Golden Age of Muslim Spain did not survive, but even those built in Christian Spain were of Moorish design and reveal only traces of western influence in their "mudejar" decorative schemes. To adorn their synagogue walls the Jews employed verses from the Bible, written in elegant Spanish characters, in emulation of their Muslim neighbors, who adorned their mosques with verses from the Koran. The two best-known synagogue buildings in Spain are at Toledo. One seems to have been built in the second half of the 13th century by Joseph ibn Shushan. It was confiscated at the beginning of the 15th century by the Church authorities and ultimately became known as the Church of Santa Maria la Blanca. Like most medieval synagogues, this building is modest in its exterior and splendid within. Its plan and structure are characteristic of a mosque. Four long arcades, which carry a flat beam-ceiling, divide the interior into five bays. The arches are horseshoe-shaped and the pillar capitals are richly carved. The pillar bases in the two central colonnades are adorned with glazed tiles. Small circular windows in the western wall apparently belonged to the women's hall, which no longer exists. Despite the building's relatively small size (22 × 28 m.) the interior still looks spacious, due to the rhythm created by the horseshoe arches and the columns. The second building (later the El Transito Church) is in the former ancient Jewish quarter of Toledo. It was the synagogue of Samuel ha-Levi Abulafia, minister of Pedro the Cruel, and built about the year 1357. The plan is that of a rectangular hall of long proportions, 9½ × 23 m. The walls are decorated with carved "mudejar" foliage. Lines of verses from the Psalms alternating with decorative patterns surround the hall beneath, and above is the arcaded clerestory. The walls of the women's section are also decorated with ornamental writings, verses from the Song of Miriam. The niche in the eastern wall was initially made for the ark, and inscriptions on each side of it record the erection of the building by Samuel Abulafia. The windows of the clerestory are fitted with alabaster grilles, admitting a diffused light.
The form of the bimah in medieval Spain is known from miniatures and 13th-century illuminated manuscripts. At first it seems to have been of minor importance: It was apparently of a light timber construction and found its place ultimately near the western end of the hall opposite the ark. It is possible that in the synagogue of Cordoba the bimah was even attached to the western wall. This initiated a longitudinal layout in which ark and bimah balance out, a method later fully exploited in Italy. The expulsion of 1492 put an end to any further evolution in Spain itself, but a tradition of an elegantly appointed, well-balanced interior and a memory of juxtaposed ark and bimah remained with the exiles.
The settlement of *Marranos exiled from Spain, who in the 17th century set up new communities in Holland and England, introduced new customs into Jewish religious tradition. Their connection with their Spanish past was broken and they had to build their life anew, and in their synagogue building the influence of local custom was strongly felt. The great synagogue of the Portuguese community at Amsterdam, built in the years 1671–75, was influenced by the building style of the Dutch churches of that time, just as the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in Bevis Marks, London, built in 1701, resembled meeting houses of the Nonconformists in England. The form of women's gallery in both these buildings later became typical. But the seating layout, and above all the polarized ark-bimah relationship, reflected Italian practice and the legacy of Spanish synagogues.
In Palestine synagogues of the four-column hall type were built by both the Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities. This type was quickly absorbed, and was further modified by the use of the Byzantine internal space concept of four pillars carrying a dome on pendentives. The four-columned synagogues in Palestine are the Ashkenazi synagogue of the "Ari" and the Sephardi synagogue of R. Isaac Aboab at Safed, the Avraham Avinu Synagogue in Hebron (destroyed in 1929), as well as the Elijah and the Istanbul synagogues, both in the Old City of Jerusalem, destroyed in 1948 and rebuilt in 1971. These two synagogues are part of a unique ensemble of four synagogues: Yohanan ben Zakkai Synagogue, the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue, the Haistambuli Synagogue, and among them the Emtzai (Central) Synagogue. They occupy an area of 40 meters by 33 meters sharing common features: since at the time the synagogues had been built, the Jews were not allowed to erect structures higher than those of the Arabs surrounding them, consequently their floors are three meters lower than the surrounding street level and their roofs do not protrude in height, but form a continuous whole together with the surrounding roofs. They have no exterior windows, only windows facing the interior courtyards, and
their entrances are modestly concealed. From the outside they appear to be an unremarkable agglomeration of buildings. The most important among them, the Yohanan ben Zakkai synagogue, has a double ark in the eastern wall. It has been explained in three ways: 1. As this synagogue is the continuation of the 13th-century Ramban Synagogue, which was a longish hall with two naves, this division called for two arks. 2. Bukharan Jews built double arks, because the Bukharan Emirate obligated the Jewish community to keep the Koran in the synagogue. As they did not want to keep the Torah and the Koran together, they built two arks. 3. The Jerusalem Talmud states that the children of Israel traveled through the desert with two arks in front of them. The second ark contained the broken tablets of the covenant.
The Ashkenazim built their spiritual center a short distance to the north of the old synagogue, in the courtyard later known as the Hurva (Ruin) Synagogue of Rabbi *Judah ha-Ḥasid.
Many thousands of Spanish Jews were welcomed to the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. The 68 synagogues of Salonika were mostly destroyed in the great fire of 1917, but it is known that they were without any exterior ostentation. Beit Shaul, the most monumental, had a double-leveled façade with small windows and a segmental pediment over the central bay. The few synagogues in Istanbul, Edirne, and Izmir are similar, a kind of middle way between Byzantine and Sephardi traditions.
Cairo had some 30 synagogues between the two world wars, Alexandria had over 20, including the Eliyahu ha-Navi, the only one existing today, which was enlarged in 1865 by two side-aisles with galleries showing a strong western influence. The francophone Judeo-Egyptian culture created exquisite synagogues, which after 1956 fell into decay as Jews left the country.
In North Africa an autochthonous Jewish culture existed before the arrival of Spanish Jews, who soon became dominant in the region. Still, architecturally, the famous Danan synagogue and the Sadoun synagogue, both in Fez (Morocco), deployed autochthonous forms. The newly restored Danan synagogue, created in the 17th century, has an elongated rectangular floor plan, with three central columns carrying a timber roof. It is characterized by the bipolar arrangement having the ark in the eastern wall and the bimah sunk in the western wall, as well as a women's gallery on the southern perimeter wall. The Saba synagogue in Fez, along with a series of other, North African synagogues, displays four central pillars in the manner of Polish synagogues.
The Great Synagogue of Algier (1865, architect Viala du Sorbier) exemplifies European influence with its western-type Oriental style, which returns to its region of origin, but betrays the double condition of its constitutive elements. The synagogue in Rue de Paris in Tunis (1932–37) shows the same tendency, albeit in a 20th-century classicist-deco manner.
The Great Synagogue of Baghdad was described by the traveler Benjamin of Tudela in the 12th century as a building which apparently contained a columned hall opening onto a courtyard, as in a typical mosque, and magnificently adorned with ornamental lettering similar to that of Spanish synagogues. The famous synagogue at Fostat was a Coptic basilica built in the ninth century. In Damascus there existed a vaulted synagogue consisting of a hall with three bays, the only one of this type in eastern countries. The Aleppo synagogue (built in the ninth century and restored for the last time in 1992) resembled in principle the layout of the ancient mosques of Cairo – Amru and Ibn-Touloun – both of the internal courtyard type. The Aleppo synagogue had its separately roofed bimah in the middle of the courtyard, where normally the mosque well is placed. The congregation is here seated in the porticoes surrounding the courtyard, and the ark is placed analogically to the "mihrab." This is the most pronounced case of Islamic influence on synagogue design.
Jews had lived in Italy from the beginning of the Christian era and they preserved ancient local traditions. Italy had also absorbed Ashkenazi Jews who continued to reside there in growing numbers, and after the expulsion of 1492, exiles from Spain. Jews from the Levant also established merchant outposts, notably in Venice. The "bipolar" interior plan, whereby the ark and the bimah were placed at the opposing ends of an axial layout, was an important achievement in synagogue design. The synagogues in Italy, as in the other Diaspora centers, generally lacked exterior distinction, and there was nothing novel introduced in the way of structure. The popular methods of construction and covering were the "monastic vault," as in the Ashkenazi synagogue (Scuola Tedesca) at Padua; barrel-vaulting of various types with or without lunettes; coffered ceilings, and other components currently employed in Italy in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.
The synagogue hall sometimes formed part of a large building, which included several additional units such as a bet midrash, the offices of the community, etc., and was frequently in the upper story. The decorative schemes were Renaissance, Mannerist, Baroque, or Rococo, the function of the ornamentation being to cover and to fill wall and ceiling surfaces without the use of representational art.
The bipolar hall of the Italian synagogues took final shape only in the 16th and 17th centuries; very little is known about the seating layout and place of the bimah in earlier synagogues. The unique contribution of Italian Jewry to architecture was in those intimate spatial schemes with ark and bimah at two opposite ends. In some of them highly imaginative variations occurred. In Pesaro and Ancona, the tevah (bimah) which is attached to the western wall is built on columns one story above the hall floor level, permitting axial entry into the hall facing the ark. (The only two remaining Provençal synagogues, of Carpentras and Cavaillon, both rebuilt in the 18th century in Rococo style, also have a similar layout,
with the bimah elevated on columns high enough to provide enough headroom for axial, direct access underneath.) This resembled the regional practice of placing the church high altars over a crypt.
One of the most beautiful examples was the Sephardi synagogue at Ferrara, built in the middle of the 17th century and later remodeled. Here the bimah was placed opposite the ark in the intersection of the main axis with the axis of entrance. But in most cities, especially in the north, a solution took shape which placed the bimah against the western wall and elevated it. Frequently it was not regarded as sufficient to place the ark against the wall, but it was placed in a niche or an apsidal space, as in the Canton Synagogue in Venice. The use of a symmetrical layout of two flights of stairs gave an opportunity for varied Baroque bimah arrangements. Most important was the almost universally practiced seating layout, like that of the British House of Commons, the congregation being seated in two equal parts facing each other and divided by the aisle or "walk" connecting bimah and ark. Thus every worshiper could equally face both foci, and the traditional space conflict was resolved. The most important of the north Italian synagogues is the Spanish synagogue in Venice, Scuola Grande Spagnola. Built in the middle of the 16th century, it was redesigned in the middle of the 17th by the famous Baldassare Longhena, architect of the Baroque church of Santa Maria della Salute and other monuments in Venice. Within the rectangular interior, an elliptical women's gallery surrounds the upper part of the hall. The ark and bimah are placed, respectively, at the eastern and western walls, with the typical Italian seating of the congregation on both sides of the aisle, as described above. This work of Venetian Baroque easily outshines other synagogues in Venice. Of a similar layout are the nearby Levantine, the Ashkenazi (Tedesca), the Scuola Canton, and the Italiana, all built in the 17th century in the ghetto.
Italian synagogues left to Jewish art a fine tradition of skilled craftsmanship and furnishing. The Baroque decoration schemes were of a standard equaling the finest Italian gentile work. Torah arks from Italy may be found in several museums in the world. Some of the small Italian communities, now finally dissolved, have transferred all their furnishings to Israel, in order to be set up anew in synagogues there. The furniture of the synagogue of Conegliano Veneto has now been refitted at the Italian Synagogue in Jerusalem; that of Vittorio Veneto has been fully reconstructed in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
[Aharon Kashtan /
Rudolf Klein (2nd ed.)]
