Maria and Kazimierz Piechotkowie

Gates of Heaven. Masonry Synagogues on the territories of the Old Polish Republic

Krupski and S-ka Sp. z o.o. Publishing House, Warszawa 1999

480 pages, 647 illustrations (including photographs, drawings, views, profiles, projections), 3 comparative reference compilations, bibliography, index of locations.



This book by Maria and Kazimierz Piechotkowie contains a synthesis of the authors’ views on the most fundamental research issues regarding the origin and development of masonry synagogues on the territories of the Old Polish Republic, as well as a detailed description of selected buildings. The authors have tried to present their views in the most consistent way possible. While their previous book on wooden synagogues was in essence an addendum and verification of the materials already published, this new volume is the first of its kind and an extensive study of masonry synagogues, probably addressed not only to professionals.

In the introduction, the authors briefly present the state of research on masonry synagogues and specify the main structural principles of their new book. In the introductory chapter titled ‘Traditions’, they describe the influence of the Jerusalem Temple on the designs of synagogues and depict ancient synagogues as well as the oldest known examples from western and southern Europe. Based on this background, the authors present the masonry synagogues of Poland using the following main divisions: Chapter 1, ‘Medieval Synagogues’; Chapter 2, ‘The Synagogues of the 16th and the First Half of the 17th Century’; Chapter 3, The Synagogues of the Second Half of the 17th and Early 18th Century; Chapter 4, ‘The Synagogues of the 18th and the Early 19th Century’; Chapter 5, and Chapter 6, ‘The Synagogues of the 19th and the Beginning of the 20th Century’.

The layout of each chapter reflects the problems typical of a given period and each chapter embodies descriptions of synagogues following their division into special categories. In all, chapters three, four and five are devoted entirely to specifically Polish synagogues related to the three periods of their most intensive development on the lands of the Old Poland, 85 separate buildings (and not 82, as stated by the authors themselves in their introduction) were described in 75 different localities. In total, 131 buildings were analyzed in 118 different locations, excluding references to wooden structures. Chapters three, four and five are preceded by maps, and each one is ended with a set of floor plans of the analyzed buildings (the map preceding chapter three includes also buildings from chapter two, due to the latter’s small number).

As faithful readers of the Piechotkas might remember, both in the 1957 volume as well as the one published forty years later, the wooden synagogues were presented in alphabetic order of names of locations. It made possible locating them in the album quickly but made comparisons between buildings erected during the same period rather difficult. In the new book on masonry synagogues the divisions are determined by the chronology and typology of the buildings. Such a layout is much more interesting and beneficial to readers who have some knowledge of the subject matter. For the others, the great majority, there is a lack of indices of detailed entries a failure to organize the material on alphabetic principles and within separate subchapters. The index of geographical locations (a misleading title; after all, Middle East, the Kingdom of Poland, or Dąbrowskie Basin are not precise names of particular locations but of regions) does not solve the problem when we look for a keyword and not for a reference to a given building.

Out of 85 buildings, only 53 entries are illustrated with floor plans. An additional 9 floor plans can be found in reference compilations. It might seem, however, on the basis of information given by the authors themselves and other sources, that the set could have been complemented. For example, we have only hypothetical measurements for the synagogue in Brest Litovsk (Brześć, p. 170), the synagogue in Belz could have been recalibrated from cadastral surveys, while the synagogue in Kutno – from the map of the city of 1823, that exists in the collections of ZAP PW (Department for Research on Polish Architecture, Warsaw University of Technology). It would seem that if Michał Piechotka managed to take some pictures of the synagogue in Różana Grodzieńska, he might have checked at least its approximate dimensions as well (similarly, J.W. Krasnodębski in estimates of Raszków). In spite of the gaps, when looking at those compilations, we cannot help but realize how many of those key buildings exist only on paper today and how much has been lost.

It is rather mysterious why some floor plans of the buildings exist only on comparative tables since in most cases they are connected to separate entries. In addition, the comparative tables contain some floor plans which do not appear throughout the text: the synagogues in Chmielnik, Józefów Biłgorajski, Dukla, Staszów, and Strzyżów. Undoubtedly, their floor plans do fit the described types of buildings. It is regrettable, however, that the tables do not contain those that do not fit, e.g. the floor plans of the synagogue in Chełm or Kupa Synagogue in Krakow’s Kazimierz. Their strangeness should really make one ponder their spatial arrangement (which will be discussed later). Some floor plans in the tables were reconstructed on the basis of partial measurements and photos and, according to the notes in the introduction, they were marked with the letter ‘R’. Hence, the letter R should have been added to the floor plan of the synagogue in Tarnów (compare pp. 180 and 230) of which only a four-post frame of the bimah remained, while that mark was unnecessarily placed next to the plans of the synagogues in Sokal and Szarogród (Shargorod) , as they exist and have been measured (see further references below).

When talking about comparative studies, there is a splendid review of aronot kodesh presented here, (pp. 82-89, 302-309, 237-240), both in photographs as well as in drawings on a uniform scale. I regret to some degree that the authors have not included the preserved, wooden aron ha-kodesh (even though it is not complete) which is kept and permanently displayed at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, most probably taken from one the minor synagogues in Warsaw dated to the early 19th century. The images of bimahs drawn in their views and profiles are very useful. Their review is complemented by perspective lateral profiles of the sort innovatively provided by the authors in their previous book. 15 different buildings are presented in this way, both those still existing (with the drawings of destroyed bimahs) as well those which have been destroyed. In addition, we find a beautiful reconstruction of the interior of the synagogue in Przemyśl created by computer enhancement of a photograph (p. 93).

