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January 01, 1982 - Image 48

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1982-01-01

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48 Friday, January 1, 1982


Synagogue Origin Defined in Gutmann-Edited Book

Acknowledged as em-
o phasizing the centrality of
Jewish life everywhere, the
synagogue has nevertheless
remained somewhat
shrouded as to its historic
background and develop-
Under the guidance of Dr.
Joseph Gutmann, professor
of art history at Wayne
State University, research
into the beginnings and de-
velopment is accounted for
in an important new vol-
ume, "Ancient Synagogues:
The State of Research"
(Scholars Press, Chico,
Seven prominent au-
torities joined with Dr.
Gutmann in writing essays
for this volume. Their basic
theme is explained by Dr.
Gutmann in the preface:
"No one, I believe, will
argue that the synagogue
has been anything but the
central institution of
Judaism for the last 2,000
years; hardly anyone will be
minded to refute the claim
that the synagogue and its
mode of worship are crucial
for an adequate under-
standing of Christianity
and Islam. The synagogue,
truly the spiritual mother of
its two daughters — the
church and the mosque — is
pivotal for the development
of two of the most important
and influential world reli-
"Although we know a
great deal about the history
of the synagogue and many
scholarly books and articles
have been devoted to it,
there are still many aspects
of the institution that are
unclear or in dispute. Even
so, amazing archeological
discoveries in the 20th Cen-
tury and refined historical
methodologies, have dic-

tated re-evaluation of the
origins, development,
architecture, symbolism
and liturgy of the
"We recognize now that
the synagogue reflects a
major revolution in
Judaism. The centralized
Temple in Jerusalem was
the residence of divinity to
whom hereditary priests of-
fered prescribed daily sac-
rifices in order to assure the
fertility of the Land of Is-
"The synagogue, on the
other hand, was simply a
decentralized place of as-
sembly where divinity was
symbolically invoked by lay
worshippers through reg-
ularized prayers and cere-
monial rites. The goal of the
synagogal gatherings was
to help the individual wor-
shipper achieve salvation of
his soul after death and re-
surrection in the messianic
"It has also become in-
creasingly clear that the
major documents of early
rabbinic Judaism — the
Babylonian and Jerusalem
Talmuds — preserve only
isolated fragments of con-
temporary Jewish praxis.
Were we to judge by the
Babylonian Talmud, for
example, we would have no
idea of the existing art of the
synagogue, which the ar-
cheological spade has been
unearthing for us, nor do
the extant texts offer a true
picture of the pervasiveness
of mysticism and popular
superstitions which
flourished among Jews at
that time.
"The seven scholarly pap-
ers which follow address
themselves to four signific-
ant areas of synagogal re-
search in need of re-
examination and reassess-

ment. All, with the excep-
tion of the essay by Jacob
Neusner, were read at the
annual meeting of the
Socitey of Biblical Litera-
ture/American Academy of
Religion held in New York
on Nov. 18, 1979.
"The four areas under
discussion are:


Origins of the
Synagogue: Though still
commonly attributed to
Sixth Century Babylonia,
the synagogue's origins, ac-
cording to the latest re-
search, are probably trace-
able now to Second Century
BCE Palestine.

"2. Symbols of the
Synagogue: What is be-
coming increasingly evi-
dent is a continuum of sym-
bolic choice. The symbolism
of the Jerusalem Temple
and its sacrificial cult was
purposely appropriated by
the synagogue. Ancient
Temple symbols were rein-
terpreted and utilized in the
synagogue as meaningful
salvationary symbols. -

