December 12, 2018

The Secular Architecture of Jewish Holy Spaces

“In contrast to Christianity, Judaism is not perceived as having inspired beautiful buildings; Jewish religious structures are more often regarded as merely functional.

But the exhibition “Concrete Folklore,” at the Architects House Gallery in Jaffa, displays synagogues built in Israel, mainly in the 1960s and ‘70s, that reveal an aesthetic side of Judaism. They may have aged somewhat, especially their interiors, but these synagogues still stand out as prominent landmarks in the history of Israeli architecture.

Architect Naomi Simhony is guest curator of the exhibition, in collaboration with Dana Gordon, curator of the gallery itself. A doctoral student whose research deals with synagogues in Israel’s early years, Simhony says she approached the subject as a secular person looking at how architecture has given physical shape to the Jewish faith. “Unlike Christianity, Judaism doesn’t give architectural guidelines. It doesn’t define the exteriors,” she says. “There is a list of things that must be placed inside, like benches and the ark. When non-observant Jews see the list – and most of the synagogue architects represented in the exhibition were secular – the list becomes an adventure.””

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