I doubt whether it was necessary to draw as many as three maps since on the last one all the buildings are marked anyway, and the third, obviously, is the most interesting one. Apart from the buildings which have their separate entries, the map shows synagogues in an additional 38 locations, out of which 25 appear exclusively on that map (i.e. are not discussed in the book at all), hence the map is the most important source for the analysis. The map itself seems to suggest a change in the concept of arrangement of entries: Kraśnik is marked there as if its synagogue enjoyed a separate entry. It is rather hard to arrive at the criteria employed by the authors in their description of the arrangement of some of the main halls as ‘hypothetical’. The question mark which defines the category has been used in case of the synagogue halls both in Grodno and Różana Grodzieńska, which in reality do exist, and Brześć, where the arrangement can only be conjectural, but the mark has been omitted in case of no longer existing synagogues, e.g. one in Kutno or Opatów where we do not have even approximate measurements. I am glad to find the question mark, alongside the symbol of a nine-bay arrangement, assigned to the synagogue in Tarnogród (which does not have a separate entry but whose structure is referred to) as that particular layout is very atypical, a nine bay type with the middle area much larger than usual (just like in case of the wooden synagogue in Targowica, described in the previous book). On the map, the synagogue in Dębica has been marked as a three-nave one, though this type does not apply to buildings dating before the 19th century, and in the text it has been included in the nine-bay type (p. 302). Today, as a result of reconstruction, it really appears to be a three-nave oneand was characterized as such in the catalogue of the extant synagogues.[i] The map surprises with the void east of Druja, Stolin, Ostróg, and suddenly there appear synagogues in Szkłow and Bychów, and to the south those in Szarogród and Raszków (the last one is wrongly marked as the real location should have been in the lower Dnestr River , in the former Bracław voivodship). The synagogue in Międzybóż should have found its place also, be it only on the map, which is of the same type as the one in Podhajce. The latter, regrettably, has not been marked on the map even though its photo is in the book. The somewhat similar external appearance of the synagogues in Husiatyn, Podhajce, and Międzybóż, i.e. ogival windows, is worthy of notice since these are traces of the late Gothic. Perhaps the similarity is the evidence of some trend setting template?

The book comprises basically the territory of the Second Polish Republic and that may have sprung from the availability of sources and of the buildings themselves. The void is partially filled by adding a map of the wooden synagogues. An obvious postulate comes to mind here, to complement the research by including the territories of the First Polish Republic. Such research, under various labels, is being done in Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, in Petersburg and Jerusalem. Regrettably, it is not clearly indicated in the book. The state of research, described in the introduction, although it contains the most important references and sources of more or less the last one hundred years, still lacks, for example, even a mention of the index cards gathered by the Center for Documentation of the Historical Buildings, starting from 1950s and done for some 100 synagogues. Not all the synagogues have been included in the Registry of Historical Monuments of Art in Poland. Neither have the master’s theses from the last decade been included and they greatly increase the body of knowledge, and there is a glaring omission of the publications by Ewa Leszczyńska on the synagogues in Poznań and Leszno.


Remarks on the research issues regarding the synagogues erected between the second half of 16th and the end of the 18th century


The literature on the architecture of these synagogues identifies the main research issues to which any author must relate. These are the issues of the genesis of the synagogues with a central four-pillar support and the nine-bay synagogues; the issue of the fortified synagogues; the issue of the relation between wooden and masonry synagogues and other types of buildings, and finally the issue of the designers/builders of the synagogues. There appears also the problem of synagogue building in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.

The issue of origin of the synagogues with a central four-pillar support is most extensively dealt with by the authors in chapter three. Through a comparison of buildings showing this particular development, the authors conclude that it appeared for the first time in Lublin in the year 1567, and a year later in Brześć (an interesting bit of information on page 170 is that it was constructed by a builder from Warsaw – perhaps this should not be ignored and followed more diligently?).[ii] It appears to be a significant contribution for a possible discussion although the authors, apart from the detailed descriptions of several variants of that particular development, limit themselves (p. 76) only to the reference to Rachel Wischnitzer (who saw the source of the four-pillar arrangement in the Book of Nehemiah, 8:4, where ‘a tower of wood’ is literally mentioned migdal-eits), and to Thomas Hubka who points out the kabbalistic sources. The authors clearly concentrate on the ideological genesis while the accurate observation made by Brian de Breffny may come useful here, namely that it was a structural joining of the previously sometimes parallel, or later independent elements: the bimah under the canopy and a single-space interior of the prayer hall.[iii]

The bimah may have been just a raised dais or a platform placed above the heads of the faithful which, together with the canopy, gave it a look of a tower in the middle of the hall. The central pillar, as rightly described by the authors, hollowed out to house the bimah – or rather which ‘absorbed’ the canopy together with its supports, simultaneously allowing for an easier construction of the vaulting (a barrel vault on a fairly small base) – is a truly innovative construction solution. Most probably, in Lublin there were influences other than those in the Krakow’s district of Kazimierz where synagogues similar to the Prague ones were built, hence of a western type. It is worth noting that although the guild of Lublin masons and stone-cutters was established only in 1571[iv], Renaissance-like buildings had been erected in town for several decades before this.

But did the placing of the bimah in-between four strong columns placed closely together make the reception of the Word easier for the faithful? After all, everything that usually took place on the bimah, i.e. the reading of the Torah, sermons or community announcements, or the first public appearances of adolescents (bar mitzvah) would be best seen in the hall without the pillars supporting the vault. Hence the arguments that the ‘specific religious needs of the Jewish community’ towards the end of the 16th century (p.451) were the reason for the bimah inside a four-pillar support do not strike me as convincing. Undoubtedly, the space above the bimah used for lighting must have been a source of interesting effects, typical of the Baroque period. I also have to question the accuracy of the term ‘bimah-support’ as the support is provided by the frame of the bimah. That particular term was established by the authors a long time ago and, regrettably, has been in popular use ever since. In addition, I think that if treating the inside of a chapel (e.g. the Sigismund Chapel on Wawel Castle in Krakow and its successors) as analogous to the space above the bimah may be somewhat justified, then the term ‘bimah-chapel’ (p. 450) causes unnecessary confusion.