"3. Liturgy of the
Synagogue: Recent re-
search indicates the words
of many early synagogal
prayers have no objective,

verifiable meaning, but
functioned simply as sym-
bolic verbal vehicles, all
leading the worshipper to
mystic contemplation of the
divine image. It is further
pointed out that the liturgi-
cal language and practices
were not uniform in the
early synagogue, but re-
sponded with infinite
variety to local and regional
cultural influences.
"4. Archeology of the
Synagogue: The pervasive
picture, so common in
scholarly accounts, of a uni-
form or normative rabbinic
Judaism prevailing in the
Roman and Byzantine
periods now has to be aban-
doned. Archeological evi-
dence of the last 60 years
makes it abundantly clear
that a rich diversity existed
in the Judaism of Palestine
and the Diaspora.
"The symbols, decorative
styles and architectural
forms employed in the
synagogue buildings all
point to distinct local and
regional Jewish traditions
in both the art and the prac-
tices of the synagogue. It is
for future research to dis-
cover the manifold diver-
sity of rabbinic Judaism in
the Roman-Byzantine
"One hopes that the areas
of synagogal research so
penetratingly, if sketchily,
set forth by the present
writers will soon be fleshed
out by fresh research
deepening our knowledge in
this significant field."
The variety of topics re-
lating to the synagogue his-
tory and background are
best defined in the list of es-
says and their authors:
"Synagogue Origins:
Theories and Facts," Joseph
Gutmann, "The Symbolism
of Ancient Judaism: The

Synagogues," -Jacob
Neusner; "Censoring In and
Censoring Out: A Function
of Liturgical Language,"
Lawrence A. Hoffman; "An-
cient Synagogue Architec-
ture: An Overview," An-
drew R. Seager.
Also, "First-Century
Synagogue Architecture:
Methodological Problems,"
Marilyn -J. Chiat; "Ancient
Gush Halav Giscala, Pales-
tinian Synagogues and the
Eastern Diaspora," Eric M.
Meyers: and "Social Sys-
tems of Six Diaspora Syna-
gogues," A. , Thomas
Dealing with the theories
and facts about the origin of
the synagogue, Dr. Gut-
mann asserts that the
emergence of the synagogue
"most likely" was brought
about by the "Hasmonean
revolution in Second Cen-
tury BCE Judea." He adds:
"Just as Alexandrian and
other Diaspora Jewries met
the challenges of Hellenism
by adapting pentateuchal-
theocratic Judaism to Hel-
lenistic concepts, so Judean
Jewry too rose to the chal-
lenge of Hellenism. The
Judaism of Judea, however,
was more than an adapta-
tion of the existing Judaism
to Hellenism; it was a revo-
lutionary restructing of
"A scholar class, known
as Pharisees, came to
power, intellectuals who for
the first time used the Pen-
tateuchas proof text to forge
new institutions and a novel
two-fold legal system;
known as the Written Law
and the Oral Law. The goal
of the priestly, cultic reli-
gion, as spelled out in the
Pentateuch, had been to in-
sure fertility of the land
through animal sacrifices
offered at the centralized

Temple in Jerusalem.
"The goal of the new
Pharisaic religion was to
assure the individual's sal-
vation after death and his
bodily resurrection in the
messianic age. All this was
to be achieved by each indi-
vidual without sacrifices or
priests but through the ob-
servance of the laws (the
halakhot), systematically
set forth in the divinely re-
vealed two-fold Law.
"The synagogue, one or
the unique Pharisaic in-
stitutions, became an im-
portant meeting place
where through prayers and
ceremonial practices the in-
dividual Jew could affirm
his loyalty to the two-fold
Pharisaic law, with the
guarantee that its obser-
vance would bring about
salvation of his soul and re-
"Thus a major historical
event in Second Century
BCE Judea ushered in the
Pharisees and their new in-
stitution — the synagogue
— whose existence is not
historically demonstrable
prior to the Hasmonean re-
Dr. Gutmann expresses
appreciation to Dr. Jacob
Neusner and the Max Rich-
ter Foundation for having
made possible the publica-
tion of this volume.
Richly illustrated with
photographs of ancient
synagogues and maps, the
Gutmann-edited volume
marks another impressive
contribution by the eminent
Wayne State University
professor towards acquisi-
tion of knowledge about the
roots of the synagogue. The
findings incorporated in
this book emphasize anew
the leadership assumed in
Jewish life by the house of

