German Jews’ Architectural Romance with Medieval Spain

As German Jewry underwent radical change beginning in the late 18th century—with the Jewish Enlightenment, the birth of Reform Judaism, the abandonment of Yiddish, and a transformation in Jewish legal status—many found a model to emulate in the Jews of medieval Spain, at least in the somewhat romanticized picture of them offered by early scholars of Jewish history. Among the effects of this trend was the construction of synagogues in the Moorish style. The grandest of these was the Neue Synagoge on Berlin’s Orienburger Strasse, which Lewis Carroll visited twice and described as “most gorgeous.” John Efron writes:

Beginning in the 18th century, with increasing fraternization between upper-class Jews and Christians and exposure to bourgeois tastes and sensibilities, Jews, long considered to be in religious error, came to believe that they were also in aesthetic error. In almost all corporeal and cultural categories, Jews found themselves to be deficient, occasioning among them a crisis of aesthetic confidence. . . . [This crisis] drew them to the Sephardim, whom they imagined as dignified, elegant, eloquent, and beautiful. . . .

Between the 1830s and 1860s, the advent of neo-Moorish synagogues, with their towering minarets, giant domes, polychrome exteriors, windows with Islamic-style arches, and stunningly ornate interiors were the most visible, indeed, the most spectacular manifestation of an imagined Sephardi aesthetic and the only one that was created in partnership with non-Jews—the architects, builders, city planners, and councils who approved such structures.

While there are neo-Moorish synagogues all over the world, what makes Germany the most important site for this architectural style is that it was the first place such synagogues were built, and secondly, that these were the only buildings in Germany [created in this style, which] almost all architects dismissed as suitable only for entertainment and recreational purposes. . . .

The [Orianburger Strasse] synagogue’s external centerpiece was an onion dome that soared majestically some 160 feet into the air. Wrapped in a blanket of zinc and swaddled in gold ribbing, crowned with a Star of David, the great dome was the brightest and most joyful architectural feature to be found anywhere in Berlin. It was also the tallest structure in the city. The central portal was flanked by towering minarets that borrowed heavily from North African mosques and from the Giralda, a late-12th-century minaret in Seville, while the crenellations were typical of those found on Cairene mosques.

Read more at Seforim

More about: Architecture, German Jewry, History & Ideas, Reform Judaism, Sephardim, Spain, Synagogue


How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus