Arad Orthodox Synagogue

In the view of the Orthodox Jews, the synagogue was supposed to be a relatively simple, austere edifice with few decorations, but with a strong symbolic message.

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The synagogue and the city

Read about the history and the architecture of the synagogue

12 Cozia St.

The Orthodox community of Arad was born because of the break between the Neologs and the Orthodox in 1904. The religious reforms within Judaism in the middle of the 19th century strongly impacted the community of Arad, as one of the better-known reformist rabbis of the time, Aron Chorin, lived here. A small group of local Jews decided not to accept the ideas of religious reform encouraged by the Austro-Hungarian administration and, as in many other localities in this part of the Habsburg Empire, created their own community. It was much smaller than that of the Neologs and did not have many financial resources either. Unlike members of the Neolog community, social integration was difficult for the Orthodox because they continued to wear the traditional kaftan and did not give up traditions related to food and keeping the Sabbath. Under these conditions, access to education and public positions remained difficult. However, the number of members of the Orthodox Jewish community was increasing due to natural growth and the arrival of new Jewish families, mainly from northern Transylvania. Some families came from Poland and settled in the countryside of Arad County at the end of the 19th century; later, some of them moved to the city. The growing community could no longer gather in the existing small prayer rooms, and, before the First World War, the decision to build a synagogue occurred.

It is not surprising that the proposed new building took into account the puritanical view of Orthodox Jewry on the world in general and on art in particular: the synagogue was supposed to be a relatively simple, austere edifice with few decorations but with a strong symbolic message. In such an edifice, the decorated walls cannot distract the worshippers, who must concentrate on prayer and feel the abstract and infinite character of divinity. However, for the Jews, the building of worship is not a holy place per se but acquires these qualities only through the presence of people and prayers. Stone walls are nothing compared to the human being as an individual and the community as a collective entity seeking a relationship with divinity. The idea of ​​life, family, and the wider family – the community – is central to Orthodox Judaism.

The building of the Orthodox Synagogue in Arad, which could only be completed in 1920 due to difficulties after the first world conflagration, was erected on a quiet street, not far from the city's central area. The construction project was signed by Emil Tabakovits, who, being of Serbian origin, chose to move to Yugoslavia, so the construction was completed by László Dömötör. It was finished after the First World War, and the decorations bear the stamp of the time: the building style is Art Deco, with a free interpretation of the decorative elements by the designers.

From the outside, the synagogue looks massive and partly monumental. All decorative elements are stylized and reinterpreted by the architect. At the entrance, between the doors, columns with capitals inspired as if from the architecture of Ancient Egypt can be distinguished.

The tablets of the law and geometric decorations are placed above the entrance on the tympanum. Plant motifs can be seen at the entrance, between the three doors, and the composition of the monumental gate recalls the architecture of ancient Egyptian temples. The building, deliberately, has a transcendental aspect, reminiscent of the work of the American architect Luis Kahn. At this stage of Art Deco, architecture had freed itself from the canons of classical styles, but it had not yet reached the pure concepts of modernism that would later conquer the world. Above the entrance is a balcony with a modern metal grill that includes the image of two menorahs. The modernist, geometric rosette behind the balcony uses the motif of the six-pointed star – Magen David (“Shield of David," the symbol of Judaism).

The Aron HaKodesh (where the Torah scrolls are kept) is interestingly marked by the presence of two similar gates built into the wall in bas-relief. The bigger one frames the smaller one. In the middle of the composition is the door, bordered by the columns of the small gate, which allows entry into Aron HaKodesh. Above the inner gate are again placed the tablets of the law. On the sidewalls, the windows have stained-glass in blue, yellow, and white.

The building has a reinforced concrete structure, with pillars and frames supporting the edifice. This arched concrete structure was very innovative for those times. In the first years after the First World War, reinforced concrete was used only for building slabs.

The structure of the synagogue is remarkable for the period when it was designed, which is another crucial reason for the building to be protected with great care.

Most Jews settled in Arad after 1900, and the community, which became the largest of the Orthodox rites in Banat and southern Transylvania, founded a matzot factory that provided this food on Pesach for many communities in the country. The community's first rabbi was Yehuda Szofer, followed by his son-in-law, Joachim Schreiber. In 1913, the latter received the title of Chief Rabbi, reorganized the community, and opened a religious school - yeshiva. He led the community until he died in 1949. After World War II, the Orthodox community members began to emigrate in large numbers, especially to Israel.

In Arad, there was a climate of cooperation and friendship between the members of the Neolog and Orthodox communities.

Gabriel Szekély
Gabriel Szekély

Watch the testimony of Ana Ioniță, employee of the Arad Jewish Community

Stories of the Jewish community

Read the stories of three generations of Jews and uncover the ever-changing destiny of this community

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