The 17th and 18th century Enlightenment brought about profound changes in western societies: the Christian outlook gradually weakened, rationalism came to the fore, and traditional social hierarchy started to lose its significance. All these developments prepared the ground for greater civil liberties for minority groups too – religious and ethnic alike – including the Jews, and eventually the French Revolution and Napoleonic Code granted full civil rights to the Jews for the first time in western history. Although after Napoleon the situation partially reverted to pre-Napoleonic conditions, in the long run the ideas of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity theoretically eradicated racial and religious prejudices. These external changes initiated further changes within Jewish society. The *Haskalah, the Jewish counterpart of the Enlightenment, came into being, bringing about secularism and fostering emancipation.
Although France was the leading country in implementing the aforementioned ideas, large-scale Jewish emancipation started in German lands, as these countries – particularly their eastern regions – had a sizeable Jewish population. The first synagogues emerged here during the early 18th century after the medieval expulsion. In the politically backward, strictly feudal Germany some rulers sought to attract Jewish traders and craftsmen to their territories, feeling they would stimulate economic development. They protected the Jewish communities under their care and sometimes took an interest in the building of synagogues, as in the Heidenreutergasse synagogue, Berlin (1714) and the synagogue at Ansbach, Bavaria (1746). At Woerlitz, Saxony, the Duke of Anhalt-Dessau built a synagogue in his park (1790) in the form of a circular Temple of Vesta. The Haskalah and the reform movement also started in Germany, changing slowly the traditional synagogue service, and consequently the interior arrangement of reform synagogues, from the early 19th century. Already in some neo-Classical synagogues the bimah was moved to the east, although this would become widespread only in the second half of the 19th century.
The synagogue of Leghorn in Italy was built in 1714 in a graceful southern Baroque style with two tiers of galleries. In England the chief synagogue built during this period was the Great Synagogue, London (1790), by James Spiller, a pupil of James Wyatt. Among the features of this neo-Classic building were rows of Ionic columns and a round-arched niche which contained the ark. Screened by two columns and flanked by Ionic pilasters, this motif was derived from Roman architecture via Andrea Palladio and Robert Adam. Some Georgian synagogues of interest were also built in the United States, such as the Touro Synagogue at Newport, Rhode Island (1763) and the synagogue at Charleston, South Carolina (1797), crowned with a double-tiered octagonal lantern.
In 19th-century Europe more synagogues were built than during all the preceding periods together. This was due mainly to two factors: Jewish emancipation and the urbanization of Europe. Until the 19th century the vast majority of central and eastern European Jews lived in villages and small towns, erecting indistinct synagogues or gathering for prayer in homes. When they moved to major urban settlements, their concentration grew and major places of worship were needed. In many countries the gentiles even liked the idea of having the Jews gathered in fewer places for easier surveillance. The number of urban synagogues rose, their scale and prominence reaching hitherto unseen levels. Still, until the revolutions of 1848 they remained in a restrained framework of neo-Classicism or early Romanticism.
Neo-Classicism is the period which witnesses a breakthrough in synagogue architecture in central and eastern Europe: The famous German neo-Classicist architect, Friedrich Weinbrenner, created his synagogue in Karlsruhe (1798) in the spirit of French revolutionary architecture and quoted the Temple of Solomon, equating implicitly the synagogue with the Temple for the first time in modern central European history. Although the actual synagogue was built in the courtyard, there were two tapering pylons on the street front, recalling Egyptian architecture. The floor plan of the synagogue was an elongated rectangle with a central bimah. The adjoining buildings contained a ritual bath; community offices were added in 1810, and they created a monumental ensemble together with the actual synagogue.
Other neo-Classical synagogues of note were those in the Rue Notre Dame in Paris (1819–20), the Seitenstettengasse in Vienna (albeit with some Baroque traces, as the elliptical floor plan which suited the reform service, 1824) and in Munich (1826), the Óbuda Synagogue in the city today called Budapest (1820–21), the ponderous New Synagogue in London (1838), and the Beth Elohim in Charleston (1841), a particularly fine example of the Greek revival. A new flavor was added by Napoleon's campaign in Egypt (1798), which created a fashion for Egyptian details, sometimes combined with the Greek, as in Copenhagen (1833) or in some synagogues in the United States.
As early as 1838, Gottfried Semper, the great 19th-century German architect, created the synagogue in Dresden based on a Byzantine floor plan, a strict neo-Romanesque exterior and an Oriental interior. The exterior architectural language referred to the style of great German Romanesque cathedrals, though the proportions and scale were different. The interior referred to the Oriental origin of the Jews, particularly to the Spanish period before expulsion, to which all Oriental-style synagogues began to refer. This duality depicted the double-layered Jewish identity of the period, which corresponded with the idea of the Jews as the "Asiatics of Europe." Semper, as a theoretician, also paved the way for 19th-century synagogue architecture with his Bekleidungstheorie (theory of cladding), which served as a theoretical base for the Oriental-style synagogues, the most widespread genre of architecture created for Jews before modernism. The floor plan of the prayer room in his Dresden synagogue is a square with an eastern bimah in front of the ark.
The second half of the 19th century was the heyday of European synagogue building, as a result of a combination of fortuitous factors that contributed to the birth of large-scale representative synagogues almost all over Europe. First, the successful revolutions of 1848 led to full civil rights for the Jews in most of Europe, resulting in spectacular advances for Jewish entrepreneurs and intellectuals and their communities, which wished to display their success in architectural terms. Second, after neo-Classicism elapsed, the emergence of Romanticism and Eclecticism (Free Style) in particular changed the scale of architecture, which lost its previous coherence of style and compactness of form. The hitherto compact masses started to dissolve, the obligatory architectural language to vanish. This milieu amplified the Jewish tendencies toward representation, and synagogues became conspicuous elements of the townscape. The primary concern of synagogue design shifted from the interior to the exterior, becoming a great endeavor to create an appropriate appearance for the gentiles. The interior became more longish with, a bimah removed from the center and shifted to the eastern wall, where it created together with the ark an altar-like monumental composition. Consequently seating arrangements in the synagogue changed radically from concentrically placed benches/chairs around the bimah to a longitudinal arrangement in which all benches faced the east as in Catholic churches. Gradually the proportions got even closer to the longitudinal basilical layout of Catholic churches. Abolishing the duality of ark and bimah suggested that the duality between a given location in the Diaspora and the Holy Land had ended: Jews were accepted everywhere, they were at home among the gentiles. The wish to return to Jerusalem vanished among Reform Jews. A large altar-like mizraḥ uniting the bimah and ark answered the needs of the Reform service, with choral and organ music as well as preaching in local language. For the majority of secularized synagogue-goers Hebrew became as exotic as Latin for Catholic worshipers. Besides the basilical plan, the central plan gained ground again, albeit usually without its original raison d'être, the central bimah. The large external dome necessitated the central or nearly central floor plan.
In the 1850s major so-called Moorish-style synagogues came into being in German lands and regions under German influence – central and eastern Europe, the Balkans, and overseas. The two most grandiose examples, the Dohány Street synagogue in Budapest (1852–57) and the Oranienburgerstrasse Synagogue in Berlin (1855–66), seated over 3,000 worshipers, mainly middle-class people, as evidenced by period engravings. Although this spectacular development was fueled by the Reform Jews – mainly the very rich and assimilated – the Orthodox gradually followed these trends with a significant time lag. Still, they left the bimah in the center.
Nonetheless, synagogue style – so often discussed among 19th-century Jews, architects, and critics alike – has never come into being. This reflects the fact that Judaism cannot be translated into form even in its watered-down, "reform" version. Synagogues were built in a mixture of styles, which sometimes showed more Western revivals – neo-Romanesque, neo-Renaissance, neo-Byzantine – and sometimes more Oriental features – Islamic, Egyptian, Assyrian. The Gothic revival was rarely a factor, being considered Christian, as for instance in the cases of the Meisel Synagogue in Prague, the synagogue in Budweis (Ceškoje Budejovice), or the Gothic synagogues built by Max Fleischer in Vienna. The first, breakthrough generation of 19th-century synagogues was built mainly in Oriental style, as an association with the golden age of Spanish Jewry, like, for instance, the Cologne synagogue (1861), the Central Synagogue, London (1870), the Florence synagogue (1880), and the St. Petersburg (Choral Temple) synagogue (1893). The style was brought by German congregations to the United States, where it was widely adopted, as in Temple Emmanuel, New York (1868), Rodef Shalom, Philadelphia (1869–70), and Plum Street Temple, Cincinnati, Ohio (1866), with its 13 domes and two minarets.
Late in the century the Classical style sometimes returned to favor and was adopted by the U.S. architect Arnold *Brunner on the evidence of the newly published remains of ancient synagogues in Ereẓ Israel. There was a new spate of revivals, including Renaissance, Georgian, Baroque, and in continental Europe neo-Romanesque, propagated by the German Jewish architect Edwin Oppler. He maintained that, as Jews were Germans of Jewish faith and not Asiatics of Europe, they should use the local, national style. Oppler's thinking was influenced by the first major antisemitic waves of the 1870s and 1880s which swept over Europe. In the Hapsburg Empire and neighboring countries to the east and south, this antisemitic wave did not cause major changes in architectural style.
More importantly than style in the second half of the 19th century, composition of masses in synagogues was also a surrogate, an "as if" genre, loosely following forms of different gentile buildings. (A similar influence was at work at the medieval Altneuschul in Prague, but this was a singular case.) Architecturally, the Reform synagogue was a new genre which needed a new expression. In mid-19th-century Germany, for instance, the architects and Jewish community leaders launched competitions to create a suitable typology for the new synagogues, without actual building. These entries were published and served later as guidelines for designing synagogues. Based on these examples and the gentile templates – churches, public buildings, and factory buildings – a wide range of compositional types emerged. Thus, in terms of composition of volume, synagogues in the 19th century can be classified as village-house-type synagogues, burgher-house type, Protestant-church type, Catholic-church/cathedral type, Temple type (references to Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem), factory-hall type, central Byzantine type, palace type, and combinations of these types. The choice between these types depended on the urban location, the intention and standing of the local Jewish community, and the restrictions of the municipality.
Orthodox communities which came into being as a reaction to the rapid reform process in the second half the 19th century clung to older patterns – central bimah and somewhat restrained scale and decoration. However, they soon started to compete with the reformers, and by the end of the 19th century Orthodox synagogues often became indistinguishable in the exterior from their Reform counterparts in major cities.
Urban settings also changed remarkably in the 19th century. The hitherto hidden, or at least well-concealed, synagogue appeared on exposed urban locations, close to the town center on major street crossings, or even on the center of squares, sometimes on the main square of the town or city. In the beginning synagogues were still built behind fences – these fences were rather formal, i.e., transparent and richly decorated – but later this tradition was abandoned. In regions where virulent antisemitism was to be expected – numerous Berlin synagogues demonstrate this – the synagogue was in the courtyard, represented on the street façade by the community building.
Emerging modernism pushed aside the issue of style, stressing function and clear composition of simple volumes. Modernism can be read as a reaction against highly decorated neo-styles and at the same time seen as the right expression for the Jews – abandoning the visual representation (carved image), establishing universal, cosmopolitan expression by using abstract language.