Prague Jewish Community Is Blend of Past, Present and Future


Joint Distribution Committee

(Editor's note: In 1981
the Joint Distribution
Committee (JDC), the
overseas arm of the
American Jewish com-
munity, renewed contact
with the Jews of Czechos-
lovakia after a lapse of
some 30 years. The ob-
servations were made
during a visit in August
PRAGUE — The Jewish
community of Czechos-
lovakia is a unique blend of
what was and what will be.
The richest storehouse of
Judaica in Europe, perhaps
in the world, rests undis-
turbed in the State Jewish
Museum in Prague.
The Nazis gathered from
all over Bohemia and

Moravia an extensive col-
lection of the finest silver,
the most ornate tapestries,
tzedaka boxes, clocks,
paintings, and it was all
brought to Prague: it was
their intent to make it a ,
museum — perhaps a
mausoleum — to a people
they had destroyed.
The people yet live, but
row upon row upon -row
of Torah breastplates,
crowns, kidush cups
standing side-by-side in
their sterile glass cases,
like headstones in a
cemetery, testify to the
terrible success of the
The Starenova (Altenau)
Synagogue (the oldest one
in Prague) is not yet a
museum. This shul, built
some 700 years ago, has

been shelter for a minyan
continuously since then —
the oldest synagogue so
used in Europe.
My presence meant a mi-
nyan on Saturday morning.
By the time services were
concluded we numbered six-
teen men. The Jewish com-
munity of Prague is esti-
mated at about 4,000 but
few come to services.
I asked the community
shohet, the local butcher,
how often his services are
needed for kashering
meat; "perhaps once a
month," he said, "per-
haPs less often."
At the conclusion of serv-
ices on Tisha b'Av, a fast
day, the congregation tradi-
tionally walks the block
from their beautiful, Gothic
synagogue to the ancient

cemetery which even pre-
dates the shul, there to pay
homage to the most revered
of the great Jewish sages of

There is a kosher kitchen
in Prague, in the Jewish
Community Building, oper-
ated by the Council of
Jewish Religious Com-
munities in the Czech
Socialist Republic. There,
some of the Jewish commu-
nity gathers after Friday
evening services for their
Shabat dinner. The Secre-
tary General of the Council,
a warm, personable,
energetic, smiling Jew with
numbers on his arm, told me
of two weddings and a brit
in the week before I arrived.
It rained the day I went
to Theresienstadt, an
appropriate environ-
ment. More than 30,000
prisoners passed
through this prison,
many perishing from the
inhuman conditions
here, many more in the
death camps to which
they were sent.

There are no gas cham-
bers here, no ovens, for this

was the "model" prison dis-
played to the Red Cross.
Here was a never-used row
of shaving sinks and mir-
rors; here, there was a
swimming pool for the
guards and an "exercise"
yard in which prisoners'
were executed.
As I drove through the
town of Terezin (a "model"
village), I saw no evidence
that these buildings had
once been a ghetto, crowded
with tens of thousands of
Jews. The little park in
which the orchestra had
performed for the Nazis still
grows green grass, the trees
still provide shade from the'
sun or a little protection
from the rain.
I walked the quiet
streets of Prague again
after returning from
Terezin, walked to the
town square, looked at
the old city hall tower
with its ancient and re-
markable clock. Even
here in the city hall is evi-
dence of the importance
of the Jewish contribu-
tion to Prague's heritage,
for the coat of arms of the
city includes the Magen

David, representing the
Jewish section.
It is. said that the heritage
of Prague is equally domi-
nated by three cultures —
Czech, German, Jewish. Its
greatest authors are the
Jews, Franz Werfel and
Franz Kafka. Today its
leading tourist attraction is
the State Jewish Museum
which attracts 700,000 vis-
itors each year.

I walked across the
Charles Bridge with its
rows of sculptures on either
side and paused in front of
the crucifixion to look at the
Hebrew letters over it, s;
ling out "Kadosh,
Kadosh." I walked on
Meiselova Street, named
after. Rabbi Meisel, and
Josefova Street, and was
struck constantly with the
beauty and quiet of this
stunning Gothic city. At
mid-day or late at night the
city is understated to the
ear and overwhelming to
the eye.
It is to the heart, however,
tnat the Jewish community
speaks — what was . . . and
what will be.


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