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.

Read more at Seforim

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

American Aid to Lebanon Is a Gift to Iran

For many years, Lebanon has been a de-facto satellite of Tehran, which exerts control via its local proxy militia, Hizballah. The problem with the U.S. policy toward the country, according to Tony Badran, is that it pretends this is not the case, and continues to support the government in Beirut as if it were a bulwark against, rather than a pawn of, the Islamic Republic:

So obsessed is the Biden administration with the dubious art of using taxpayer dollars to underwrite the Lebanese pseudo-state run by the terrorist group Hizballah that it has spent its two years in office coming up with legally questionable schemes to pay the salaries of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), setting new precedents in the abuse of U.S. foreign security-assistance programs. In January, the administration rolled out its program to provide direct salary payments, in cash, to both the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Internal Security Forces (ISF).

The scale of U.S. financing of Lebanon’s Hizballah-dominated military apparatus cannot be understated: around 100,000 Lebanese are now getting cash stipends courtesy of the American taxpayer to spend in Hizballah-land. . . . This is hardly an accident. For U.S. policymakers, synergy between the LAF/ISF and Hizballah is baked into their policy, which is predicated on fostering and building up a common anti-Israel posture that joins Lebanon’s so-called “state institutions” with the country’s dominant terror group.

The implicit meaning of the U.S. bureaucratic mantra that U.S. assistance aims to “undermine Hizballah’s narrative that its weapons are necessary to defend Lebanon” is precisely that the LAF/ISF and the Lebanese terror group are jointly competing to achieve the same goals—namely, defending Lebanon from Israel.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, U.S. Foreign policy