The authors do not propose any new ideas as for the genesis of nine-bay synagogues. The only justification for the new form of the interior, according to them, is that ‘it is an attempt to attain a monumental hall with a huge capacity.’ (p. 78). The authors do not take a stand, be it only a critical one, towards the only new hypothesis which appeared regarding this issue, namely the studies of Sergey Kravtsov on the possible impact of the work of Villalpando, dated to 1604, on the architectural solution adopted for the Przedmiejska (Suburban) Synagogue in Lvov.[v] It does not follow, however, that I consider Kravtsov’s assumption a proven fact but only a reasonable one. It also seems that it suggest the interaction and influence by neighboring cultures. One could consider the influence of the nine-bay Orthodox churches so popular in the region, though they were crowned with domes. I cannot possibly agree with the term ‘free standing pillars’ (p. 78) used for the columns carrying the vault, hence connected both to the outside walls and interconnected with other columns. One can speak about the free standing columns in front of the Salomon Temple, or the Karlskirche in Vienna, or Place Vendôme in Paris – but not inside the hall!

 The studies on the subject of the fortified synagogues, as well as the authors’ conclusions (chapter three, pp. 107-108) seem very convincing. The analysis of many buildings popularly placed in that category made the authors reach the following conclusion: ‘There exist only a few synagogues known to us that fulfill these requirements [fortress-type ones].’ Hence, the statement ‘The issue of the defensive role of the synagogues requires further discussion,’ as well as the reference made to Zajczyk (p. 107) – who formulated his opinions at an entirely different stage of research – seems to be overcautious. One could add that the ornamental jagged parapets are doubtable as defensive shields while sunk-in roofs did not allow for their use as gun platforms.

The issue of the relationship between wooden and masonry synagogues was more extensively described in the previous book. In this new book, chapters three, four and five contain supplements in the form of subchapters dealing with the wooden synagogues. They play a very useful role in allowing to detect the differences in size, form, and especially the interior decoration. The authors do not deal with these comparisons but leave that to the reader. The oldest wooden synagogues which survived until 1939 were dated circa to the mid-17th century, i.e. the time when masonry synagogues flourished and their most important types were already firmly in place. On the other hand, the oldest wooden synagogues survived usually in the shape given to them most probably in the beginning of the 18th century. The specific discussion of this issue is included in the last two subchapters: ‘the masonry synagogues with wooden vaults and beams.’ The problem of a relation between synagogues and other types of buildings has not been discussed here. Throughout the whole book it is possible to catch a glimpse of the subject, e.g. in the chapter on roofs, the structures, or in the description of Isaac’s Synagogue. One senses a certain void here, in view of the synthetic chapter of Wooden Synagogues where the forms were compared to the spatial arrangements of the mansions, churches or granaries, not only in the text but also through photos and drawings.

The issue of the builders of the synagogues is summarized in the separate final chapter. It seems to me that the rabbinical authorities decided the layout only to a limited degree. Undoubtedly, the rabbis gave general guidelines based on the liturgy but the architectural solutions must have been the work of the builders, just like the rest of the exterior features of the building which, except for the measurements, were not imposed either by the church or the lay authorities. It seems that ‘the inspiration provided by the Jewish advisors’ (p. 447) could have dealt with some functional suggestions but not the artistic ones, and if so it may have followed the principle of imitating certain buildings considered as examples to follow. The ‘detective-like’ structural analysis of the synagogue in Brześć Litewski seems to be of particular interest (p. 170) and it simultaneously brings the immediate association with the synagogue in Lublin erected at almost the same time. If Piotr Ronka (del Ronchi) from Poznań was the builder in Brześć, he might as well been the one in Lublin. It would have been an example of importing architectural innovation from the most developed European areas. Master David, the builder from Gniezno, was most probably not a Jew (the authors seem to accept Warschauer’s point of view strictly on the basis of his name alone) as in the 12th and 14th century that name was given to the kings of Scotland who were undoubtedly Christian.

As was the case with wooden synagogues, Jewish craftsmen did the wood-carving and interior polychrome decorations. Apart from Yehuda Leyb (known to us from Przedbórz, the artist who mastered the art of painting both on wood and stucco), there appear other names but only dated to the beginning of the 19th century. And by the way, Tevye, the son of Abraham, the creator of aron ha-kodesh in the synagogue at Druja, definitely found his roots in the place called Komaje (not Kornaja, as listed on pp. 447, 448 and in the index), located near Wizuny; the aron ha-kodesh from that wooden synagogue, described by the authors in the previous book, has elements similar to the one at Druja. Perhaps it was the work of the same wood-carver?

Very often, when describing the interior and its furnishings, the authors inform us that there is a Hebrew inscription in a certain place but hardly ever provide examples. It was a great advantage of the previous book that it contained so many translations of the inscriptions. A retreat from that principle is rather disappointing. There could have been employed a method similar to that in the volume published by the Catalogue of Historical Monuments in Poland devoted to Krakow’s Kazimierz where references to the appropriate biblical verses are given. I also think that the description of the synagogue in Tykocin, where the texts of the painted tablets had been deciphered and published in their entirety, more space could have been devoted to it.

The matter of murals was dealt with only casually, which is based on the following conclusion of the authors: ‘In case of masonry synagogues of the 16th through18th century, just like with the wooden synagogues of Chodorów, Jabłonów, Gwoździec, Mohylew, there is no proof of the existence of the definite uniform compositions that would provide evidence for a conscious, overall conceptual general outline (which does not necessarily mean that it did not exist at all).’ (p. 315). In spite of the meager documentation on the murals, still, in my opinion, they should have been discussed in conjunction not only with chapter [5] but also chapter [6], as the authors themselves emphasize the separate character of the 19th and 20th century murals.

