The Public Face of Judaism
Past Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship recipient Saskia Coenen Snyder has a new book coming out on Harvard University Press: Building a Public Judaism: Synagogues and Jewish Identity in Nineteenth-Century Europe.
The gist: in the 1800s, a lot of Jewish communities in western and central Europe built beautiful new synagogues. They built self-consciously and deliberately, and these synagogues were designed to represent the communities to their non-Jewish neighbors (to be the community’s public face). As a result, when we study these synagogues, we learn what the communities thought of themselves and what they wanted others to think of them.
This is what we’re talking about (read on for more pics and offical description):
This project takes a comparative approach to building projects initiated by Jewish communities in Amsterdam, London, Berlin, and Paris. By crossing the conceptual boundaries of history, architecture, and urban studies, it explores the dynamic relationship between synagogue building and Jewish identity in nineteenth-century Europe. Many communities initiated building projects at this time, consciously tying synagogues to the new public face of Judaism. Indeed, synagogues took on a new central role in mediating Jewishness in a modern society. By examining the debates over architectural style, location, size, spatial lay-out, reform, and etiquette—all of which were related to Jewish self-representation and acculturation in predominantly Christian societies—we gain a more nuanced view of how Jews saw themselves and how they wanted to be seen by their contemporaries. The built environment, and synagogues in particular, thus proves a useful lens through which to gauge the complexities of Jewish life at this time.