The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Jewish Art and Life   The Synagogue Route: Holiness and Beauty  
The Synagogue Route: Holiness and Beauty
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"I removed them far off among the nations, I have scattered them among the countries, yet have I been as a little sanctuary in the countries where they are come"
Ezekiel 11:16

Infused with a sense of the holy, the synagogue is the focal point of Jewish life: the main place of communal worship and also often the scene of educational, social, and cultural activity. When the Temple, the people’s national spiritual center, was destroyed in 70 CE, the offering of sacrifices came to an end. The synagogue, referred to in the sources as a “little sanctuary  [or temple],” remained as the heart of religious life. Prayer replaced sacrifice, and reading from the Torah scroll – the synagogue’s most sacred object, which imparts its sanctity to the place as a whole – became an important part of the service.

The ark (aron kodesh or heikhal) that houses the Torah scrolls is located on the side of the synagogue facing Jerusalem, since Jewish prayer is always oriented toward the site of the Temple. When the scrolls are brought out for reading, they are placed on the raised reader’s desk (bimah or teivah), which is also where the person leading prayers usually stands. Apart from these constant structural features, synagogues vary greatly over time and from place to place. Jewish sources mention a range of principles regarding location, construction, external appearance, and interior design. These different rules are combined with local architectural practice, resulting in a wealth of synagogue styles.

Four original, reconstructed synagogues from three continents are displayed here, along with Torah scroll ornaments representing communities around the globe. The synagogue route, embracing a long historical and geographic journey, reveals the diversity of sacred spaces and objects, as well as a common religious tradition and a shared desire to beautify what is holy.

Collection online

The Vittorio Veneto Synagogue

The Horb Synagogue

The Kadavumbagam Synagogue

The Tzedek ve-Shalom Synagogue