I have the impression that the treatment of objects was done a hurry although I happen to know that the authors have been collecting documentation for several years and these were shared publicly on various occasions. It seems that the authors paid more attention to the chapters on analytical and synthetic issues as the entries on particular buildings are elaborated in a rather careless style which I would call a catalogue format where full sentences are often mixed with elliptical ones. Since the book is not a catalogue which demands maximal economy of space, such an abbreviated form is not justified. Obviously, separate entries often contain descriptions of what is shown in the saved photos, measurements and drawings and it is through these explanations that we are made aware how much one can find about a certain object which no longer exists, if one carefully examines the few existing documents.

As in the previous book, with a few exceptions, (e.g. in case of the synagogues in Krakow’s Kazimierz) there is no information given on the location of the buildings. I do realize that the authors intend to deal with this issue in volume III but even there not all towns with synagogues, existing or extinct, are going to be described.

It is also a pity that the authors decided to supply information about the history of towns and local Jewish communities only ‘in a certain number of cases, to justify the accepted dating.’ (p. 12).


Some detailed remarks regarding synagogues erected from the second half of the 16th to the end of the 18th century


p. 128: Kupa Synagogue in Krakow’s Kazimierzdraws attention because of the large size of the main hall and the lack of any butresses. Bałaban wrote the following in his ‘Guidebook’: ‘The interior of the synagogue has been rearranged to such a degree that it is very difficult to detect its original layout.’[vi] Perhaps the quoted description dated to 1929 referred to the smaller hall because it is difficult to imagine putting a vaulting over the contemporary hall measuring 16.7 by 13.5 meters {55 x 44 feet}. Regrettably, the bimah whose foundations have been recently uncovered, has not been marked on the plan.

p. 168:in the bibliography regarding the synagogue in Tomaszów Lubelski the authors make reference, among others, to the ‘Remembrance Book’. It seems, however, that the source might be of little use here as …‘according to the tradition kept in Tomaszów and Szczebrzeszyn… three synagogues in Poland were built by the same master in the same architectural style, with the vault and no pillars… and it is possible that the letters kuf, shin, tet stand for the initials of three cities: Krakow, Szczebrzeszyn, Tomaszów.’ […] ‘The synagogue was of brick, its square ground-floor measuring 26 by 26 meters {85 x 85 feet}, 7 floors high. On each side there were three tall windows, but the eastern side had only two. The entrance was on the northern side, close to the western one… Right before the entrance there was a small arcade, a little roof supported by two pillars.’ That particular description does not match any of Krakow synagogues; nor does it match the one in Zamość, though it would be logical, which, like the ones in Tomaszów and Zamość, had two large windows on every side. Hence, perhaps, kuf did not denote Krakow but the nearby Krasnobród (compare the photo 315 on p. 246)? The assumption seems to be supported by the description of particularly unique chandeliers mentioned by A. Szyszko-Bohusz in his ‘Materials…’.[vii]

pp. 262-263:the authors say the following about the synagogue in Szarogród: ‘We do not know the solution adopted for the vault. Judging by the aron ha-kodesh photographs of two columns which support the confluence of the vaults on either side of the round window, though it was not an arch but rather a kind of monastic vault with lunettes.’ (p. 262). Such a layout, marked with the letter R (reconstruction) was presented on p. 295. However, the catalogue of the Ukrainian monuments published in 1985[viii] presents the view of this synagogue which points to a nine-bay arrangement with equal areas, although the vault is marked only over the middle bay. Later publications[ix] which present the view of the structure point out that it was an atypical case as the middle courtyard is covered with a cross vault built into the rafter framing, and elevated over the others. The consoles in the previously-mentioned photo (p. 263) indicate only that the division of the vault was not connected with the articulation of the lower part of the walls (e.g. just like in Pińczów). The spacing of the windows also points out to the nine-bay arrangement which would make this an example the furthest to the east.

p. 367:according to the authors, the synagogue in Stawiski was erected in 1735 while the information card of the Center for Documentation of Monuments gives 1813 as the date of its erection or rebuilding. This huge discrepancy might never be explained. Perhaps it is worth-noting that a new nine-bay synagogue in Jarosław was built in 1811 replacing the old one destroyed on that site in a fire, and in this case it is known that the old design was retained. Perhaps the case of Stawiski was analogous.

pp. 382-385:the date on the elevation of the synagogue in Chełm(photo 547 on p. 383) suggests that the new part was built in 1897 and not in 1879. The comparison of this photograph with the description and the other views points out that it must have been done before 1933; according to the caption it shows the state of the building ‘before 1939’ which is not contradictory but why not make it more precise if possible?

When deliberating the date of erecting the synagogue, the authors make a reference to the document published by J. Goldberg but in a misleading way: it concerned the privilege of 1682 relating to Nowy Sącz and not Chełm and Chęciny as the text on p. 382 seems to suggest; moreover, the document is not listed in Goldberg’s book on p. 35 but it bears the number 35 and can be found on p. 228.

Is the vault of the synagogue in Chełm the same that existed in the 19th and 20th century? The synagogue in Chełm was not much bigger than the one in Szydłów, for example, and it might have originally had a monastery type vault with no supports. As the pillars dividing the interior of the synagogue in Chełm, known from photographs, had no capitals, and the vault had a strange shape of a misformed barrel vault, one can ponder whether those pillars might have been added in the rebuilding of 1848 perhaps as supports of the main beam hidden in make-believe vaults. A similar ‘surgery’ was performed in Konin in the years 1878-1883 where four pillars were introduced in the synagogue interior, supporting the canopy over the bimah as well as the new false vault (on the netting and plaster) over the remaining space of the main hall.