During the first two decades of the 20th century, a period often labeled proto-modernism, this reaction limited itself to a simplification of design rather than complete abandonment of historical revivals. Later, generally after World War i, architects influenced by the theories of functionalism produced bare and stark synagogues, without conscious reference to any previous period. An early example of simplified design was the Anshe Maariv Synagogue in Chicago (1890–91) by the famous partnership of Dankmar *Adler and Louis Sullivan. Among the outstanding early 20th-century synagogues were those of Essen (1913) and Zurich (1923–24) and two Amsterdam synagogues, which aspired to simplicity and an ingenious use of the local Dutch brickwork: the Linnaeus Straat Synagogue by Jacob *Baars and the Jacob Obrechtsplein Synagogue by Harry *Elte (both 1928).
In his 1924 competition entry for a synagogue in Hietzing, a residential suburb of Vienna, architect Richard J. *Neutra produced one of the first synagogue designs consisting of a flat-roofed building organized around an interior open courtyard. Both Josef Hoffman, the Viennese architect, and Peter Behrens of Berlin submitted proposals in a competition held in 1926 by the Jewish community in Žilina (formerly Sillein or Zsolna) in former Czechoslovakia, today Slovak Republic. Peter Behrens got the commission, and his monolithic, low-domed, square, massive structure was built in 1931. Josef Hoffman made several submissions: one indicates the synagogue as a hemispheric dome resting on a low substructure; another design shows his intention to create a tent-shaped pyramid of glass rising out of an enclosing substructure of rectilinear form. These schemes preceded similar synagogue designs later built in the United States. Important modern synagogues, which were architecturally pioneering and prophetic, were built or proposed in Europe from the 1920s to World War ii, when the open flexible plan with the expandable sanctuary space was first being realized.
In this period, once again Germany produced the artistically most advanced synagogues, until the Nazi takeover. Fritz Landauer built the compact and purist synagogue in Plauen (1929–30), which stood in the forefront of modern architecture with its simple monolithic mass, elevated on pillars, and industrial-looking rhythm of small windows and white undecorated walls, as well as a larger asymmetrically positioned modernist oculus containing the Star of David. A bit more conservative was the great Oberstrasse Temple in Hamburg (1931, F. Asher and R. Friedman), with its strict symmetrical massing and windowless walls covered with stone.
Functionalist simplicity characterized the Dollis Hill Synagogue, London (1937) by Sir Owen Williams. The seating arrangement reflected British tradition, and the hexagonal windows refer to the idea of the Star of David and represent a novelty in European architecture of the period. Here the architect dispensed with the gallery supports by means of corrugated walls and ceiling.
The early modern synagogue in Ereẓ Israel is a case in point. A synagogue in Ḥaderah (1935) includes a watchtower and a courtyard to provide shelter for 2,000 people in case of attack. Its architectural language is a combination of pure modernist volumes and traditional arcades, as well as small windows resembling Muslim tradition. The Jeshurun synagogue, Jerusalem (1934–35), features small windows, modernist masses clad with stone.
In America during the period between the two wars functionalist architecture was not very popular. Therefore, Temple Emmanuel in New York City, designed in 1930, possesses a combination of Romanesque portals, Gothic flying buttresses, and Moorish towers.
World War ii represented a watershed not only in gentile architecture but also in synagogue building throughout Europe. Modernism became officially accepted by the welfare states in Europe and lost its previous elitist aura, often becoming a simplified, cheap common language. War destruction necessitated the building of synagogues, but European Jewry, decimated by the Holocaust, did not need and did not want to erect manifest synagogues. Instead small-scale, modest, functional synagogues came into being. In the Communist Bloc religion was suppressed and very few synagogues were constructed; far more were destroyed – either directly, or by neglect.
These circumstances changed the manner of expression as well, which often concentrated on the correct display of function. Traditional visual symbolism in the circumstances of post-World War ii synagogues lost its significance for two reasons: impressing the gentiles in the manner of 19th-century synagogues was pointless after the Holocaust; the significance and the coherence of the urban context which had previously necessitated a manifest synagogue also declined, and the need of declaration disappeared. All these and the puritanism of late modern architecture led to a minimal and austere language in the 1950s and 1960s in Europe.
In America, which became the leading country of synagogue construction after World War ii, on the other hand, the large scale prevailed and a certain degree of representation, but on the other hand, suburbanization changed the previous form and expression of synagogues, turning them into multi-purpose buildings. Since 1945 the synagogue has not been merely a house of worship but, in many instances, a community center consisting of a school, administrative offices, a gymnasium, and an assembly hall.
[Rudolf Klein (2nd ed.)]
Later, however, ornament returned in another form. The complementary arts of painting, sculpture, textiles, mosaics, and stained glass were increasingly used in conjunction with architecture. Seeking to represent what the contemporary arts had to offer, the U.S. synagogue engaged the efforts of many eminent artists, who reinterpreted traditional Jewish ritual objects and symbols in a completely modern idiom.
Park Synagogue in Cleveland, Ohio, designed by Eric *Mendelsohn in 1948, was conceived as a hemispheric dome enclosing the synagogue proper and rising from a long, low, flat-roofed structure, similar in form to the 1926 design of Josef Hoffman. From the time Mendelsohn went to the United States from Palestine in 1941, until his death in 1959, he designed seven synagogues and community centers, of which only four have been built. The temple and community center for Congregation B'nai Amoona, St. Louis, Missouri (1946), was Mendelsohn's first synagogue and also his first commission in the United States. In this design he expanded the sanctuary space into the entrance foyer and the social hall, thus increasing the Sabbath seating capacity of 600 people to 1,500 for the High Holy Days. First devised by Cecil Moore in Tucson, Arizona (1946), this solution was used by Mendelsohn in a variety of ways. One other example was in the copper-clad, ten-rib steel sanctuary structure for Mount Zion Temple and Community Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, where the rich interior sanctuary space is again expanded into the foyer and assembly hall. Mendelsohn's sketches for synagogues indicate clearly the ideas which are manifested in the distinctive character of each building.
In many synagogues which Percival *Goodman designed, beginning with B'nai Israel Synagogue in Millburn, New Jersey (1951), the strong architectural expression of the ark both on the interior and the exterior of the structure is a dominant recurring theme. In Congregation Shaarey Zedek, in Detroit, Michigan, which Goodman designed in association with Albert Kahn, the sanctuary, dominant because of its location and height (100 feet at the ark), is flanked at the sides by two social halls which form part of the same structure and serve as extensions of the space, since the congregation increases from 1,200 to 3,500 people on the High Holidays. The architects made the social halls triangular in shape and separated them from the sanctuary by folding walls, in order to place the maximum number of congregants in the closest proximity to the bimah. When necessary, simultaneous functions can occur without interference; the separation of the side halls permits one to be used as an auditorium while the other is the main dining hall. Both halls may be used for dining, since a separate serving kitchen is provided off the auditorium hall. The three halls are linked by a reception space which allows separate access to each. Just as the sanctuary is the focal point of the building, the ark is the focal point of the sanctuary; thus the seating arrangement of this building is characteristic of the assembly type of plan. Frank Lloyd Wright responded to the idea of creating the synagogue for Beth Shalom in Philadelphia (1954), as a tent on Mount Sinai. His pyramidal, tent-like structure is sheathed in glass, filling the interior with light. The scheme in the plan is capable of variations, so that it can be expanded or contracted as may be desired.
The Reform movement, which began in Germany, produced vital changes in the architecture of synagogues also in the United States. The simplification of the service, the new emphasis on the sermon, the mixed seating of men and women, and the introduction of the organ brought the synagogue closer to the outward forms of Protestant Christianity and resulted in an architectural arrangement similar to that in a church or theater. The bimah was consequently taken from its traditional place in the center of the room and put in front of the ark on a platform at one end of it. In the United States this scheme was widely adopted by the Reform and Conservative movements and also by some of the Orthodox congregations. Many later designs, however, have indicated a reaction to the auditorium plan organization of the synagogue with bimah placed in the front of the ark, and the seats arranged to face the ark. The above-discussed, difficult problems of the plan arrangement, the double use of the sanctuary space, and the basic disposition of the synagogue interior, perhaps cannot be completely answered by the architect. Kneset Tifereth Israel synagogue in Port Chester, New York, by Philip Johnson, is a well-executed design which directly confronts the problem of an expandable space. The building consists of a symmetrical plan in which the sanctuary and the social hall are actually combined in one large rectangular space, with the entrance at a passage separating the two. A movable screen isolates the sanctuary; the whole space can be opened when necessary. Buildings have been designed which have attempted to combine classrooms and the sanctuary, a social hall and the sanctuary, or a lobby, social hall, and the sanctuary, in order to increase the seating capacity for the High Holidays. This problem, of an expanding and contracting space, is evident in many contemporary synagogues. Those architects who have not had this problem, but instead have been given a single space to design, have usually created a more satisfactory structure, and the ancient central plan has been revived. This arrangement, which clearly provides a better architectural solution, does not provide for expansion of the seating space.
Besides functional innovations in the United States, Louis I. *Kahn, one of the most talented architects in the country, dealt with symbolic aspects of synagogue architecture extensively, although little was constructed from these designs.
After the Enlightenment there were a number of "specialists" in synagogue architecture, such as, for example, the Austro-Hungarian architect Leopold Baumhorn, who created or rebuilt over 40 synagogues, or the American architect Percival Goodman, who was also prolific in the heyday of synagogue construction in the United States; but probably Louis Kahn has been the only world-class modernist architect who devoted major attention to the synagogue. In 1961 Kahn started working for Mikveh Israel and created until 1972 10 versions which demonstrate a transition from traditional boxy modernism, backed by a rational design philosophy, to a highly mystical never-built synagogue fiction: a complex of three detached units, a Sanctuary-House of Study; a Chapel – House of Prayer and School – and a House of the Community. From the fourth version Kahn introduced "light bottles," large cylinders making the building fortress-like from the outside, and in the interior showing up as large dark towers with light-emitting holes. This mystical symbolism was largely absent in post-Enlightenment synagogue history, but particularly in modern times.
The Hurva Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem represents Kahn's last word in this genre. He conceived the Hurvah as a new building and not as a ruin: "The new building should itself consist of two buildings – an outer one which would absorb the light and heat of the sun, and an inner one, giving the effect of a separate but related building. The inside building would be a single chamber, resting on four points … there are niches where candle services will be sung during certain ceremonies… the exterior will be visible through the niches which are in the stones. These stones are 16 foot square, the interior chambers are 10 foot square. The stones, like the stories of the Western Wall, will be golden in color; the interior will be rather silver in color. The spaces between them will be such as to allow a sufficient amount of light to enter from the outer chamber, and, completely surrounding the interior chamber, there will be an ambulatory from which people will also be able to witness a service taking place in the interior chamber. The construction of the building is like large leaves of a tree, allowing light to filter into the interior…." Kahn seems to have fallen into the same pitfall as had Herzl some seven decades earlier, the rebuilding of the Temple. No wonder his project was halted. It seems that Kahn has misunderstood Judaism – at least its post-Temple period – and its ambivalence and suspicion toward architecture as the materialization of ideas.
[Rudolf Klein (2nd ed.)]
