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.