The issue of synagogue building in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, as mentioned before, is covered in the book in the not-too-extensive chapter six. It should be pointed out that the authors in the introductory note wrote: ‘The general trends of the developments in synagogue architecture in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century have been discussed in broad terms in the final chapter. However, these issues should be a subject of a separate book written by another author.’ (p. 7). It would have been, perhaps, much more useful, had the authors limited their review of the synagogues dating to the 19th and 20th century by selecting those in which the local Polish tradition was preserved (Ciepielów, Przemyśl-Zasanie, Oszmiana, Medyka) or where it was consciously revived (Ostrołęka, Wilno-Subocz). Other 19th century actual synagogue construction should not be separately examined for a given part of Europe as they need to be compared to sometimes distant template models. Admittedly, the authors signal in very broad terms the ‘German influence’ as well as the return to the source, i.e. the Bible. But they never mention the Vienna or Budapest architecure of Ludwig Foerster which overwhelmed all synagogue construction throughout Europe, therefore also on the Polish lands within all three partitions.

Chapter six is a rather superficial review. I do not intend to start a debate about all the statements contained there as it would not only make this article too long but also change the ratio of this review inversely to the volume of this text in relation to the whole book. Therefore, I shall limit myself to one general remark and a few more detailed ones. The general remark deals with the deliberations on the style of synagogues and its importance for the users. According to the authors, Jews did not want synagogues in the Gothic style because of the association with Christianity but, firstly, the Neo-Gothic elements are found in at least a few 17th and 19th century synagogue buildings and, secondly, Max Fleischer created a purely Gothic synagogue although he was a conscious Jew.[x] On the other hand, so-called national style (‘country estate style’) was not connected with the essence of a synagogue but with the Polish landscape, hence it would have required of the users (community/synagogue leaders) the same kind of consciousness which only select few architects enjoyed. The authors devoted a lot of space to the utilization of the orderly Classical architecture apparently trying to prove its importance and some specific meaning, but the synagogue erected by Józef Grzegorz Lessel clearly belonged to the Romantic architecture, hence devoid of orderliness, though he undoubtedly was familiar with the Classicist repertoire. Henryk Marconi designed the synagogue in Łomża whose exterior resembles a Turkish bath, and one finds it difficult to imagine that such was the wish expressed explicitely by any Jewish community. In all those cases the choice of style or form of a synagogue depended entirely on the designer-architect-builder.


Some detailed remarks regarding the 19th and 20th century synagogues.


p. 429:J.G.K. Lessel erected the synagogue in the later Warsaw district of Praga in 1835 (on the right bank of the Vistula River), and not ‘circa 1830’ as he must have had a few years of a mandatory professional pause after the November Insurrection. It was not ‘the only Warsaw synagogue’ but the only one built as the community synagogue, in this case the separate Praga community; it became Warsaw synagogue officially in 1871; it was not raised on the plan of a Greek cross but on a circle; it had small vestibules on three sides, and an apse on the eastern side [illustration 1]; Berek Szmulowicz cannot have been its founder as he died in 1822 (he used the name Sonnenberg), but it was his son, Gabriel Bereksohn; only the children of Gabriel used the name Bergson, as their descendants; the name of Bersohn, used by the authors, relates to a completely different and equally much respected Warsaw family.

p. 436:The synagogue at the Promenada Street in Łódź was designed by Adolf Wolff of Stuttgart. The authorship of Hilary Majewski has long since been rejected (although maintained by Antoni Szram[xi]). Krzysztof Stefański, researcher of Łódź sacral architecture, wrote: ‘The blueprint, preserved in Łódź Archives, bears the signature of the city architect of the time, Hilary Majewski. Majewski is also mentioned as its originator in all official documents related to the permits. However, reliable press publications of that time, as well as later ones, univocally name A. Wolff as the author. It seems that we encounter here a case similar to the situation of the Evangelical church of St. John [here the author makes a reference to chapter I of the quoted book: it says there, among others, that the design of that church, built in 1879 by Ludwik Schreiber of Cologne, was also signed by Hilary Majewski]. Therefore, one can conjecture that the city architect, after striking an agreement with the initiators of the construction and having received a proper monetary compensation, would draw up a blueprint of the initial layout which met the requirements posed by the Tsarist administration. Simultaneously, in order to facilitate the fast acceptance track, he appeared as the author since an approval of a foreign architect’s design might have encountered various difficulties.’[xii] In addition, Jacek Walicki noted that in the book by M. and K. Piechotkowie ‘the synagogue on Kościuszki Street is defined by the term “Italian” which is unknown in Łódź sources.’[xiii] The term, found for the first time in the article by M. and K. Piechotkowie of 1986[xiv], is not used by K. Stefański or A. Szram although the former makes a point of the applied Romanesque, Neo-Renaissance and Classical forms, while the latter generally defines the buildings as Neo-Renaissance.


pp. 427, 437:the ‘synagogue in Warsaw on Franciszkańska Street’ was wrongly termed as such and this may have happened while working on the Marconi archives; the analysis of the plot layout and a comparison with other designs by Henryk Marconi points out to the synagogue on Daniłowiczowska Street, designed by him probably in 1842 but never built; the new building was erected on Daniłowiczowska Street in 1849 (not in 1843) most probably under the supervision of Alfons Kropiwnicki. The synagogue planned for Franciszkańska Street, also designed by H. Marconi, has never been built.


pp. 430, 440:The Lviv Tempel was not erected on the plan of an Greek cross but on the circle inscribed within a square [illustration 2], with one-storey rooms in corners; externally, the circularity of the main core was remodeled and the visible form of an octagon was achieved through an appropriate wall profile; this synagogue, just like the one in Praga, had porticos added to the main core, the difference being that in Lviv they reached to the molded cordon. There is an unfortunate misspelling to be noted here: instead of ‘Betthaus’ it should be ‘Bethaus’ for it relates to the prayer and not the bed; obviously, it should be Israelitisches and not Izraelitisches. Julian Zacharjewicz, when designing the rebuilding of the Tempel, apparently did not know the principles of not imitating the Temple.


p. 440:it is a pity that the authors have omitted to the name of Henryk Stifelman, the author of the most beautiful synagogue in Ostrołęka, designed in the years 1916-1918.


p. 442:the oriental trend in synagogue construction was only outwardly connected with the Jewish eastern tradition; for the majority of followers it signified the connection with the Jewish Reform Movement in Western Europe.


p. 440:Allegedly, Julian Ankiewicz did not take part in the contest for the design of the synagogue on Tłomackie Street (he designed it only when commissioned to do so).


