Creating a Modern Synagogue Style: Tradition from Function
As Rachel Wischnitzer-Bernstein has adequately shown, there is no living tradition of construction and style in the architecture of synagogues. The floundering attempts to invent a tradition by rationalistic analogies and ad hoc history result, as in most modern public building (the synagogues are neither better nor worse), in a painful superficiality, ludicrous a year after completion. On the contrary, it is just those synagogues, like that in Newport, Rhode Island, which were the plainest handling of a contemporary way of building, that turn out to age gracefully and to take on a certain venerability. Yet there is a tradition in the synagogue: the tradition of the service, of the sacred objects and furniture, and—to a degree—of the iconography—its symbols and decorations—and there is. also a tradition of the congregational functions of the building.
In all these there is variation from rite to rite, national group to national group, and generation to generation: what the Sephardim do and what the Ashkenazim do, what the Orthodox do and what the Conservatives do, what the Talmud-learners do and what the American social workers do. But this kind of historical and experimental variation within unexpressed limits is just what is meant by a tradition.
About the Author