Thursday, February 18, 2010

Synagogue: View from the Gallery

One of the standard features of the synagogues of the Jewish Atlantic World is a women's gallery: a balcony supported by columns on two or three sides of the synagogue.

The concept of using a balcony for a women’s section comes from descriptions of the Temple: although at first there was no roof to the Women’s Court, a balcony on top of pillars was added later and screened in with latticework.

In the synagogues in Amsterdam, London and the new world sometimes latticework was used (as in the Esnoga and Bevis Marks) and sometimes a railing was used (as in Jamaica and Newport's Touro Synagogue). In Antiquity, latticework in synagogues was used to represent the firmament: the division between heaven and earth. The view from the women’s balcony in the synagogue, then, was paradoxically both elevated and restricted: through the geometric pattern of the lattice, the women viewed the service as if looking down through the firmament to earth.

Here are some views from the Balcony along with a haunting video of Vanessa Paloma singing the Ladino song "El Dio Alto" from the balcony of the Esnoga.

Vanessa Paloma in the Balcony of the Esnoga

The Balcony of Kahal Kadosh Shaare Shalom, Jamaica

The View from the Balcony of Neve Shalom Synagogue, Suriname

The View from Below:

Looking up at the Balcony in Mikve Israel (the "Snoa"), Curacao

View from the ground floor of the Touro Synagogue including of balconies HABS, Library of Congress)


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