Miscellaneous remarks


Throughout the book the quotation marks are definitely overused which changes the sense of sentences (the examples would take too much space; I am only drawing attention to this phenomenon.)

In many places instead of ‘jesziba’ it should be ‘jesziwa’ or ‘jeszywa’ (yeshiva).


p. 18:I was very surprised to read that the statement: ‘For reformed Judaism a synagogue becomes a Templum, while in the orthodox Judaism it remains a house of gathering – Beth ha knesseth’ is based on my work.[xv] This is what I wrote there: ‘The change of a major consequence was the elimination of prayers expressing the longing for the return to Zion and rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem.’, and further on: ‘In his inaugural speech Jacobson made a reference, among others, to Solomon’s Temple, calling his synagogue a miserable copy of that ancient building. This reference had far-reaching consequences since the name ‘Tempel’ was used for the first time in relation to a synagogue.’ It did not mean that a synagogue became a Temple for the reformers (‘Templum’, in its Latin terminology, spelled with a capital letter, refers to the Jerusalem Temple) but that it substitutes to a certain degree for the Temple. The first of the quoted sentences may lead to a conclusion that a reformed synagogue ceases to be a house of gathering (I still would use the Polish phonetic transcription of beit kneset, without the definite article ha-); it certainly does not, and I have certainly never formulated such an opinion in this manner.

p. 20:what are Talmudic times? Talmud was finally codified in the 6th century (compare with remark to p. 63); if separation of women and men began in the 13th century, does that mean that they prayed together also in ‘non-Talmudic’ times?

The synagogue in Prague – it should be ‘Altneuschul’ and not ‘Altneu Schule’.

p. 21:photograph 8 shows a detail of the same synagogue as photo 9, i.e. the one in Kfar Baram (or Birim); in H.A. Meek’s book from which the reproduction for photo 8 was taken (compare the index of photos p. 464, item 8) the correct caption reads: ‘The central doorway of the second / third century synagogue at Kefar Birim in northern Galilee.’  

pp. 26-27:in other places it should be: Samuel Halevi Abulafia (not: Abdulafia); the church El (not: EL) Transito; the misprints can be misleading and those ‘misspellings’ change the meaning of the words.

pp. 28-29:mistakes in proper names: it should be Guildford (not: Guilford), Mende (not: Meride); apart from the German name of Rufach there also should the current French name: Rouffach be given, as it is the only one possible to find in dictionaries and atlases of today. In addition, in Poland today the name of Ratyzbona is commonly used (and it is so on p. 116) rather than: Regensburg; it would have been more consistent since the authors use the Polish name of Wormacja and not Worms.

p. 32:‘In the Ashkenazi synagogues the custom of building vestibules did not exist. One entered the hall directly from the outside.’ On pp. 96-97 we read: ‘Talmud required that the entrance to a synagogue lead through a double door which may be understood as the main hall with a vestibule in front – pulish. […] We do not know whether all synagogues had vestibules from the very beginning and how these were constructed. […] Polish synagogues definitely had vestibules starting at the end of the 15th century, perhaps even earlier (Oleśnica).’ Which version is binding?

p. 48:‘platea’ is a street, not a square, hence it should read ‘Jewish Street’. The name of ‘Jewish street or nook’ (platea seu vicus judaeorum) comes from the mid-16th century:in the 17th century we occasionally encounter ‘Jewish Square’ (Circulus Judaeorum)[xvi]; on p. 151, when describing the ‘Złota Róża’ {Golden Rose} synagogue in Lvov the translation is correct!

p. 50:‘lapicida’ is not a commonly known word; perhaps an explanation should be necessary.

p. 52:the name of the Krakow architect should be spelled Hendel and not ‘Haendel’; since it has been polonized already, there is no reason to change it back again.

p. 64: the name of the famous philosopher, its acronym and full derivation should be spelled in Polish:  Rambam - Rav Moshe ben Maimon (Rabbi Moshe son of Maimon) called Maimonides;

p. 65:it should be: Grote Sjoel (Dutch: Great Synagogue), not: Spoel.

p. 69:‘Izaak (Ajzyk) Jakubowicz called the Rich (reb Yekeles)’ – such an entry gives the impression that ‘rich’ in Yiddish or Hebrew means ‘reb Yekeles’; Yekeles is simply Jakubowicz, and the title ‘reb’ (in this context ‘Mister’),  denotes both respect and affluence.

p. 72:the name of a Lublin scholar: Maharshal (properly: M’harshal) – Moreinu ha-Rav Shlomo ben Luria – our teacher Rabbi Shlomo ben Luria (Salomon son of Luria); in addition, since the word shul = synagogue already exists in the acronyms Maharamshul and Maharshalshul, it is enough to write: Maharshal and Maharam synagogues.

p. 97:it should be added: Shabbat and other holidays, since Shabbat is the biggest holiday.

s. 98:it should be: Saul Wahl, and not ‘Samuel’.

