How a Stained-Glass Window Caused Controversy for a 19th-Century New York Synagogue

On May 18, 1850, the Anshi Chesed synagogue on Manhattan’s Lower East Side moved into a grand, newly completed building that was then the largest Jewish house of worship in New York City. The new structure included a prominent stained-glass window depicting the Ten Commandments—and that, as Jenna Weissman Joselit writes, led to unexpected controversy:

As stunning as the building’s exterior turrets and as modern as its chandelier, [the window] floated right above the ark that contained the Torah scrolls, commanding the attention of those seated in the pews below. The window’s unusual shape also drew the eye. Instead of embedding the ten prescriptions within the rigid and customary geometry of two tablets, [the designer] had them marching freely within the circumference of a circle. These Ten Commandments were in the round. More like the spokes of a wheel than the flat inscriptions on a stele, each “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not” was housed within its own unit of glass. To heighten the effect, a series of ten petal-shaped panels occupied the center of the composition. . . .

Thrilled at first by the positive publicity [the window received], the members of Anshi Chesed soon changed their tune and, in the time-honored tradition of congregants everywhere, began to grumble and murmur darkly about their distinctively configured Ten Commandments window. The minutes of the synagogue, which dutifully record this and other instances of congregational dissension, contain scarcely a clue about the identity of the naysayers. . . . As momentum for [the window’s] displacement accelerated, Anshi Chesed’s lay leaders decided to quell further dissent within their ranks by forming a committee. The committee approach to problem-solving had recently become a regular feature of the congregation, . . . a testament to its newfound democratic ethos. . . . And now, dutifully drawing on the Hebrew words for the Ten Commandments, Anshi Chesed decided to constitute its very own “Committee on Aseres hadebros,” whose members set out to repair the situation.

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More about: American Jewish History, Lower East Side, Religion & Holidays, Synagogues, Ten Commandments

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war