Synagogue Art in Jewish Life


For centuries, Jews populated the villages, towns and cities of continental Europe until the Holocaust destroyed their communities and their lives. They no longer live in the thousands of villages, towns and cities of their former prominent presence, but the houses, shops, factories and community institutions that the Jewish culture had created remain there, ownerless and unguarded.

Surviving synagogue buildings and cemeteries are often the only structures that are of recognizably Jewish origin. The synagogues were the places most fully charged with specific Jewish identity. Their art and architecture constitute a record of what was esthetically important to the communities that built and used them. Synagogue art must therefore be documented, remembered and preserved as a major visual element of Jewish history.

With this mission in mind, Rivka and Ben-Zion Dorfman documented synagogue art and architecture, particularly in the lesser known hinterland. In Austria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia and the former Yugoslavia, they sought out synagogue buildings in villages, towns and cities to record the grandeur – and the desolation – that remained of the former Jewish presence.

Many buildings had been converted by local populations into dwellings, storerooms, churches, commercial premises or other mundane uses. In the past two decades, however, a trend has developed for restoration to cultural use and some are being turned into galleries, museums, libraries and concert halls. As this site develops and expands, it will present new and current information on this aspect.

The primary source for the present content of this Synagogue Art Research website is the Dorfmans’ book Synagogues Without Jews – and the Communities that Built and Used Them. A growing cadre of enthusiastic volunteers is busy researching the histories of Jewish communities and preparing them for posting on this site, together with photographs from the Dorfman Archive of Synagogue Art Research.

We invite your comment and participation.

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