In the postwar period in Europe, few radical changes in planning were generally adopted, though from the late 1950s synagogues began to be constructed with main halls convertible for non-devotional purposes, and were built as part of a social complex including communal centers, old-age homes, and other buildings, as in the United States. Architectural techniques were much developed, however, with the use of reinforced concrete, steel-framed construction, glass walls, and other innovations. The visual effect was generally lighter than in the case of the solid and austere synagogues of the period between the wars. After World War ii a number of synagogues were built by the small returning Jewish communities in Germany, where nearly all major synagogues had been destroyed by the Nazis. The synagogues at Offenbach (1956), Dortmund (1956), Duesseldorf (1958), Essen (1959), and Bonn (1959), and the Fasanenstrasse Community House in West Berlin (1959) are of importance. In the case of the last-mentioned building, fragments of the neo-Romanesque synagogue built on the site in 1912 and destroyed by the Nazis were preserved and placed in startling juxtaposition to the new building as a reminder of the tragic fate of the German Jews. In England a synagogue by Harold Weinreich at Woodford, Essex (1954), built out of prefabricated units, attracted attention. A somewhat unusual synagogue is that at the Bernard Lyons Community Center, Leeds (1963), where a paraboloid roof is placed diagonally over the hall. The New Central Synagogue, London (1958), with its round-arched windows, replacing that destroyed by German bombing, should also be mentioned. The largest postwar synagogue in Europe was built by Claude Meyer-Lévy in Strasbourg, France (1958); a traditional structure, it was essentially a classical basilica reinterpreted in terms of reinforced concrete. In Italy the 18th-century Leghorn synagogue, destroyed in bombing raids, was rebuilt by Angelo di Castro in 1962. The new building showed several innovations of plan and structure. The structural skeleton was exposed to view in the manner of Luigi Nervi, and the gallery was a bridge attached to the side walls only and spanning the hall. The seats surrounded the bimah on three sides in the shape of an amphitheater. Another interesting postwar Italian synagogue was that built in Milan by Monfredo D'Urbino and E. Gentile in 1954.
In Livorno one of the most creative post-World-War ii synagogues in Europe was created. While the commission was more for an American-style community center, Angelo di Castro, the Jewish architect from Rome, restated the concept of the European urban synagogue with a strong architectural identity in 1958. The main architectural feature of the building is a set of bent vertical "buttresses" – actually reinforced concrete frame structure – which project from the wall surface both on the interior and on the exterior. This structural solution created the interior as a single, undivided room in which everyone can hear and see easily, and which recalls the rhythm of pillars from the past. The seats, disposed around several sides of the elongated polygonal interior, give a sense of congregational unity, as do the central placement of the bimah and the absence of concealing grilles on the women's gallery. The organic form of the building recalls the tabernacle or Tent of the Wilderness, its billowing form is even more obvious inside, where the vertical lines and the pale-colored wall spaces between them combine with the light-filled interior space to give the impression of an airy and almost weightless tent.
After architectural modernism was eclipsed in the 1970s and 1980s, the austere style of synagogues was abandoned and a new eclecticism emerged in the framework of post-modernism. Many of the strictures of modernism were loosened or abandoned altogether, and architects became free to use elements of the past. Post-modern synagogues were built mainly in the "old countries" of the European Union and in the United States.
The Darmstadt Jewish Community Center, comprising a synagogue with 200 seats and adjacent buildings, was designed by Alfred Jacoby in 1988. It merges modernist purism of form and material with some historic elements – the use of a central dome over the prayer hall and small domes over the entrance, a symmetrical composition of the synagogue and the enclosing buildings, and the use of stone.
Probably the modern State of Israel is the place with the greatest variety of synagogue buildings, greater than the variety of churches or mosques in a Christian or Muslim country. This variety is due to the diversity of immigrant Jewish populations from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Some synagogues are indistinct, following the boxy modernist forms and merging with the urban context; others are more visible either through the highlighting of some traditional features, like domes; or by expressively sculptural forms. Thus, the variety runs the spectrum from the tectonic Great Synagogue in Allenby Street to the utterly sculptural, shell-shaped Heikhal Yehudah Synagogue in Arlozorov Street (architects Toledano and Russo, 1980), both in Tel Aviv.
The Hebrew University Givat Ram Campus Synagogue (architects Heinz Rau and David Resnik) is surrounded by lush vegetation and some stones from which its white mushroom-shaped reinforced concrete shell emerges, recalling the tent in the desert. The two-story building contains a sumptuous lobby on the ground floor and in the upper story a windowless synagogue, which, besides artificial light, gets indirect sunshine from downstairs via floor windows. This synagogue is a genuine attempt in the spirit of the postwar modernism to overcome all traditions, to create a new spatial experience, which is unfortunately not suitable for the function of a synagogue.
The synagogue at the Military Academy, Negev Desert (architect Zvi Hecker, 1964–66) has an area of approximately 100 m2 and accommodates at least 100 people within its polyhedral forms, which create a space progressively narrowing up to the top. The exterior is dominated by cell-like modules, but the interior gives the impression of a harmonious and integrated space. The plan is central, but reflects the double-focus arrangement of traditional synagogues – both Ashkenazi and Sephardi. Seats for the worshipers are placed along the sides of the axis and are inclined, so that both the bimah and the Ark can be seen simultaneously. A series of skylights supplies the interior with warm yellow light. The tilted walls render the space abstract, lifting it from its everyday experience. They negate tectonics that might be associated with the tent in the desert.
Ma'alot Synagogue, Jerusalem, Rehavia (architect David Cassutto, 1972) is built on a hexagonal floor plan, with a hexagonal bimah in the center. The dominant element of the interior is the set of reinforced concrete pillars and beams. In the center, where the latter meet, there is a hexagonal sculptural element supporting the lighting. Above this element the ceiling is perforated by a grilled skylight, resembling local Islamic architectural tradition.
The Har Nof New Synagogue, Jerusalem (architect David Cassutto, 1993) exemplifies the Israeli type of post-modernist synagogue which recalls the pre-modern language of architecture and a traditional spatial concept. The synagogue is incorporated into a community center, but is visually well distinguishable due to its kippah-like flat dome. The facade is covered with Jerusalem-stone, which is pierced through only by narrow slits. On the ground floor the windows are rectangular, on the first floor semicircular. The stern and closed masses are rendered soft by the use of semicircular forms – balconies and projections – recalling forms of the Old City. The approximately 200 m2 prayer room incorporates the women's gallery. The dome has round glass inlays referring to the local Moslem architectural tradition. The bimah is set a little bit westward from the geometrical center of the space, according to the Sephardi tradition. The ark has circular access, with two round wings of stairs recalling the Italian Baroque.
The Cymbalista Synagogue and Heritage Center at the Tel Aviv University Campus (1998), designed by the Swiss architect Mario Botta, highlights Israel's opening to foreign architects. Botta, in the spirit of Italian racionalismo – a movement present in Italy since Mussolini – created cubes and cylinders clad with stone using the play of light. The complex is visually divided into three parts, a lower rectangular one from which the two bastion-like volumes grow out, which respond to the dualistic implications of the commission – the secular and religious. The twin fortress-like forms differ only in terms of their interiors: To the west is the Jewish Heritage Center, a lecture hall with its dais set in a small apse; to the east – on the Jerusalem side – is the synagogue, with its centrally located bimah and an apse for the Holy Ark. Light is brought into the interior of the paired volumes via series of small windows and a large skylight, spreading over the walls by a square panel set into each cylinder.
While in Germany and in the occupied countries during Kristallnacht the vast majority of urban synagogues was destroyed or damaged beyond repair, some of them could be still rescued. The Westend Synagogue in Frankfurt, the synagogues in Pestalozzi Strasse and Rykestrasse in Berlin, as well as the Roonstrasse Synagogue of Cologne were restored. From some others only fragments remained, as in the case of Fasanenstrasse, and sometimes quite significant fragments, as in the complete façade section of the Oranienburgerstrasse Synagogue, both in Berlin.
Unlike the great urban synagogues, a certain percentage of the rural ones survived even in Germany and in the occupied lands, and in other central and eastern European countries a substantial number of synagogues were only slightly damaged during the war. Their actual deterioration started in the late 1940s and 1950s, because the Jews had been deported or emigrated, and their synagogues had become exposed to decay and vandalism. Some major synagogues were officially protected from demolition by the local authorities, but little was done to maintain the buildings.
As the tide of intense post-World War ii construction receded and the former loathing of modern architectural theory abated, abandoned synagogues started to attract public interest. In the 1980s mainly the synagogues and adjacent community buildings were restored, but with the increasing awareness of the urban context, complete Jewish neighborhoods gradually began to re-emerge, albeit without the Jews. The most important examples of restored Jewish neighborhoods are in Mikulov and Trebic, both in the Czech Republic.
While small and middle-size Renaissance, Baroque, neo-Classical, and some 19th-century synagogues were relatively easily converted to cultural function, major 19th-century synagogues were more difficult to utilize. Unfortunately, in the 1960s and 1970s often the prayer room was divided into two floors by the extension of the women's gallery, and with that the original meaning of the synagogue space was lost, as for instance in the large Arena ut synagogue in Budapest, which functions as a sports club. From the 1980s more strict restorations became the norm by preserving the bimah and Ark and adding new functional elements less conspicuously. For instance, the synagogue in Novi Sad (Serbia) was successfully converted into a concert hall. The synagogue in Osijek (Croatia) is a Pentecost Church. The Hungarian synagogues in Baja, Apostag, became municipal libraries, the synagogue in Budapest-Obuda a tv studio, the Pava utca synagogue of Budapest became integrated into the Holocaust Center, the Romantic synagogue in Kecskemet became a house of technology. The early modern synagogue in Kosice (Slovakia) is the seat of the local philharmonic orchestra, the medieval synagogue in Maribor (Slovenia) is an exhibition space.
The Old Synagogue in Holesov, the old synagogue Velke Mezirici, the upper synagogue in Mikulov, all in Moravia (Czech Republic), serve exhibition purposes. The Prague synagogues have been restored. The Meisel synagogue is an exhibition space, and the Pinkas synagogue is a unique Holocaust Museum, with the names of all the victims inscribed on the walls.
In Poland the great synagogue in Zamosc houses a library and reading room, the synagogue of Tykocin houses a museum, Lancut synagogue houses the regional museum and an exhibition of Judaica, in Rzeszow the Old Town Synagogue presently houses archives, and the New Town Synagogue presently serves as an art center.
