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The ‘Façade Motif’ In Ancient Synagogues

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Chapter Summary

The Torah Scrolls were unmistakably the most important objects in the synagogue. Two main interpretations have been put forward concerning the meaning of façade motif. The first considers the motif as representing the Torah Shrine in the synagogue, or a movable cupboard. The second interprets this motif in a symbolic manner, as the Ark of the Covenant in the first Temple in Jerusalem, or the Temple façade, both being symbols of God's presence. The oldest functioning Shrine was the medieval Torah Shrine that stood in the Altneushul in Prague. This probably thirteenth-century stone-built Torah Shrine has stone pilasters supporting a Gothic pediment with stone tracery. The motif appears in Jewish funerary contexts in third-century Palestine carved in the soft limestone. In several instances, synagogue mosaic pavements have the façade motif, but with a curtain hanging between double columns and partially concealing the doors behind.

Keywords: ancient synagogue; façade motif; Jerusalem; third-century Palestine; Torah Shrine

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