The Power of Architecture by Matthew Hinshaw

The 3rd century CE synagogue at Bar’am, in Israel’s Upper Galilee, and the late 20th century synagogue Temple Adath Yeshurun, in Syracuse New York, both utilize a foreign architectural language to assert legitimacy. The 50 by 66 meter Bar’am synagogue features a triple arched entryway, sculpted lions, and carved reliefs of winged victories and animals; in size, plan, and decoration it resembles contemporary Roman temples located nearby at Kedesh and Horvat Omrit.  In Syracuse, Temple Adath Yeshurun occupies a commanding hill top position and features two pyramids with aspect ratios similar to those of the ancient Pyramids of Giza, Egypt.

At the time each of these synagogues was constructed, their communities were experiencing external pressures. The Jews of Bar’am lived within a mixed milieu of pagans and Christians, all bound to the rule of imperial Rome. The conservative Jews of Temple Adath found themselves competing with a new conservative congregation founded less than a decade prior (B. Davis and B. Rabin, Jewish Community of Syracuse [Arcadia Publishing, 2011]). Both communities responded by using the power of architecture. At Bar’am this meant leveraging Roman architectural design, the most authoritative mode in the 3rd c. Levant. In Syracuse, reference was to the enduring power of ancient Egypt. While each execution is different, in a challenging time, both communities employed resonant foreign architectural traditions to affirm their own stability and strength.