Trends in Design: The Moorish Synagogue

Of course, as with all things, there are fashions in religious building design.  For example, from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s many Reform Jewish congregations, such as the Isaac Mayer Wise Temple in Ohio (see above), found it desirable to build synagogues referencing a Moorish style.

"Influencing Rabbi Wise's choice of the Moorish style for his congregation's new synagogue was his awareness of its growing popularity for Reform synagogues in Germany, the home of Reform Judaism.  Newly emancipated Jews in central and western Europe, searching for a synagogue style that would reflect their cultural heritage and differentiate their places of worship from those of Christians, latched onto the Moorish style associated with the so-called Golden Age of Jewry in Spain when that nation was under Muslim rule; ironically, no synagogues in Spain survive from this period.  The romanticized image of Islamic Spain captured the Jewish people's imagination and Moorish synagogues began to proliferate.  This temple is one of the first of many built in variations of this style in the United States.  By the early twentieth century, the style had become unfashionable due to its increasing association with places of entertainment, such as theaters."5

G. Albert Lansburgh (1876-1969) was born in Panama City and trained at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.  Orphaned at a young age, he and his brother were raised by Rabbi Jacob Voorsanger of the Congregation Emmanuel in San Francisco.  On the panel is a drawing of the 1906 Temple Emanuel by Lansburgh, replete with Moorish elements.  It was probably among the last of this style of synagogue built in the U.S.  Soon after the style was absorbed into the post-war frenzy for period revival facades as seen in the 1922 Al Malaikah Temple movie theater in Los Angeles, also designed by Lansburgh.


5) Chiat, Marilyn J. America's Religious Architecture: Sacred Places for Every Community. NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997, p. 104