p. 116:I cannot hold it against the authors that, following Bałaban, they use the acronym Remuh and not the correct Rema, although they had every chance to change it, certainly on the basis of the ‘Lexicon’ by M. Bersohn.[xvii]

p. 124:‘called Bocian {stork} (Nabożny) {Religious}’ – refers to Wolf Popper (Poper); Bałaban[xviii] writes extensively about him and the Poper/Bocian Family but the term Nabożny never appears there. ‘Nabożny’ { Pious} is ‘khassid’ in Hebrew, while  ‘bocian’ is ‘khassida’ (both words with accent on the last syllable), therefore it is probable that such was a derivation of the nickname which later became the last name; this piece of information, however, cannot be found in the ‘Guidebook’ by Bałaban to which the authors refer.

p. 131, photo 130 – versus p. 132, photo 132: according to the captions, both photos present the current condition of Isaac Synagogue; in reality the former illustrates it before the -restoration and the latter after it, hence a few years apart. Also, photos 624 and 625 show Krakow’s Tempel before the conservation-restoration and since the elevations were done as early as 1997, perhaps the dates of picture taking should have been given.

p. 135:if the authors write: ‘a Hebrew inscription equivalent to 1699’ then the Reader might have an impression that the date was somehow coded which would not have been particularly strange but very interesting; I thought I would find more about it in the article by Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz which is listed here as the source; however, Szyszko-Bohusz simply says: ‘Between these [inscriptions] it is possible to decipher a few dates: the first one, on the vault above the bimah, is that of the year 1699…’[xix]

p. 137:ner tamid - means: eternal light, and not ‘eternal fire’; on p. 138 it is spelled ner tomid­ -  is the Ashkenazi pronunciation used here on purpose or is it a proofreader’s mistake?

p. 430:‘the basis of the ground floor plan is formed by five squares with cut-off corners’ (as in the layout of the synagogue in Łomża) – this statement is confusing as one may have the impression that the layout consists of equally sized squares with identically cut-off corners; it makes the comprehension of the following description rather difficult and it should have been replaced with a reproduction of the drawing [illustration 3].

p. 449:Poland was a dispositional center of the Ashkenazi Jews – what does it mean?

p. 451, ph. 647: the parokheth bears a definite date: 1832; it is more precise than saying the 19th century.


Many mistakes were found in both the bibliography and the list of illustrations. I shall mention only a few:

p. 454:instead of Das Judentum in Gesichte und Gegenwart – it should be: Geschichte...

p. 455:instead of ‘The Jewish population in the left side of Sandomierz voivodship…’ it should read: on the left river bank of …

p. 464:Künzl H., Die Architektur der Antike – it should be: Der Synagogenbau in der Antike, in: Die Architektur der Synagoge ...

p. 467:photo 175 – instead: the state after WWII, photo n.a. – it should be: photo by J. Witwicki, 1941.


Concluding remarks


The discussed book, in spite of the above-mentioned reservations and remarks, is, until now, the most comprehensive work on the masonry synagogues in the Old Poland from the 14th to the end of the 18th century. On the basis of the collected material, only partially presented in the book, a comprehensive summary of the knowledge of the field was given. That knowledge is illustrated with a set of floor plans of the synagogues, both in a chronological and typological arrangements, as well as comparisons of the spatial arrangements of the main prayer halls. The maps are also very useful as they show the spreading of that type of arrangements and to a certain degree define the limits of the western influences on synagogue buildings of that period. Many have been introduced to the scholarly circles for the first time and, until now, they have not been the subject of research though they definitely deserve it, e.g. the synagogues in Opatów, Jazłowiec, or Różana Grodzieńska. The authors rightly point out to the necessity of archeological research to verify the information on medieval synagogue remains in the territory of Lower Silesia.

It is regrettable, however, that the perception of the accumulated knowledge is seriously disturbed by the slovenly and inconsistent editing, and the total lack of a basic text correction (scandalous punctuation!). It is even more regrettable in view of a beautiful graphic design by Wojciech Markiewicz; by comparison with its predecessor, the book presents a much more comprehensive layout of the text and much better quality of the photographs.

Half of the discussed buildings are extinct. This book saves them from oblivion not only in the form of documentation of particular buildings, often arduously recovered, but it also attempts a reconstruction of the total field. Just like the previous book about the wooden synagogues, this one is a monumental work which will undoubtedly remain the only one for a long time to come.





1.     1. The synagogue in Praga, J.G.K. Lessel, 1835

a)     outline;, Archive of the City of Warsaw, detail of the plan of Warsaw Praga, the so-called Lindley’s Map, 1906;

b)    ground floor plan; reconstruction by E. Bergman, 1994


2.     Synagogue on Plac Rybi in Lvov (Tempel), ‘Sketch of the first floor before reconstruction’. Reproduced from: J[uljan] Zacharjewicz, ‘Kilka słów o niedoszłej restauracyi Synagogi na placu Rybim we Lwowie’ {A Few Words on the Unrealized Restoration of the Synagogue on Plac Rybi in Lvov}, Czasopismo Techniczne {Technical Magazine}, Lwów, 14:1986, No. 5, tablet 1, fig. 1


3.     Synagogue in Łomża, designed by Henryk Marconi, first version, 1832. Archive of Old Documents in Warsaw, Cartographic Collection, File No. 572-25, sheet 2.


Eleanora Bergman

Jewish Historical Institute

Translated by Roman Czarny

[i]Bergman, E. and Jagielski, J. (1966) Zachowane synagogi i domy modlitwy w Polsce. Katalog.{The Preserved Synagogues and Temples in Poland. The Catalogue.} Warszawa. pp. 38-39.

