No such thing as ‘Jewish architecture’

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No such thing as ‘Jewish architecture’
The Israel Museum
No such thing as ‘Jewish architecture’
The Israel Museum

Lacking a body of historical precedents, creating a ‘Jewish’ architecture simply isn’t possible. Yet any true Israeli architecture would have to give expression to our Jewish identity and values.

There’s no such thing as “Jewish” architecture.

Most synagogues in the Diaspora weren’t designed by Jews and mainly resembled the architecture of their host countries. Until modern times, the synagogues of Europe were built by Christian architects. Fear of idolatry and transgressing the second commandment limited Jewish artistic activity for generations to the adornment of ritual objects.

Judaism has always been mainly a literary culture in which the height of achievement was to be a scholar of the Torah. Moreover, in Judaism, the emphasis is placed not on the physical but on the spiritual. Lacking a body of historical precedents, a Jewish architecture could not possibly have flowered.

Centuries passed before Jews in the Diaspora were formally permitted to enter the architectural profession.

Walter Gropius did allow Jewish students to study at the famous Bauhaus (1919-1933) in Germany, but there was just a single Jew among the 14 instructors – Hannes Meyer, a rationalist architect and a communist.

With the decrease of anti-Semitism following World War II, greater numbers of Jews began to enter the profession. By 1960, three Jewish architects – Oscar Niemeyer of Brazil, Eric Mendelsohn (born in Poland) and Richard Neutra (born in Austria), were already counted among the masters of 20th century architecture, but Judaism was never their point of departure. While today we have quite a number of Jewish architects of international stature, their works are irrelevant to Jewish life. []

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