Edifice Complex (Extract)

Extract from an article in Issue 23, March 3, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. Years ago, in the early days of what has come to be known as the period of "starchitecture," I came across a news item about a local synagogue inviting a proposal from the brightest star in the galaxy of starchitects at that time. Even though this architect was Jewish, I wondered how he might express the ineffable qualities of "Jewishness" in his design? This launched me on my own project to study what I called "Jewish space." As an architect and student of the Bible, this quest to understand Jewish built form and space represented a convergence of two deep interests. We know that synagogue form is mutable, having adapted over centuries to different host cultures and contexts. But I wondered if there was such a distinct and identifiable thing as "Jewish space," and if such a thing could be traced to biblical attitudes towards building. The act of building in the Bible - from the Tower of Babel to Solomon's Temple - reflects man's relationship to God. To build is a composite act involving material, form, imagery and enclosed spaces. As I considered the question of Jewish space, I wondered if it constituted a residue from biblical origins that spans across centuries, even as the originating structures themselves are lost to us. This week's parasha continues an ongoing description of the fundamental building project of the nascent nation: the portable sanctuary, or mishkan, which is alternatively referred to as the tent of meeting, or ohel mo'ed. We are introduced to Bezalel, who has been singled out as chief artisan of the mishkan, specifically because of his wisdom. This special quality links him to Solomon, who built the Jerusalem temple, thereby completing in stone this earlier portable prototype. Even though many see the detailed description of the mishkan as a parallel to the eventual construction of the Temple, in many ways the spirits of the two enterprises are markedly different. We are presented with the history of the ohel mo'ed as an intimate and spritual space. Before the formal construction of the mishkan, the ohel mo'ed existed as a simple tent pitched by Moses outside of the Israelite encampment. God would descend - in the form of a pillar of cloud - to the threshold of the tent. From within, Moses would meet God face to face. This is a portrait of a personal and intimate God. Once the ohel mo'ed or mishkan was established, it moved from the periphery to the heart of the Israelite settlement. God's presence remains within - but is now in relationship with an entire nation. Yet the sense of interiority remains. The woven walls of the tent demarcate a sacred precinct. Ronni Rosenberg is an architect and educator living in Toronto. Extract from an article in Issue 23, March 3, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.