Postwar American Synagogues — Judaism at the Suburban Frontier

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Reading Susan Solomon’s book on The Jewish Architecture of Louis I. Kahn, I suddenly understand something else about all those postwar suburban space-ship synagogues. Many of them were built by and include works  by the best and brightest of that generation of architectural star power –Frank Lloyd Wright, Percival Goodman, Louis Kahn, Eric Mendelsohn, Philip Johnson.

In addition to being very cool looking, super mod with archaic accent notes, they provided a physical emblem around which to consider some of the basic environmental factors conditioning postwar, midcentury American Jewish thought, particularly in relation to claims by the philosopher-theologians about the relative integration and non-integration of “Judaism” in and on the American suburban landscape.

What I think the synagogues and thinkers have in common is a kind of style. I wonder though, which one, which vision of Judaism, which vision of religion was more free, more clear-minded about its own construction, more open to the world. As I read it, the architecture sets out a clear challenge to Jewish philosophy which the latter may or may not be able to meet.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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