to Medieval New York
By Gerard Fernandez
I. Before Construction
The Temple Emanu-El began construction on April 11, 1927. The congregation
of Temple Emanu-El had joined the congregation of Temple Beth-El in 1926.
Temple Beth-El was located on 67th and Fifth Avenue at the time and across
from the temple was an enormous double mansion owned by Mrs. Caroline Schermerhorn
Astor. Since Temple Emanu-El which was located at 42nd street was becoming
too small and there was too much confusion in mid-town, the congregation
decided to build a new temple that was located in a scenery that members
could more easily concentrate on prayers.
The site broke ground and the architects that designed the temple were
Robert D. Kohn, Charles Butler, and Clarence Stein. The associate architects
were a firm named Mayes, Murray, and Phillie. The temple's first ceremony
was in September 1929, a few short weeks before the stock market crash.
The finish product took only five years and had resulted in an enormous
temple costing approximately $7,500,000.
of the Temple Emanu-El resembles the great cathedrals of Europe. The massive
limestone walls that are decorated with Romanesque details give the public
an idea of medieval times. Directly out front of the temple is an enormous
wheel-like window. The window is detailed as a traditional Magen David
(six-pointed star). The two columns that run on either side of the window
have two lions resting at the top resembling guardians of the temple. The
three sets of beautiful bronze doors at the entrance bear symbols of the
twelve tribes of Israel.
Beyond the entrance, the temple engulfs a person with an monstrous sanctuary
that is capable of seating 2500 members. The ceilings are 103 feet high,
the width is approximately 77 feet, and the length is 147 feet. The absence
of interior supporting pillars is made possible by the system of
buttresses. There are Gustavino acoustical tiles applied to the walls above
the marble wainscoting. The idea of these tiles is to improve acoustic
quality. The main center of worship is at the eastern wall. This architecture
is common in most Jewish temples in the western world because it is too
symbolize all eyes looking towards Jerusalem.
Temple Emanu-El complex has also a small chapel named Beth-El Chapel, a
6-story religious school that doubles as the community house, and a Judaica
collection that is spread throughout the temple.
The smaller chapel is connected to the main sanctuary. The chapel can seat
up to 350 members. The main focus of worship has a six pointed star at
the wall and contains two domes on the ceiling. There are columns that
run down the sides of the chapel. The ceilings are 45 feet high, the width
is 50 feet, and the length is 84 feet. The smaller chapel has a distinct
The Wheel-like Window
The enormous front window contains twelve spokes that are to represent
the twelve tribes of Israel. Within the window there is the Star of David,
the symbol of the Jewish religion. The window recalls mosaic synagogues
built in the Holy land during the second to sixth centuries of the common
era. Around the inner circle are smaller circles that may resemble cosmos
or smaller stars.
The Religious School
The six-story school which also operates as the community house was built
in 1959 at a cost of 4 million dollars. The school is located at 66th and
III. Judaica Collection
The Judaica Collection
that Temple Emanu-El possesses is over 500 pieces of Jewish art objects.
The diverse collection has pieces that range in date from fourteenth to
twentieth century. Most of the pieces are of Jewish ceremonial art and
household ritual objects. There is also a small collection of memorabilia
of the history of the Temple. The main focus of the collection are the
following four pieces:
Bloomingdale Torah Crowns : These crowns are used to decorate
three of the Torah scrolls. These crowns are located in the main sanctuary
of the Temple.
Set of Schiff Torah Ornaments : This set of ornaments was presented
on May 25, 1890 by Jacob H. and Theresa Schiff in commemoration of
the confirmation of their daughter.
Boller Sabbath and Festival Hanging Lamp
Lewis May Presentation Vase : Lewis May was president of Temple
Emanu-El at 43rd and Fifth Avenue from May 4, 1865 to July 22, 1897. The
vase was built in commemoration of May's 25 years of devotion to the Temple.
The Temple Emanu-El was built to remove the constant distractions that
occurred at 43rd street and also to enlarge the congregation. The temple
is at a beautiful site that borders central park and gives the members
a spiritual uplifting by architecture and faith.
The beams of light that enter through the wheel-like window allow members
to feel the presence of God. The temple has been there through W.W.II and
will continue to remain there for the Jewish community.
Tel: (212) 744-1400
Location: 65th and Fifth Avenue, New York City, New York
Wilensky, Eli, AIA Guide to New York City, Third Ed., Harcourt
Brane Jovanovich Pub., San Diego, 1986.