Visu­al Arts

Kab­bal­ah in Art and Architecture

Alexan­der Gorlin
  • Review
By – December 13, 2013

Kab­bal­ah in Art and Archi­tec­ture, writ­ten by Alexan­der Gor­lin, is a per­son­al inter­pre­ta­tion” of how Kab­bal­ah has been a source of evoca­tive ideas that have either inspired or are illus­trat­ed by sig­nif­i­cant works of art and archi­tec­ture.” The book is visu­al­ly beau­ti­ful and takes the read­er on a fas­ci­nat­ing mys­ti­cal Jew­ish jour­ney. Gor­lin has a run­ning com­men­tary, next to the illus­tra­tive art, explain­ing how the artis­tic work reflects Kab­bal­is­tic ideas, metaphors, and symbols.

Gor­lin is him­self a gift­ed archi­tect and the book includes some of his own work and that of Jew­ish and non-Jew­ish artists and archi­tects. For exam­ple, there is a descrip­tion of the devel­op­ment of the syn­a­gogue Tem­ple Beth Shalom in Elkin Park, Penn­syl­va­nia , which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1954. The rab­bi of the con­gre­ga­tion, Mor­timer J. Cohen, envi­sioned the build­ing to be a trav­eling Mount Sinai.” In response to that meta­phor, Wright cre­at­ed a tri­an­gu­lar moun­tain of woven glass and plas­tic pan­els which serve to cre­ate a glow­ing hun­dred foot high inte­ri­or of translu­cent light. The 1,105 seat sanc­tu­ary is a mod­i­fied hexa­gon whose floor angles slight­ly inward. Wright want­ed the con­gre­gants to feel as if they were rest­ing in the very hands of God.” Rab­bi Cohen request­ed that Wright

design the ark and its orna­men­ta­tion to evoke Isa­iah’s vision of the throne room of God. On the ark is writ­ten the phrase in Hebrew, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: The earth is full of His Glo­ry.’” The build­ing is, as Gor­lin sug­gests, a mon­u­men­tal space.” 

Goblin’s own archi­tec­tur­al achieve­ments con­vey Kab­bal­is­tic themes. Gor­lin designed the North Shore Hebrew Acad­e­my in Kings Point (Long Island) New York in 1999, a mag­nificent struc­ture that is shown in the book. In the syn­a­gogue sanc­tu­ary the ark is a cube of light frac­tured by two invert­ed tri­an­gles. The ark evokes the Star of David and the pat­tern of the Sefirot. The cur­tain of the ark recalls the crys­talline crown of Keter. The ark’s cur­tains are tri­an­gles of glass that have an acousti­cal pur­pose and reflect sound back to the congre­gation as they pray fac­ing the East.

The syn­the­sis of light, space, and Kab­bal­is­tic themes in Gorlin’s mag­nif­i­cent build­ing is tru­ly won­der­ful. Read­ing Gorlin’s com­men­tary and view­ing the mag­nif­i­cent illus­tra­tions is also won­der­ful! Bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, illus­tra­tions, photos.

Relat­ed Content:

Car­ol Poll, Ph.D., is the retired Chair of the Social Sci­ences Depart­ment and Pro­fes­sor of Soci­ol­o­gy at the Fash­ion Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy of the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. Her areas of inter­est include the soci­ol­o­gy of race and eth­nic rela­tions, the soci­ol­o­gy of mar­riage, fam­i­ly and gen­der roles and the soci­ol­o­gy of Jews.

Discussion Questions