The history of the synagogue in America, a new book shows, is one of rifts, splits, factions and the ever-evolving tension between tradition and modernity.
A Jew is shipwrecked on a desert island. Ten years later, a passing ship notices his campfire and stops to rescue him. When the captain comes ashore, the castaway thanks him profusely and offers to give him a tour of the little island. He shows off the weapons he made for hunting, the fire pit where he cooks his food, the synagogue he built for praying in and the hammock where he sleeps. On their way back to the ship, however, the captain notices a second synagogue. “I don’t understand,” the captain asks.
My father’s shul of choice, a Modern Orthodox congregation, was located a mile from our home, in the school auditorium at the Yeshivah of Flatbush. The men and women were separated by a mechitzah, a partition. I would sit with my friends and chat, as my father did with his, as people do in Orthodox shuls. We talked about the World Series. My father and his friends would tell Yiddish jokes, and argue about Zionism and biblical philology.
A Conservative woman rabbi grapples with her Syrian family’s gender-stratified customs.
Like virtually all Syrian Jews, my father was a staunch traditionalist. A faithful synagogue goer every Shabbat, he would never have considered Reform or Conservative Judaism as an option for himself or for his family. Instead, clean-shaven, in a dark suit and doused with cologne, he would attend Shabbat services every Saturday morning at the traditional Syrian congregation near our home in Brooklyn’s Midwood neighborhood — and later on go to work.
A rabbi reflects on why American Jews need the minyan now more than ever.
Leon A. Morris
Depictions of American Jews on television are often a barometer for the way in which Jewish writers, and presumably Jewish viewers, understand their Jewish identity. The 1990s series “Northern Exposure” featured the character of Joel Fleischman, a young Jewish doctor from New York who moved to rural Alaska to practice medicine as the town’s only physician. In one episode, when Joel receives word that his uncle Manny has died, he seeks a minyan with whom to say Kaddish. (Never mind that one is not obligated to say Kaddish for an uncle.)
Excavations from Israel over the past 50 years suggest that synagogues may be older than we initially thought.
Eric M. Meyers
The discovery of the Byzantine-period synagogue at Beit Alpha with its wonderful zodiac mosaic and naïve artistic style, and its subsequent excavation by Eliezer Lipa Sukenik, father of Yigael Yadin, in 1929 put synagogue archaeology on the map.
When we celebrate Shavuot in two weeks, we’ll commemorate the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. Our synagogues are the places we go throughout the year to continue to find echoes of that revelation. But transcendence aside, we also seek out synagogues for community, ritual, learning and shared history — and in some places, the trademark shul with a pool.
Synagogues are places of meaning, sanctuaries for the soul, magnets for community. This month, we look at their history, both ancient and modern; art and architecture; ritual and prayer. And, we feature several personal stories about synagogues and their
Of all the arcana of Jewish life, that most universal instrument, the Jewish calendar, is one of the more enigmatic. Solar? Lunar? Length of month? Two days of a holiday, or one? What about the “leap month”? And whence derives our calendar? Ancient Judaea/Palestine? Babylonia? The Tanakh? The Talmud?
Can the zodiac be integrated into the Jewish tradition?
When my great-nephew Owen arrived in the world in January, there was a collective spate of “Your constellation is good!” OK, we shortened the sentiment to “mazal tov!” but the meaning was the same. We were congratulating the new parents on their mazal (from Akkadian, “location of a star”), luck that’s credited to the stars and has nothing to do with merit. Which begs the question: Is there mazal for Jews?