[Rudolf Klein (2nd ed.)]
origins and history: I. Levy, The Synagogue (1963); M. Friedlaender, Synagoge und Kirche (1908); I. Abrahams, Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels, 1 (1917; repr. 1967), 1–17; idem, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages (19322), 1–48; S. Zeitlin, in: paajr, 2 (1930/31), 72ff.; E. Sukenik, Ancient Synagogues in Palestine and Greece (1934); Baron, Community, 1 (1947), 55–74 and passim; idem, Social2, index; I. Sonne, in: idb, 2 (1962), 476ff.; J. Weingreen, in: Hermathena, 98 (1964), 68–84 (Heb. version in: Hagut Ivrit be-Eiropah (1969), 253–65); F. Zevi, in: Scritti in Memoria di Enzo Sereni (1970), 61–74 (Heb. section). desecration and destruction: E. Ringelblum, Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto (1958); D. Davidovitch, Battei Keneset be-Polin ve-Ḥurbanam (1960); Eduyyot, 1 (1963), 5–82 (evidence at the Eichmann trial); J. Sandel, Zydowska sztuka kultowa (1953); A. Kubiak, in: bzih, 2–3 (1953), 122–70; 4 (1953), 73–96. israel: Israel Government Year Book (1950– ), s.v. Religious Affairs; J. Pinkerfeld, Battei ha-Kenisiyyot be-Ereẓ Yisrael (1946); Jewish Agency, Iggeret la-Golah, 55/56 (1955); 60 (1956); Israel Ministry of Religious Affairs, Beit ha-Keneset Ma'amarim u-Massot (1955); S. Piker, Tefillah ba-Areẓ (1962); M. Piron, in: Maḥanayim, 95 (1964), 118–23. in the soviet bloc: S.M. Schwarz, The Jews in the Soviet Union (1951); W. Kolacz, Religion in the Soviet Union (1961); A.A. Gershuni, Yahadut be-Rusyah ha-Sovyetit (1961); E. Wiesel, The Jews of Silence (1966); Ben-Ami (A.L. Eliav), Between Hammer and Sickle (1967); S. Rothenberg, in: L. Kochan (ed.), The Jews in Soviet Russia Since 1917 (1970), 159–87 (incl. bibl.). architecture: S. Krauss, Synagogale Altertuemer (1922); H. Kohl and C. Watzinger, Antike Synagogen in Galilaea (1916); E.L. Sukenik, Ancient Synagogues in Palestine and Greece (1934); Goodenough, Symbols, vols. 1–3; M. Avi-Yonah, in: Roth, Art, 157–90; B. Kanael, Die Kunst der antiken Synagoge (1961); brf, 1–3 (1949–60); M.I. Rostovtzeff, Dura-Europos and Its Art (1938); H.F. Pearson, A Guide to the Synagogue of Dura-Europos (1939). middle ages to the 18thcent.: G.K. Lukomskii, Jewish Art in European Synagogues (1947); W.S. Seiferth, Synagogue and Church in the Middle Ages (1970); M. and K. Piechotka, Wooden Synagogues (1959); R. Wischnitzer, The Architecture of the European Synagogue (1964); F. Cantera-Burgos, Sinagogas Españolas (1955); F. Cohn-Wiener, Die juedische Kunst (1929); B. Muenzer, Die Altneusynagoge in Prag (1932); A. Grotte, Deutsche, boehmische und polnische Synagogentypen (1915); R. Krautheimer, Mittelalterliche Synagogen (1927); O. Boecher, Die Alte Synagoge zu Worms (1960); A. Kashtan, in: Roth, Art, 253–308; J. Pinkerfeld, Battei ha-Keneset be-Italyah (1954); idem, "Battei ha-Keneset ba-I Djerba u-Sevivato" in his: Bi-Shevilei Ommanut Yehudit (1957), 60–74. contemporary: A. Shecket Korros and J.D. Sarna, American Synagogue History: A Bibliography and State-of-the Field-Survey (1988); A. Kampf, Contemporary Synagogue Art (1966); A. Wischnitzer, Synagogue Architecture in the United States (1955); R. Meier (ed.), Recent American Synagogue Architecture (1963); Jamilly, in: Roth, Art, 756–95; P. Thiry, R. Bennet, and H.L. Kamphoefner, Churches and Temples (1953); Ben-Uri, in: M. Hacohen (ed.), Beit ha-Keneset (1955), 195–242. add. bibliography: B.M. Baader, Gender, Judaism, and Bourgeois Culture in Germany, 1800 – 1870 (2006); B. Brooten, Women Leaders in the Ancient Synagogue (1982); K. Goldman. Beyond the Synagogue Gallery: Finding a Place for Women in American Judaism (2000); S. Grossman and R. Haut (eds.), Daughters of the King: Women and the Synagogue (1992); P.E. Hyman and D.D. Moore (eds.), The Jewish Woman in America (1998), articles on Reform Judaism (K. Goldman), Conservative Judaism (S.R. Schwartz), Orthodox Judaism (J. Gurock); C. Krinsky. Synagogues of Europe (1985); L.I. Levine. The Ancient Synagogue (2000); J. Wertheimer, The American Synagogue (1987), R. Wischnitzer. The Architecture of the European Synagogue (1964).
SYNAGOGUE . The origins of the synagogue are obscure and will probably never be known. This is in part because the synagogue developed in a nonrevolutionary manner, its significance recognized only once it was a well-established institution of Jewish life. A hint of the original function of this institution may be found in its most prominent Greek and Hebrew names used in antiquity, sunagogē and beit knesset. Both refer to an assembly or house of assembly. Numerous theories have been propounded to explain the origins of this institution. The most venerable of these places the origins of the synagogue in Babylonia (modern Iraq) during the sixth century bce. There, "by the waters of Babylon," this theory suggests, the exiled Judeans assembled to "sing the Lord's song in a strange land" (Ps. 137). Ezekiel 11:16, "Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a lesser sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone," has often been cited in support of this thesis. This approach has roots that go back at least to the medieval period in Babylonia (modern Iraq), and it was developed further by Christian Hebraists beginning in the seventeenth century in their attempt to find biblical antecedents for later Jewish practice. More recent theories place the origins of the synagogue in third-century bce Egypt, asserting that Jewish "prayer places" (proseuchē ) described in inscriptions were in fact the earliest synagogues, or elsewhere in the Western Diaspora. These approaches assert the priority of exile and hence distance from the Jerusalem Temple as a determining factor in the formation of the synagogue. In recent years the origins of the synagogue in biblical Israel have been asserted. According to this theory, the Second Temple–period synagogue was the descendant of the "gate of the city" of biblical times. None of these approaches is supported by sufficient data.
An approach that is more clearly supported by the available evidence suggests that the synagogue as a place for religious ritual was a development of the later Second Temple period. This approach begins with the fact that institutions known as "synagogues" are clearly evidenced in literary and archaeological sources from the first century ce, and it cautiously assumes a development that occurred before synagogues were mentioned in literary texts without asserting a specific moment when the first synagogue appeared. A long prehistory is assumed by Acts of the Apostles 15:21, by Josephus Flavius (Against Apion 2.175), and by the ancient rabbis (e.g., t. Megillah 2:12), all of whom assert the existence of synagogues in hoary biblical antiquity. The factors occasioning the earliest development of the synagogue were shared by other communities in the Greco-Roman world. The general trend toward smaller religious communities that existed side by side with the major cults of each city was adopted by Jews in Palestine and in Diaspora settings. This phenomenon may be evidenced in Egypt as early as the third century, if the "prayer places" (proseuchē ) known from epigraphy were in any way similar to "prayer places" known from the writings of the first-century Egyptian scholar Philo of Alexandria. A Jewish "prayer place" from the second century bce was discovered on the Greek island of Delos. We have no idea what kinds of "prayer" took place in these early "prayer places." By the first century (and undoubtedly much earlier) the increasing significance of Scripture and its interpretation in Second Temple–period Judaism set the liturgical frame for these synagogues. This focus on Scripture and scriptural interpretation is expressed early on in the public ceremony of reading and interpreting the Pentateuch described in Nehemiah 8, a Persian-period text that exercised a profound influence upon later synagogue practice.
The best evidence for synagogues during the first century is a monumental inscription found just south of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem by R. Weill in 1913–1914. This Greek inscription translates:
Theodotos, son of Vettenos the priest and synagogue leader (archisynagogos ), son of a synagogue leader and grandson of a synagogue leader, built the synagogue for the reading of the Torah and studying of the commandments, and as a hostel with chambers and water installations to provide for the needs of itinerants from abroad, which his fathers, the elders and Simonides founded.
The terminus ad quem for the inscription is the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 ce. It provides evidence of three generations of priestly synagogue leaders. The liturgical focal point for this, and for every other Second Temple–period text that has been recovered, is scriptural study. This is clearly the element that distinguished synagogue liturgy, both for Jews and non-Jews. Philo describes the Sabbath liturgy of an Essene "synagogue" in Palestine:
For that day has been set apart to be kept holy and on it they abstain from all other work and proceed to sacred places (hierous…topous ) that they call synagogues (sunagogai ). There, arranged in rows according to their ages, the younger below the elder, they sit decorously as befits the occasion with attentive ears. Then one takes the books (biblous ) and reads aloud and another of especial proficiency comes forward and expounds what is not understood.…
Luke 4:16–30 and the Acts of the Apostles 13:15–16 provide additional early illustrations of public Scripture reading and explication in synagogues. It is unknown whether other liturgical acts were performed in synagogues at this time, though ample numbers of later Second Temple–period Jewish prayer texts are extant.
It is likely that the earliest synagogue buildings (like many after them) were simply rooms within domestic structures with no special renovations, and hence are unidentifiable archaeologically. Five purpose-built or purpose-renovated buildings that might be identified as later Second Temple–period synagogues have been excavated in Israel. These were uncovered at Masada, Gamla, Herodian, Kiryat Sefer, and Modi'in. Other supposed synagogues, at Magdala, Capernaum, and Jericho, are far less likely. Gamla is the earliest synagogue. This large public building was built on the eastern side of Gamla, next to the city wall. Built of local basalt, this structure is rectangular (13.4 by 17 meters). The main entrance was on the west, with an exedra and an open court in front of it. The center of the hall was unpaved and surrounded (except for the main entrance) by stepped benches. The synagogue at Masada is a ten-meter-square room that was converted by the Jewish rebels who inhabited this desert fortress from 66 to 74 ce. The rebels added banks of benches on each wall, and a small room on the northwestern wall within which were found fragments of the books of Deuteronomy and Ezekiel. The literary definition of the first-century synagogue as a house of assembly where Scripture was studied is uniquely paralleled in this structure. At Herodian a room was converted by Jewish rebels with the addition of benches that were similar to those at Masada. The synagogues at Kiryat Sefer and Modi'in are small freestanding structures with benches lining the walls. It seems likely that these communal buildings served as synagogues as well, though there is no epigraphic evidence to support this identification.
Late Antiquity: The Late Roman and Byzantine Periods
Evidence for synagogues during the second through the fourth centuries is mostly literary. Rabbinic literature from Palestine and from Sassanid Babylonia (modern Iraq) present synagogues as regular features of the Jewish communal landscape. Early rabbinic (Tannaitic) literature mentions a broad range of activities that took place within synagogues. These included the recitation of Aramaic translations of the Torah reading (m. Megillah 4:6,10), Torah blessings (t. Kippurim 3:18), sounding of the ram's horn (shofar ) on the new year (m. Rosh Hashanah 3:7), use of the palm frond (lulav ), myrtle, willow, and citron (ethrog ) on the feast of Tabernacles (m. Sukkah 3:13; t. Sukkah 2:10), recitation of the Book of Esther reading on the Feast of Esther (Purim), possibly even by women (m. Megillah 2:4), recitation of the hallel psalms (t. Pesahim 10:8), eulogies (t. Megillah 2:18), public oaths (m. Shevuot 4:10), local charity collection (t. Shabbat 16:22; t. Terumah 1:10; t. Baba Batra 8:4; Matt. 6:2), communal meals (m. Zavim 3:2; m. Bekhorot 5:5). By the third century they were also used as elementary schools (y. Megillah 3:4, 73a). Rabbinic literature suggests the development of an increasingly standardized public liturgical tradition, important elements of which were enacted within synagogues (e.g., m. Berakhot 7:3). Rabbinic public prayer (the "public" defined as a quorum of at least ten men) took place in formal thrice-daily sessions as well as in the context of communal meals. This format continues to this day. In liberal Jewish communities the quorum now includes women. In antiquity there was considerable variation in custom dependent on locality and scholar, modern scholars differing on the balance between variation and standardization. Rabbinic liturgy was built around the recitation of the "Shema (Deut. 6:4–9, 11:13–21; Num. 15:37–40) and its blessings" together with the Eighteen Benedictions (also known as the "Standing prayer," the Amidah ) morning and evening, and the Eighteen Benedictions with accompanying liturgy in afternoon prayers. Prayer times, though not the content of these rituals, were associated with the times of the Temple sacrifices. By the third century public prayer was described homiletically as being equivalent in efficacy to sacrifices in the Temple, although the notion of the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple was never questioned in liturgical terms until the advent of modern Reform Judaism. In rabbinic times synagogue prayer and the preexisting public reading of Scripture melded into a single liturgical structure. The Torah was publicly read, with attendant blessings, in the morning and afternoon services on the Sabbath and festivals and on Monday and Thursday mornings. A reading from the prophets (the haftarah ) accompanied the Sabbath morning and festival Torah reading. Scripture reading was simultaneously translated into Aramaic (later concretized in Targum texts such those preserved in Targum Neofiti and Targum Onkelos ), a tradition that was popular into the early Middle Ages and is still followed by Yemenite Jews. Various cycles for reading Torah existed in antiquity. Palestinians generally completed the entire Pentateuch in something more than three years, while Babylonians read on a yearly cycle. The Babylonian custom is followed in all traditional communities today.