[ii]Although it has never been stated expressly by the authors but it contradicts clearly the assumption of Adam Miłobędzki according to whom the four-pillar support appeared as a result of the evolution of the nine-courtyard arrangement: ‘The simplest model of a nine-bay type utilized identical spans (e.g. the suburban synagogue in Lvov, 1624-1632) but simultaneously a tendency appears which accentuates the central placing of the bimah through moving the supports towards the middle of the interior (Vilna, after 1633). In another variation  – the supports and the bimah created one architectural organism, joining together in the upper parts into one giant pillar (Łuck, after 1633). Through the hollowing out of an interior resembling a negative of a small cupola with a lantern in that four-pillar central core, sometimes so-called chapel bimah was created (Pińsk, 1640). And that marked the real end of the evolution of the synagogue on the territories of the Polish Republic in the 17th century.’ In: Miłobędzki, A, (1980) Architektura polska XVII wieku {Polish Architecture of the 17th Century}. Warszawa, v. 1, p. 69.

[iii]de Breffny, B. (1978) The Synagogue, London, p. 114’... the MaHaRShaL was the prototype of the concentric synagogue design: it had four pillars upholding a masonry canopy over the central bimah, and supporting four barrel vaults which intersected at the corners to form an ambulatory around the room and the bimah, creating a space within a space.’

4 Miłobędzki, A., ibid. p. 143.

[v]Kravtsov, S.R. ‘Synagogues in Eastern Galicia’ in Treasures of Jewish Galicia. Ed. by Sarah Harel Hoshen, Tel-Aviv 1996, p. 38 (Exhibition Catalogue: Rediscovered Treasures, Tel-Aviv, July 1994-January 1995): ‘...Certain features of the Lvov Suburban Synagogue reveal the architect’s acquaintance with the popular treatise In Ezechielem Explanationes... Rome 1596-1604, by J. B. Villalpando, which was illustrated with representations of the Temple, based on a nine-bay ground plan, and decorated with a recognizable combination of Corinthian and Doric orders.’ Such a template cannot be excluded as, for example in Amsterdam the model  of the Jerusalem Temple, based on the deliberations of the Jesuit Villalpando, published by Rabbi Jehuda Jacob Leon in 1642. found its direct reflection  in the shape of the synagogue raised there in 1670. In his article О происхождении девятиполевых каменных синагог [O proiskhozhdenii devyatipolyevykh kamennykh sinagog], rkps manuscript, 1992, Kravtsov convincingly proves that the builder of the Przedmiejska Synagogue was one Jakub Madlaina (Giacomo Madlena), a Swiss from the region of Grison.

[vi]Bałaban, Majer, Przewodnik po żydowskich zabytkach Krakowa [A Guidebook of the Jewish Monuments of Krakow], Kraków 1935, reprint Kraków 1990, pp. 98-99 

[vii]Tomashover yizker-bukh, New York 1965; Szyszko-Bohusz, A. Materjały do architektury bóżnic w Polsce {Materials on the Architecture of Jewish Synagogues in Poland], in: Prace Komisji Historji Sztuki {The Writings of the Commission on Art History}, v. IV:1927, pp. 24-25

[viii]Pamyatniki gradostroitelstva i arkhitektury Ukrainskoy SSR, v. 2, Kiev 1985, p. 37; the authors listed volume IV of this work in the bibliography so they are familiar with it.

[ix]100 yevreyskikh myestyetchek Ukrainy (ed. W. Łukin, B. Chaimowicz), Yerusalim - Sankt Petersburg 1997, p. 55;  Sinagogi Ukraini / Batei ha-knesset be-ukraina, Lviv 1998, pp. 168-169

[x]‘Neue Art von Synagogenbau in Budweis,’ in: Wiener Bauindustrie Zeitung, R. 5:1888, no. 51, p. 604

[xi]Szram, Antoni. Inicjatywy budowlane I. K. Poznańskiego jako wyraz mecenatu artystycznego łódzkiego przemysłowca, {Building Initiatives of I.K. Poznański as an Expression of the Artistic Patronage of the Łódź Industrialist},Łódź 1998, p. 85

[xii]Stefański, Krzysztof. Architektura sakralna Łodzi w okresie przemysłowego rozwoju miasta 1821-1914{Sacral Architecture of Łódź in the Period of the Industrial Development of the City 1821-1914}, Łódź 1995, p. 127

[xiii]Walicki, Jacek. Synagogues and Prayer Houses of Łódź / Synagogi i domy modlitwy w Łodzi, Łódź 2000, p. 5

[xiv]Piechotka, Maria and Kazimierz. ‘Bóżnice polskie XIX w.’ {Polish Synagogues of the 19th Century}, in: Kalendarz Żydowski 1986-1987 {Jewish Calendar}, Warszawa [1986], p. 79

[xv]Bergman, Eleonora. Orient w architekturze synagog na ziemiach polskich w XIX i na początku XX wieku {The Oriental Trend in the Architecture of Synagogues on the Polish Lands in the 19th and the Beginning of the 20th Century}, doctoral thesis, mpis, 1995, p. 12 nn

[xvi]Compare: Krasnowolski, B. Ulice i place Krakowskiego Kazimierza, Kraków {The Sreets and Squares of Krakow’s Kazimierz}, 1992, pp. 149-150


[xvii]Bersohn, Mathias. Słownik biograficzny uczonych Żydów Polskich XVI, XVII i XVIII wieku {Biographical Lexicon of Jewish Scholars in Poland in the 16th, 17th and 18th Century}, Warszawa 1905, reprint done there too, 1983, p. 44

[xviii]Bałaban, Majer. Przewodnik po żydowskich zabytkach Krakowa {A guidebook of the Jewish Monuments of Krakow}, Kraków 1935, reprint done there too, 1990, pp. 63-64; also, Historja Żydów w Krakowie i na Kazimierzu{History of the Jews in Krakow and Kazimierz}, Kraków, v. I 1931, v. II 1936, done there too, 1991;  v. I, pp. 81, 209, 271-277

[xix]Szyszko-Bohusz, Adolf . Materjały do architektury bóżnic w Polsce {Materials on the Architecture of Jewish Synagogues in Poland], in: Prace Komisji Historji Sztuki {The Writings of the Commission on Art History}, Kraków, v. 4:1927,, z. 1, p. 17