December 14, 2009


Swiss minaret ban recalls synagogue bans of past eras (Ruth Ellen Gruber, December 14, 2009 , Jewish Telegraph)

To me, the ban on minarets recalled centuries of restrictions on the size or prominence of synagogues. The Swiss ban is just the latest example of how governmental authorities target religious architecture as a means of limiting religious or cultural expression.

From early medieval times, synagogues in Europe often were forbidden to stand taller than Christian churches, and in many cases they were forbidden even to be outwardly visible. There were restrictions on synagogue architecture in Muslim countries, too.

This had nothing to do with zoning. It was a way for the dominant religion to demonstrate control over minority faiths, their practice and their adherents.

Opulently decorated synagogue sanctuaries often were hidden behind anonymous exteriors, and a number of synagogues had their floors and foundations laid much lower than street level so they wouldn't be too tall. These included Vilnius' own Great Synagogue, which was built in the early 17th century.

But religious architecture, too, often suffered much worse than restrictive regulation; it was targeted for destruction as a symbol of the people who prayed there.

"Beginning in the fourth century and continuing through the Middle Ages, and again in the 20th century, the 'legal' restriction and destruction of synagogues quickly led to the same policies applied against individuals, and then whole communities," said Samuel Gruber, president of the International Survey of Jewish Monuments.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 14, 2009 6:10 PM
blog comments powered by Disqus