The increase in synagogue functions was paralleled by the developing notion that synagogues were in some way holy. Mishnah Megillah 3:1–3 describes the centrality of Scripture within the synagogue, as well as the transient holiness ascribed to this institution by the early rabbis. At the focal point of the synagogue, this text suggests, was the Torah scroll, which stood at the top of a hierarchy:
The people of a town who sold their town square: They must buy a synagogue with its proceeds; If they sell a synagogue, they must acquire a (scroll) chest. If they sell a (scroll) chest, they must acquire cloths (to wrap sacred scrolls). If they sell cloths, they must acquire books (of the Prophets and Writings). If they sell books, they must acquire a Pentateuch (scroll). But, if they sell a Pentateuch, they may not acquire books (of the Prophets and Writings). And if they sell books, they may not acquire cloths. And if they sell cloths, they may not acquire a chest, And if they sell a chest, they may not acquire a synagogue. And if they sell a synagogue, they may not acquire town square.
Tosefta Sukkah 4:6 projects a second-century Palestinian reality onto a great synagogue in Alexandria. This text focuses attention upon a large podium (bimah ) upon which the biblical texts were read, with no mention of a Torah shrine. An ideal synagogue is described in Tosefta Megillah 21–23, which establishes categories that set the parameters of Jewish legal discussions of synagogue architecture for the next two millennia. At the same time it suggests a second focal point within synagogues: orientation toward Jerusalem.
The Community leader (hazan ha-knesset ) arises to read, someone stands until the time when he reads. How do the elders sit? Facing the people, their backs to the qodesh. When they set down the (Scroll) chest—its front is toward the people, its back to the qodesh. The hazan ha-knesset faces the qodesh. All the people face the qodesh. For it is said: "and the congregation was assembled at the door of the tent of meeting (Lev. 8:4)." The doors of the synagogue are built on the eastern side, for thus we find in the Tabernacle, for it is said: "Before the Tabernacle toward the east, before the tent of meeting eastward (Num. 3:38)." It is only built at the highest point of the town, for it is written: "Above the bustling (streets) she (wisdom, i.e., Torah) calls out (Prov. 1:21)."
The location of the synagogue and some of its internal arrangement are articulated through reference to the biblical Tabernacle and the Temple of Jerusalem. Alignment toward Jerusalem as focused through a Torah cabinet became basic to synagogue architecture, as did the notion that the ideal synagogue should be higher than the surrounding structures (the latter having generally been kept in the breach). The identification of the synagogue with the Temple was a developing concept throughout antiquity and the medieval period. By the third century the cabinet (teva ) was being called arona (cabinet, reminiscent of the Ark of the Covenant), and its curtain parokhta, reminiscent of the Temple curtain. There is no evidence for the physical separation of men and women in ancient synagogues, though a social distinction existed. Physical gender separation is known beginning during the early Middle Ages, when it was seen as an expression of the holiness of the synagogue due to its conceptual relationship with the Temple (where gender separation sometimes occurred).
The dual foci—the scrolls as local cult object along with a more subtle physical alignment in the direction of Jerusalem—became ideologically significant features of almost all synagogues until modern times. While the standard codes of Jewish law all legislate that the synagogue interior be aligned toward the Torah shrine on the Jerusalem wall of the synagogue, local realities were far more complex even in the most rabbinically oriented medieval and early modern com-munities.
Archaeological evidence for purpose-built synagogues begins to appear during the late third or early fourth century, becoming quite common between the fifth and ninth centuries. Undoubtedly there were many other buildings that are archaeologically unidentifiable as synagogues. More than one hundred synagogues are known archaeologically from the Land of Israel, and another ten structures have been discovered that served Diaspora communities. At least 150 Diaspora synagogues are known from literary and archaeological sources. The earliest extant late-antique synagogue is also one of the most important. The synagogue discovered at Dura Europos, a city in the Syrian desert, is the earliest yet discovered, and among the most important. Excavated in 1932, the Dura synagogue was built as a renovated private dwelling. Sometime before 244–245 this dwelling was renovated as a synagogue. The largest room was renovated for this purpose, with a large Torah shrine built on the western (Jerusalem-aligned) wall and benches around the walls. The façade of the Torah shrine was decorated with the image of the Jerusalem Temple, flanked on the right by the Binding of Isaac (which according to 2 Chronicles 3:1 took place on "Mt. Moriah," the Temple Mount) and on the left by a seven-branched menorah, a palm frond (lulav ), and citron (ethrog ). There was some other painting, lost in a massive renovation of the synagogue that took place in 244–245. At that time the walls were completely covered with paintings drawn from the Hebrew Bible and read through the prism of Jewish biblical interpretation (midrash). Sixty percent of the paintings have been preserved. Themes are generally heroic, reflecting such themes as the Discovery of Moses by the Daughter of Pharaoh, the Crossing of the Read Sea, the Tribes encamped around the Tabernacle, Ezekiel's Vision of the Dry Bones, and Esther before King Ahasveros. The paintings show profound parallels with traditions preserved in rabbinic literature, as do Aramaic and Persian inscriptions on the paintings and a Jewish liturgical parchment found near the synagogue. The Dura synagogue has been interpreted as a forerunner of Christian art and as evidence for a supposed late-antique "nonrabbinic Judaism." The evidence is actually much closer to rabbinic tradition than most contemporary scholars have suggested.
Archaeological evidence for synagogues increases from the fourth century onward. Synagogues conforming to three main architectural types were constructed by Jews in late antique Palestine: the broadhouse (e.g., Horvat Shema, Eshtemoa), the "Galilean-type" basilica (e.g., Capernaum, Kefar Baram), and longhouse basilicas (e.g., Hammath Tiberias B, stratum 2a), which from the latter fifth or sixth century onward often were apsidal (Beth Alpha, Na'aran).
The interior space of most of these synagogues was aligned toward a permanent Torah shrine, which usually stood on the Jerusalem-aligned side of the synagogue. The basilica form was used by both Jews and Christians beginning around the turn of the fourth century. "Broadhouse-type" synagogues have benches built around the interior walls, focusing attention upon the center of the room. The broadhouses from the Hebron Hills (e.g., Eshtemoa, Khirbet Susiya) form a regional type. The entrances of these halls were aligned toward the east. The eastward alignment is perhaps modeled upon the Temple, and parallels Tosefta Megillah 3:23. The interior of the synagogue hall was aligned toward the Torah shrine, which stood on the Jerusalem-aligned wall.
Galilean-type basilicas are architecturally related to the narrow gable churches of nearby Syria. Like these churches, most Galilean-type synagogues were entered through three portals. A unique feature of these synagogues is the arrangement of the interior columns. Columns were constructed on the northern, eastern, and western sides of the hall. This served to focus attention on the interior of the southern, Jerusalem wall with its three portals. Scholars have posited that Torah shrines were constructed between the doors on the Jerusalem wall at Capernaum, Chorazin, and Meiron. In an instructive parallel, S. D. Goitein notes that in synagogues in Yemen two entrances flank the Torah shrine on the Jerusalem wall and that this arrangement existed in a synagogue in medieval Hebron.
Basilical synagogues were constructed throughout the Land of Israel. In "basilica-type" synagogues the visitor might cross the expanse of the atrium, sometimes a narthex, and the nave, to reach the Jerusalem-aligned wall. At the center of this wall was the building's focal point, the Torah shrine, which often stood upon a raised platform. Following contemporary church architecture, synagogues from the late fifth century onward often included an apse on the Jerusalem wall that housed the Torah shrine, and the platform was often surrounded by a low partition (called in Christian context a "chancel screen") decorated with Jewish iconography.
The art of Palestinian synagogues, particularly decorated mosaics, is an integral part of the late Roman and Byzantine artistic tradition. The synagogue at Beth Alpha contains the most completely preserved Byzantine period mosaic and well exemplifies this tradition. It builds on iconography well known from the Hammath Tiberias B, 2a mosaic, with its images of the zodiac and a panel containing a Torah shrine flanked by two menorahs. The Beth Alpha mosaic is divided into three panels. As at Hammath Tiberias, closest to the Torah shrine of the synagogue is a panel containing the image of a shrine flanked by lighted menorahs. In the center is a zodiac wheel, personifications of the seasons in the corners, and unique to this building, closest to the entrance to the synagogue, the image of the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22).
Zodiacs and some other images are often labeled in Hebrew, the language of Scripture and most liturgy, even as dedicatory inscriptions appear in Aramaic and Greek. At Beth Alpha the narrative of the scene is glossed with biblical citations in Hebrew. Biblical themes in other synagogues include David (Gaza), Daniel in the Lion's Den (Na'aran and Khirbet Susiya), and Gerasa (Noah's Ark, labeled in Greek). Sepphoris contains the Angelic Visitation to Abraham (Genesis 18), the Binding of Isaac, Aaron before the Tabernacle, and other cultic imagery. Jews continued to use images of the zodiac long after Christians abandoned this imagery, owing to the significance of the heavens and constructions of time in Jewish thought and liturgy.
Archaeological remains of late-antique synagogues show important parallels to contemporaneous liturgical and rabbinic texts. This is particularly evident in inscriptions, where formulae show clear relationships with literary sources. A very significant example is the Rehov inscription, discovered in the narthex of a sixth-century synagogue. This twenty-nine-line inscription, which deals with local agricultural law, is the earliest extant physical evidence of a rabbinic text. Increased decoration of the physical environment of Palestinian synagogues paralleled the development of increasingly complex liturgical texts. Professional poets composed prayers for each Sabbath and festival according to the local reading cycles. These texts (piyyutim ) were often quite complex. Named poets appear from the fourth century onward, beginning with Yosse ben Yosse, Yannai, Eleazar son of Rabbi Qallir, Yehuda, and Yohanan the Priest. These homiletic texts strongly parallel public homilies (midrashim ) and traditions in Targumic literature. There is no theme in synagogue art that does not find important parallels in these literatures. The tradition of virtuoso poets preparing liturgical compositions for synagogue performance continued through the Middle Ages, particularly (though hardly exclusively) in areas of Italy and Northern Europe that continued elements of the Palestinian liturgical tradition.
