Parshat Trumah: Wooden Synagogues in Poland

This week we read about the building of the Mishkan, or the tabernacle in the desert. The attention to detail, the beautiful materials, the cooperation between God, who furnished the design, and the people who out of the "generosity of their hearts" were to provide the lapis and the gold, the silver and the copper, the dolphin skins, acacia wood and ram skins, all contribute to the question of how synagogues after the destruction of the temple sought to redefine, and yet continue, the glorious history of the sanctuary to be shared by God and the Jewish people. We will begin by looking at the Parshah and then we will learn about the legacy of wooden synagogues in Poland.

(א) וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהֹוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃ (ב) דַּבֵּר֙ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְיִקְחוּ־לִ֖י תְּרוּמָ֑ה מֵאֵ֤ת כׇּל־אִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ לִבּ֔וֹ תִּקְח֖וּ אֶת־תְּרוּמָתִֽי׃ (ג) וְזֹאת֙ הַתְּרוּמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר תִּקְח֖וּ מֵאִתָּ֑ם זָהָ֥ב וָכֶ֖סֶף וּנְחֹֽשֶׁת׃ (ד) וּתְכֵ֧לֶת וְאַרְגָּמָ֛ן וְתוֹלַ֥עַת שָׁנִ֖י וְשֵׁ֥שׁ וְעִזִּֽים׃ (ה) וְעֹרֹ֨ת אֵילִ֧ם מְאׇדָּמִ֛ים וְעֹרֹ֥ת תְּחָשִׁ֖ים וַעֲצֵ֥י שִׁטִּֽים׃ (ו) שֶׁ֖מֶן לַמָּאֹ֑ר בְּשָׂמִים֙ לְשֶׁ֣מֶן הַמִּשְׁחָ֔ה וְלִקְטֹ֖רֶת הַסַּמִּֽים׃ (ז) אַבְנֵי־שֹׁ֕הַם וְאַבְנֵ֖י מִלֻּאִ֑ים לָאֵפֹ֖ד וְלַחֹֽשֶׁן׃ (ח) וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם׃ (ט) כְּכֹ֗ל אֲשֶׁ֤ר אֲנִי֙ מַרְאֶ֣ה אוֹתְךָ֔ אֵ֚ת תַּבְנִ֣ית הַמִּשְׁכָּ֔ן וְאֵ֖ת תַּבְנִ֣ית כׇּל־כֵּלָ֑יו וְכֵ֖ן תַּעֲשֽׂוּ׃ {ס} (י) וְעָשׂ֥וּ אֲר֖וֹן עֲצֵ֣י שִׁטִּ֑ים אַמָּתַ֨יִם וָחֵ֜צִי אׇרְכּ֗וֹ וְאַמָּ֤ה וָחֵ֙צִי֙ רׇחְבּ֔וֹ וְאַמָּ֥ה וָחֵ֖צִי קֹמָתֽוֹ׃

(1) יהוה spoke to Moses, saying: (2) Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved. (3) And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver, and copper; (4) blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair; (5) tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood; (6) oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense; (7) lapis lazuli and other stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. (8) And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. (9) Exactly as I show you—the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings—so shall you make it. (10) They shall make an ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.

From Etz Hayim

God's presence is not found in a building. It is found in the hearts and souls of the people who fashion and sanctify the building. A midrash suggests that the tabernacle was fashioned to meet God's needs as well as Israel's. It tells of a king who gave his only daughter in marriage to a prince from another country. He told his daughter, "I cannot prevent you from moving away with your husband, but it grieves me to have you leave. Do this for me, then. Wherever you live, build an apartment for me so that I can come and visit you." Thus God says to Israel, "Wherever you travel, build a shrine for me that I may dwell among you." (Shmot Rabbah 33:11)

Online Videos About Polish Wooden Synagogues:

Online Essays About Polish Wooden Synagogues:

Oskar Sosnowski (1880-1939)

Sosnowski was quite interested in Jewish culture, and he began a project to inventory synagogues in Poland during the 1920s.[3] Of especial importance is the documentation, measured drawings and photographs made in the period between the First and Second World Wars by the Department of Polish Architecture of the Polytechnic of Warsaw, and in particular, the efforts of Professor Sosnowski and other architects, art historians and students which he led, has provided a unique collection of documentation[4] Sosnowski, photographer and art historian Szymon Zajczyk, and Warsaw Polytechnic students documented these wooden structures through architectural drawings, replica paintings, and photographs. Recognizing the historical importance and artistic value of this architecture and fearing its impending destruction with the rise of anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe, this team compiled extensive data and produced architectural drawings, color and detail studies and photographs of many synagogues. Much of this project was destroyed during World War II but a substantial amount survived. Today the documentation is all that remain of the wooden synagogues of Poland.[5]

He also prepared an extensive database documenting of other buildings and design elements[6] that has now become part of the work in preserving the European Wooden Churches Heritage.[7] The collection includes drawings and photographs concerning monumental as well as vernacular architecture. It was rescued during the burning of Warsaw by the Nazis and the collection was continued after war, so that it consists now more than 35 thousand drawings – plans, sections, facades, and details along with thousands of photographs, and is probably the biggest archive of this kind in Poland.[8]

Szymon Zajczyk (d. 1942)

Architect, architectural historian and photographer. Made on his field trips in Poland thousands of photos of wooden synagogues. He published a few short, but very promising studies.

Isidor Kaufmann (1854-1921)

In the late 1890s, Viennese Jewish painter, Isidor Kaufmann traveled throughout the territory of modern-day Ukraine to research and document wooden synagogues and their richly painted interiors. Among the many communities and synagogues that he visited, he lingered in the Gwoździec synagogue, which he later painted upon returning to his Vienna studio. During World War I, the Gwoździec synagogue was damaged, and, along with nearly all of the two-hundred (known) painted wooden synagogues across Eastern Europe, was ultimately destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. Isidor Kaufmann’s painting, and documentation produced before 1939 by architects, art historians, and ethnographers, constitute the only surviving testimonies of the synagogue’s remarkable architecture and the dense and colorful wall paintings that adorned its interior. With their devastating destruction, this documentation of the Gwoździec synagogue provides a glimpse of this unique tradition of painted synagogues popularized among 17th- and 18th-century Ashkenazi Jewish communities.