German Jews’ Architectural Romance with Medieval Spain

Sept. 23 2016

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.

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Read more at Seforim

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

Iran’s Dangerous Dream of a Triple Alliance with Russia and China

Aug. 16 2022

Unlike Hamas, which merely receives support from the Islamic Republic, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—with which Israel engaged in a short round of fighting last week—is more or less under its direct control. In fact, the recent hostilities began with a series of terrorist attacks launched by PIJ from Samaria, which might in turn have been a response to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s call “to open a new front in the West Bank against the Zionist enemy.” Amir Taheri writes:

In Gaza, the Islamic Republic has invested heavily in promoting Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. . . . Islamic Jihad is in a minority in Gaza, hence the attempt by Tehran to help it create a base in the West Bank.

Reliable sources in Baghdad say that [Iran’s expeditionary and terrorist paramilitary] the Quds Force has been “transiting” significant quantities of arms and cash via Iraq to Jordan, to be smuggled to the West Bank. The Jordanian authorities say they are aware of these “hostile activities.” King Abdullah himself has publicly called on Iran to cease “destabilizing activities.”

But such schemes, Taheri explains, are part of a larger strategic vision of creating a grand anti-Western alliance even while engaging in nuclear negotiations with the U.S. and Europe:

Last month, Khamenei praised Vladimr Putin for his invasion of Ukraine. And this month, China’s ambassador to Iran, Chang Hua, praised the Islamic Republic for supporting China in “asserting its sovereignty” over Taiwan.

It is clear that some dangerous pipe-dreamers in Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran have fallen for the phantasmagoric vision of “three great powers” banding together and with help from “the rest,” that is to say, the so-called Third World . . . to destroy an international system created by the “corrupt and decadent.”

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Read more at Gatestone

More about: China, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Russia, West Bank