Jewish places of worship all share a few attributes: they have a place to store one or more Torah scrolls; a table, desk or pedestal from which the Torah is read, and seats for the congregation. Beyond those fundamental requirements, they varied greatly in size and form depending on the specific ritual used by their congregations, the economic and aesthetic resources to which those congregations had access, and the civil regulations to which they were subject. Some were as basic as a single room, furnished with rough benches and little light, while others were vast, highly elaborate buildings, richly decorated with carved furniture, inscriptions, draperies, and even stained glass. Synagogues have been built in nearly every architectural style; and there are many examples of Jewish communities taking over buildings no longer needed by other religious groups, as well as synagogues being converted into churches or mosques.
Since the interior of synagogues shapes the religious practices performed there, and their external form represents the congregation to the community in which it stands, it is not surprising that synagogue architecture has been the subject of intense debate within the Jewish world. The location of the bimah (the pulpit), the appropriateness of an organ, the separation of men's and women's seating, the ostentation or austerity of the street-side façade, have all been hotly contested and continue to vary greatly from one congregation to another.
|5. Opening of the New Jewish Synagogue, Berlin. In: The Illustrated London News, Sept. 22, 1866.|