On Thursday, October 27th, we were honored to host Dr. Anat Geva and hear her talk about architecture in synagogues around the world. Dr. Geva came to the United States 25 years ago in pursuit of her Ph.D., and now works in the department of architecture at Texas A&M University. She still works as a consultant on projects around Bryan and College Station, but focuses on sacred architecture.
Synagogues, or Beit Kneset, are a house for gathering and a house for the people. Although they all serve similar purposes, synagogues do not have a distinctive style. This is due to the destruction of the temple long ago and fear of continuing persecution. Additionally, a lack of resources and general lack of Jewish professionals in the architecture field contributed to less outstanding design of synagogues. Finally, there are also no guidelines for what the synagogue should look like in the Bible or later rabbinic tradition.
Due to the lack of Jewish professionals in the field many synagogues were built by the congregants’ own hands. This is why many synagogues around the world look like surrounding buildings; they had nothing else to base their design off of. This was also another way to avoid persecution.
Although the exteriors of synagogues look very different, the interiors are very similar. Each synagouge has an ark that faces Jerusalem, as well as an ark curtain, bima, menorah, and eternal light. However, Sephardic and Ashkenazi interiors differ a little.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic from Dr. Geva you can look out for her forthcoming book on synagogue architecture.