Building a Public Judaism: Synagogues and Jewish Identity in Nineteenth-Century Europe

Overview

Nineteenth-century Europe saw an unprecedented rise in the number of synagogues. Building a Public Judaism considers what their architecture and the circumstances surrounding their construction reveal about the social progress of modern European Jews. Looking at synagogues in four important centers of Jewish life?London, Amsterdam, Paris, and Berlin?Saskia Coenen Snyder argues that the process of claiming a Jewish space in European cities was a marker of acculturation but not of full acceptance. Whether modest or...

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Building a Public Judaism: Synagogues and Jewish Identity in Nineteenth-Century Europe

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Overview

Nineteenth-century Europe saw an unprecedented rise in the number of synagogues. Building a Public Judaism considers what their architecture and the circumstances surrounding their construction reveal about the social progress of modern European Jews. Looking at synagogues in four important centers of Jewish life—London, Amsterdam, Paris, and Berlin—Saskia Coenen Snyder argues that the process of claiming a Jewish space in European cities was a marker of acculturation but not of full acceptance. Whether modest or spectacular, these new edifices most often revealed the limits of European Jewish integration.

Debates over building initiatives provide Coenen Snyder with a vehicle for gauging how Jews approached questions of self-representation in predominantly Christian societies and how public manifestations of their identity were received. Synagogues fused the fundamentals of religion with the prevailing cultural codes in particular locales and served as aesthetic barometers for European Jewry’s degree of modernization. Coenen Snyder finds that the dialogues surrounding synagogue construction varied significantly according to city. While the larger story is one of increasing self-agency in the public life of European Jews, it also highlights this agency’s limitations, precisely in those places where Jews were thought to be most acculturated, namely in France and Germany.

Building a Public Judaism grants the peculiarities of place greater authority than they have been given in shaping the European Jewish experience. At the same time, its place-specific description of tensions over religious tolerance continues to echo in debates about the public presence of religious minorities in contemporary Europe.

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Editorial Reviews

Michael Meng
Traversing four cities, Coenen Snyder has written an impressively researched, multifaceted, and comparatively broad book, which concludes that synagogue building in the mid-to-late nineteenth century cannot be read only as an 'architecture of emancipation.' Instead, it reveals the complexity of Jewish experiences of acculturation, integration, emancipation, tolerance, and exclusion. Her socio-political and comparative approach to the study of urban space is highly innovative.
Robin E. Judd
A work of superb and exhaustive historical research. Coenen Snyder has carefully examined a large trove of archival sources in several languages and has brought them together in a well-written account. It belongs to the best of a new generation of work on Jewish history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674059894
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 1/8/2013
  • Pages: 360
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 6.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Saskia Coenen Snyder is Assistant Professor of Modern Jewish History at the University of South Carolina.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 An Architecture of Emancipation or an Architecture of Separatism?: Berlin 25

2 "There Should Be Sermons in Stone": Victorian London 87

3 From Café Chantant to Jewish House of Worship: Amsterdam 151

4 "We Want a Synagogue; the Jews of Paris are Ready to Pay for It": Paris 207

Conclusion 253

Abbreviations 271

Notes 273

Acknowledgments 337

Index 341

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