Known Diaspora synagogues during this period conform to local architectural norms. What unifies them are the presence of a large Torah shrine and often images of menorahs. Other than Dura, the most impressive extant Diaspora synagogues were uncovered in Ostia Antica, the ancient port of Rome, and in Sardis in Asia Minor. The Ostia synagogue building was first constructed toward the end of the first century of the Common Era, though it is not known whether it served as a synagogue at this point. The use of the building as a synagogue went through two stages. It was enlarged during the second and third centuries, then enlarged further and partly rebuilt at the beginning of the fourth. The entrances in the façade of the basilica from the second through third centuries are aligned toward the east-southeast, perhaps in the direction of Jerusalem. A stepped podium stood on the wall opposite the main entrance. A Latin and Greek inscription from this phase makes mention of a shrine for the Torah:
For the well-being of the emperor! Mindus Faustus established and built (it) and set up the ark (keiboton ) of the Holy Torah (nomo hagio ).
During the fourth century the southernmost entrance portal on the eastern wall of the synagogue was sealed and replaced with a large freestanding Torah shrine. This Torah shrine is structurally contiguous with images of shrines in wall paintings and gold glasses discovered in the Jewish catacombs of Rome and with images on oil lamps discovered in Ostia.
The Sardis synagogue is the largest and the grandest synagogue yet uncovered, its main hall measuring fifty-four by eighteen meters. It has been estimated that the synagogue could accommodate one thousand people. This impressive building, the largest synagogue known before the modern period, was part of the municipal center of Sardis and taken over by the Jewish community and remodeled as a synagogue during the fourth century. It formed the southern side of the civic center of Sardis. The remodeling included the installation of two aediculae on stepped podia on the eastern wall of the synagogue and the construction of a podium in the center of the hall. The significance of these aediculae is made clear both by their prominence and by an inscription found near them that reads "Find, open, read, observe." Another Greek inscription refers to the Torah shrine as the nomophylakion, "the place that protects the Torah." A molding from the synagogue contains both an inscribed menorah and the image of a Torah shrine with its doors open to show scrolls stacked horizontally within it.
We know little of the liturgies of Jews in the western Diaspora. John Chrysostom describes synagogue customs in fourth-century Antioch as part of his polemic Against the Jews, aimed against Judaizers within his community. These include blowing the ram's horn on Rosh Hashannah, walking barefooted and fasting on Yom Kippur (known from rabbinic literature), and incubation in synagogues. He also knows that Jews and non-Jews considered synagogues to be holy places, the sanctity of the place being construed as deriving from the presence of biblical scrolls. Chrysostom suggests that reading of Psalms was important to synagogue liturgy. Inscriptions, most notably a Greek rendition of Psalm 135:25 discovered in ancient Nicaea (today Iznik in Turkey) supports this. These characteristics (other than incubation) were also prevalent in synagogues in Palestine and in Sassanian Iraq that are described in the Babylonian Talmud. The great significance of Torah shrines and images of shrines full of scrolls suggests the centrality of Scripture within Diaspora communities, as it was for communities in the Land of Israel.
Medieval and Modern Synagogues
Liturgies during medieval and modern times were largely based upon models developed already in classical rabbinic literature. While significant differences exist between Ashkenazic (Central and Eastern European) rites, Sephardic (Spanish and Portuguese) rites, Italian, and the rites of Jews in the lands of Islam, the differences are far outweighed by the continuities. Modern liturgies maintain continuity to the extent that each movement sees itself as bound by Talmudic tradition. The interior furnishings of synagogues also follow ancient models as preserved in rabbinic sources. These include a large permanent Torah shrine (called aron ha-qodesh, "Holy Ark" by Ashkenazim; hekhal, "shrine," by Sephardim), generally on the Jerusalem-aligned wall of the synagogue and a platform for reading Scripture.
In all periods of Jewish history, the physical structure of the purpose-built synagogue buildings generally followed the styles prevailing in contemporary non-Jewish architecture. Neither early rabbinic literature nor later medieval and modern rabbinic scholars focused on the architectural aspects of the synagogue. Architects, however, were confronted with a major liturgical problem. Since two major components of the synagogue were the Torah shrine and the platform (bimah ) from which it was read, the spatial relationship between the two had to be resolved. The sixteenth-century Sephardic legalist Joseph Caro (1488–1575) reflects on this tension. Caro debates whether the platform must be placed in the center of the hall or whether it could be joined with the Torah shrine, usually on the Jerusalem-aligned side of the building. Caro writes: "the placement [of the bimah ] in the center is not required, rather everything depends upon the locality and the time…" (Kesef Mishneh to Maimonides' Mishneh Torah 11:3). Solutions (and nonsolutions) differed from community to community. In Central Europe, for example, the center of attention was the almemor, the reading podium, which dominated the entire space. In baroque and rococo Italy, however, a harmonious solution was found between the reading podium and the Torah shrine by placing them at opposite ends of the hall, connected by a broad and open central aisle. Seating was placed on the sides. In such a way neither dominated but both contributed to a sense of balance.
Medieval and Pre-Emancipation Synagogues
Much of what we know about synagogues in Byzantine Palestine and under medieval Islam is derived from the documents discovered in the repository of the medieval Ben Ezra Synagogue in old Cairo (Fostat), itself an exceptional example of synagogue architecture under Islam. Archaeological evidence for medieval European synagogues is widespread beginning near the turn of the first millennium. The famous Worms synagogue, built in 1175, is generally accepted by scholars as the oldest surviving medieval synagogue. Although the original was destroyed by the Nazis, a faithful reconstruction now stands in its place. Its double-nave building, patterned after Romanesque chapter houses of convents and monastic refectories suggest a model that is found in such later Ashkenazic synagogues as the famous late thirteenth-century Altneuschul of Prague, the old synagogue of Kraców (in the suburb of Kazimierz), and those of Regensburg, in Bavaria, and Buda (now part of the city of Budapest). The almemor (bimah) in these synagogues predominated: it stood in the center between two columns or piers.
There are two synagogues extant in Toledo, Spain, albeit transformed into churches after the expulsion in 1492: the five-aisled synagogue later known as Santa María la Blanca and the synagogue later known as El Tránsito. In style Santa María la Blanca resembles twelfth-century Moroccan mosques. El Tránsito was built around 1357 by Shemu'el ha-Levi Abulafia, treasurer to King Pedro the Cruel of Castile. Its ornamental plasterwork with Hebrew inscriptions and Mudéjar designs is especially noteworthy. The Sephardic (Spanish-Portuguese) synagogue of Amsterdam, designed by the Dutch architect Elias Bouman around 1675, became the prototype for synagogues for the entire Sephardic world. The Amsterdam synagogue, a large, galleried basilican hall, was clearly inspired by neighboring Protestant churches.
The many rural wooden synagogues in Poland, Lithuania, and the Ukraine, most destroyed by the Nazis, are most interesting. Dating from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, these wooden synagogues, probably constructed by anonymous Jewish craftsmen, had intricate multicolored painted interiors. In many of them, four wooden columns supported the interior domed bimah. Numerous synagogues are extant from this period from Islamic countries, India, and elsewhere in Asia and the Americas. Among the most exotic is a synagogue known only from drawings dated 1722 by a Jesuit missionary. The synagogue of Kaifeng, China, was built in a local vernacular architecture and furnishings. A raised bimah stood at the center of the prayer hall, with a Torah shine aligned toward Jerusalem on the western wall.
Modern Synagogue Architecture
During the nineteenth century, when Jews in Western Europe were emancipated and American Jews strove for full acceptance, prominent architects, some of whom were Jewish, built large and impressive synagogues as statements of the new status of Jews in Western society. These synagogues were often built in neo-Islamic and neo-Byzantine styles (although sometimes the Romanesque was employed), ostensibly to emphasize the Eastern origins of Judaism. Neoclassical synagogues were also constructed, especially in America at the turn of the twentieth century as an alternative to Christian and Moslem architecture and as a statement of a developing Jewish-American synthesis.
In the modern period, many innovations have been introduced to synagogue architecture, particularly within liberal communities. Separate seating for women has been eliminated in liberal synagogues, thus generally making balconies or separate rooms unnecessary. In America, Reform (and today, many Conservative) synagogues are referred to as "temples," originally in an attempt to distance their communities from traditional beliefs in the messianic return to Zion and the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple and to avoid the term "synagogue," which had negative connotations in Christian circles. Prayer services became far less participatory and hierarchical, following Protestant liturgical models. This was expressed architecturally through the construction of a single podium at the focal point of the synagogue, which housed a Torah shrine, a reading table (often turned toward the congregation rather than toward the shrine), and a speaking lectern. During the postwar years daring experimentation by such leading architects as Frank Lloyd Wright and Erich Mendelssohn employed a modernist aesthetic for American synagogue buildings. Synagogues were consciously integrated into their surroundings, and the maximum use of glass brings nature into the sanctuary. Recent years have seen a turning away from the monumentality of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century edifices. Synagogue architecture in America has become far less monumental, responding to a current the focus on "spirituality" and "community." The central bimah has reappeared in liberal synagogues (and reasserted itself within Orthodox contexts), as more participatory and less hierarchical liturgical forms have emerged.
Fine, Steven. Art and Judaism During the Greco-Roman Period: Toward a New "Jewish Archaeology." Cambridge, 2005. In addition to presenting a liturgical analysis of ancient synagogue remains and further reflection on the notion of synagogue holiness, Fine discusses the significance of ideology and influence of ancient synagogue architecture in the construction of American neoclassical synagogues.
Fine, Steven, ed. Sacred Realm: The Emergence of the Synagogue in the Ancient World. New York, 1996. Essays by Fine, E. Meyers, L. Rutgers, L. Feldman, R. Hachlili, and A. Shinan survey the history, literature and archaeology in the ancient world.
Grossman, Susan, and Rivka Haut, eds. Daughters of the King: Women in the Synagogue. New York, 1992. Essays in this volume discuss both the history of women's participation in synagogue life and more recent developments in North American Jewish communities.
Gruber, Sam. "Archaeological Remains of Ashkenazic Jewry in Europe: A New Source of Pride and History." In What Athens Has to Do with Jerusalem: Essays in Classical, Jewish, and Early Christian Archaeology in Honor of Gideon Foerster, ed. L. Rutgers, pp. 267–301. Louvain, 2002. The most recent and comprehensive study of archaeological remains of early European synagogues.
Gruber, Sam. American Synagogues: A Century of Architecture and Jewish Community. New York, 2003. A general presentation of the history and architecture of synagogues in America during the twentieth century.
Gutmann, Joseph. The Jewish Sanctuary. Leiden, Netherlands, 1983. An introduction to the synagogue, its art and arch-itecture.
Jarrassé, Dominique. Synagogues: Architecture and Jewish Identity. Paris, 2001. This survey of synagogue architecture is refreshing both because it is not focused on the United States, but on synagogues of the Islamic world and Asia.
Krinsky, Carol H. Synagogues of Europe. New York, 1985. Krinsky surveys the architectural history of the synagogue in Europe.
Lambert, Phyllis, ed. Fortifications and the Synagogue: The Fortress of Babylon and the Ben Ezra Synagogue, Cairo. Montreal, 2001. An in-depth study of the Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo, this collection throws considerable light on the history of the synagogue during the medieval and modern periods in the lands of Islam.
Levine, L. I. The Synagogue: The First Thousand Years. New Haven, Conn., 2000. A handbook for the study of the synagogue from its origins to the rise of Islam.
Reif, Stefan C. Judaism and Hebrew Prayer. Cambridge, U.K., 1993. A survey of the history of Jewish prayer from its origins to the modern period.
Joseph Gutmann (1987)
Steven Fine (2005)
A syngagogue is a building devoted to the practice of Judaism through prayer, study of the Torah, and practice of the religious obligations set forth by God through Moses to Israel at Mount Sinai; a community of Jews formed for the purpose of practicing Judaism. The synagogue, along with the associated cemetery, was the first institution Jews created in the United States, beginning in colonial times in New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, Savannah, and Newport, and it remains the principal institution for the practice of Judaism, including religious education, in the United States. Public worship ordinarily takes place in buildings constructed for that purpose, which set aside as the focal point of public worship an ark in which the Torah scrolls of the community are kept.
In Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative synagogues, men and women sit together; in Orthodox synagogues they are seated separately, and a mehisah, or partition, separates them; or the women are seated in balconies. Synagogue worship may be led, and the Torah may be read, by any qualified person (male in Orthodoxy). But in the United States it is common for synagogues to employ full-time clergy, called rabbis, who are qualified for service by knowledge of the Torah, and many synagogues also call on cantors, hazzanim, to recite the service. In addition to large public halls for community occasions, synagogues always encompass schoolrooms for regular class sessions for all age groups and often provide for smaller prayer spaces for occasions on which the congregation is few in number. In the United States, where large numbers of persons attend services on a few occasions during the year, such as the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), a synagogue will provide for expansion through folding doors and walls to open up the main sanctuary. But synagogue worship also takes place in private homes, and a congregation may number from ten upward.
The synagogue, a place of organized communal worship of God and study of the Torah, is well attested from the first century c.e. and certainly antedates that time, though its origins are still unclear. Many think that the synagogue originated after the destruction of the first Temple in 586, finding in Ezekiel 8:6, 14:1, 209:1 references to such an institution (e.g., "the little sanctuary" of Ezekiel 11:16). For Jews outside the Land of Israel, in any event, the synagogue was the center of the religious life. Synagogues small and large were built by Jewish communities wherever Judaism was practiced, and the synagogue has been the principal institution of that religion for nearly the whole of its existence. Prayer took the place of sacrifice, and the word for Temple service, abodah, "labor," was taken over as the word for prayer, "the labor of the heart." The liturgy of the synagogue morning and evening corresponds to the liturgy of the Temple when it stood. And from ancient times forward, the synagogue served not only as a center for prayer and Torah study but also as a meeting place for the Jewish community.
In the United States the conception of the synagogue as a community center, set forth originally by Mordecai M. Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, greatly broadened the scope of synagogue activity. The synagogue center includes not only a place for prayer and study but also space for a library, clubrooms, activities in music, drama, photography, dance, and sports, social and cultural programs, and even sports and swimming facilities, so that the synagogue-center serves as a center for all leisure-time activities. The center model redefined in broad terms the character of the synagogue and the Jewish community that it served, extending the definition of Judaism as a religion to include the Jews as an ethnic group.
Synagogues in the United States fall into six main groups: Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, integrationist ("modern") Orthodox, segregationist Orthodox, and Hasidic. Reconstructionist synagogues look for rabbis to the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and follow the teachings of Mordecai Kaplan. Reform synagogues turn to Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion and originate in the synagogue reforms first of liturgy, then of law and theology of nineteenth-century Germany, whence immigrants brought Reform Judaism to the United States. Conservative synagogues look to the Jewish Theological Seminary of America for rabbis; they differ from Reform synagogues in using more Hebrew in public worship and adhering more closely to the received liturgy and forms of prayer. Integrationist Orthodoxy, the Orthodox Judaism that affirms the possibility of observing the Torah and also participating in modern life, finds its rabbis at Yeshiva University. Segregationist Orthodoxy, which holds that the life of the Torah requires separation in all possible ways from all aspects of the Gentile world, takes shape around yeshivas, or intensive seminaries for Torah study. There are no important liturgical differences between integrationist and segregationist Orthodoxy, though there are important distinctions in the everyday life patterns of adherents to the one and the other. Hasidic groups conform to the norms of Orthodox Judaism in most respects, but they have some customs and convictions that distinguish them as well. Chief among these is the importance they assign to their rabbis, rebbes, who are not only teachers of the Torah, as in the normative synagogues, but also holy men and intermediaries between man and God. They dispense blessings and advice and are at the very center of Hasidic Judaism. Some Hasidic groups take shape around a small number of congregations, but others form worldwide organizations. The leading Hasidic Judaism is Habad, a.k.a. Lubovitch, which maintains representatives in every country in which Jews, however few, are located, and which further sends rabbis into prisons and other locations not commonly ministered to by mainstream synagogues and national organizations.
Synagogues in the several classifications form national synagogue organizations as well. These are as follows: Reform: Union of American Hebrew Congregations; Conservative: United Synagogue; integrationist-Orthodox: Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations. Reform and Conservative synagogues also relate to overseas counterparts through the World Union of Progressive Judaism and the World Council of Synagogues, respectively. All American synagogue organizations maintain relationships, in addition, with Israeli counterparts.
In architecture, contemporary American synagogues have aimed at simplicity of design and decoration, using painting, sculpture, textiles, mosaics, and stained glass to create a sacred space. While for a long time the congregation was seated in long rows facing the bimah, or platform, from which the service was presented, a different pattern has taken shape in the recent past. The congregation is seated around the center point, or on three sides of it, with the ark at the back wall; a greater sense of community at worship is attained, in place of the experience of an audience at a play on a stage that the former pattern afforded. The auditorium plan of organization of the synagogue had the lectern in front of the ark, but the new pattern makes the ark the visual focus and sets the lectern to the side.
Chiat, Marilyn. Handbook of Synagogue Architecture. 1982.
Heilman, Samuel C. Synagogue Life: A Study in SymbolicInteraction. 1976.
Liebman, Charles S. Orthodoxy in American Jewish Life. 1966.
Neusner, Jacob, ed. Understanding American Judaism:Toward the Description of Modern Religion, 2 vols. 1975.
Raphael, Marc Lee. Profiles in American Judaism: TheReform, Conservative, Orthodox and ReconstructionistTraditions in Historical Perspective. 1984.
Rudavsky, David. Modern Jewish Religious Movements, 3rd ed. 1979.
Sklare, Marshall. Conservative Judaism: An American Religious Movement. 1977.
Local assembly of the Jews primarily for religious worship and their place of assembly for this purpose. The term synagogue is derived from the Greek συναγωγή and originally designated the assembly or community. In time it came to denote also the place where the community convened. Among modern Jews, reform congregations and some conservative ones call their synagogues "temples," whereas Yiddish-speaking Orthodox Jews employ the term Schul (school).
It is not possbile to pinpoint in time and place the origins of the synagogue. It is generally conjectured that its beginnings lie sometime in the period of the Babylonian Exile, during which time, it is known, the people came together in the homes of prophets or leaders of the Hebrew community probably to console one another in their common distress (Ez 8.6; 11.16; 14.1; 20.1; 33.1). In the postexilic period there appears to have been a broad development of the synagogue throughout Palestine and elsewhere where the Jews settled in sufficient numbers. Though in its primal origins the synagogue seems to have been chiefly a house of study, it became, with the passage of time, a house of prayer as well.
In Palestine the synagogue was usually given a prominent and convenient location within the town. The Jews of the diaspora were often constrained to build their synagogues outside the city limits, for the Romans were intolerant of alien places of worship within the precincts of their towns. Medieval Jewry built its synagogues within the ghetto, where in some instances (e.g., Rome) several synagogues stood side by side.
The ancient synagogues in Palestine were prevailingly constructed in the basilica form. In the Diaspora, by and large, no one style of synagogue architecture was preferred above the rest, but in each country and in each century that architectural mode was followed which prevailed generally. There is one notable instance of distinctive synagogue architecture. It was developed in Poland at a time when Jewish culture flourished in that country. The type of structure that emerged was eminently suited to the rites and uses of Jewish worship, for the requirements laid down by the Talmud were integrated into the basic design of the building.
As is known, a strict interpretation of Ex 20.4 rules out all carved and painted images of living beings for use anywhere, but especially in places of worship. However, from the decorations found in synagogues dating from different periods one must conclude that Jewish attitudes varied through the centuries as to what was allowable and appropriate for synagogue adornment. At one time, it seems, exception was taken to representations of men and animals. At another time such images were apparently acceptable as long as they were not in relief.
Originally, it appears, women did not go in any numbers to synagogue services, and so no special provisions were made for them in the ancient, Oriental synagogues; that is, women were permitted to worship in the same room with men. Among the Jews of the West it was more common for women to attend the synagogue. Though even in the West, in ancient times, no separation was made of men from women, eventually it became customary to set aside an area for women. This space was separated from the main hall by a grating. In recent times the separation has increasingly been made less of, so that in American reform congregations, for instance, no separation is observed between the sexes.
In antiquity the only required equipment for a synagogue was a chest to contain the sacred scrolls. This receptacle generally took the form of a portable wooden box and was sometimes spoken of as the "holy ark," an expression allusive of the ark of the convenant. In some places, it became the practice to cut out a niche for it in the east wall. At an early date a platform was introduced for reading the Torah. A lamp called the Ner Tumid (eternal light) was hung before the holy ark and was kept burning constantly out of reverence for the Torah.
Both Christ and his disciples maintained a constant contact with the synagogue. Luke recounts a visit by Christ at the outset of his public life to the synagogue in His native Nazareth (Lk 4.16–28). Thereafter in the report of the ministry of Jesus found in the Gospels, there are frequent references to His attendance at the synagogue (e.g., Mt 9.35; Mk 1.39; Lk 4.44; Jn 6.59). The synagogue in the earliest days of Christianity served as a forum for proclaiming the Gospel. Both Stephen and Paul, in the beginning at least, pursued the practice of preaching Christ in the synagogue (e.g., Acts 6.9; 17.2).
Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, translated and adapted by l. hartman (New York, 1963) 2374–76. k. galling, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 6: (557–559). i. elbogen, Der jüdische Gottesdienst in seiner geschichtlichen Entwicklung (Leipzig 1913). k. kohler, The Origins of the Synagogue and the Church, ed. h. g. enelow (New York 1929). m. i. rostovtsev, Dura-Europos and Its Art (Oxford 1938). e. schÜer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, tr. j. macpherson et al., 5 v. (Edinburgh 1897–98); new and abr. ed. n. n. glatzer (New York 1961). e. l. sukenik, Ancient Synagogues in Palestine and Greece (London 1934). d. holisher, The Synagogue and Its People (New York 1955).
[j. c. turro]
W. Papworth (1887)
syn·a·gogue / ˈsinəˌgäg/ • n. the building where a Jewish assembly or congregation meets for religious worship and instruction. ∎ such a Jewish assembly or congregation.DERIVATIVES: syn·a·gog·al / ˌsinəˈgägəl; -ˈgôgəl/ adj.syn·a·gog·i·cal / ˌsinəˈgäjikəl/ adj.
In religious controversy from the Middle Ages, the word was given derogatory use as a term for an assembly of the wicked or heretical; in medieval iconography, Synagogue may be shown as a blindfolded figure contrasted with the sighted Church.