Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Spain: Medieval Mikveh Discovered in Girona

Spain: Medieval Mikveh Discovered in Girona 
by Samuel D. Gruber 
(ISJM) I recently reported on a several mikva'ot that have been discovered and excavated in the old and new worlds.  The pace of discovery continues - now that archaeologists are on the lookout, and know what to look for.  The most recent discovery is of a late medieval mikveh from the Jewish center of Girona, Spain.  Archaeologists from the University of Girona led by Jordi Sagrera identified the remains of a pool and a water tank at the site of one of the cities three known synagogues.  In 1964 a large impressive mikveh was discovered at the Catalonian town of  Besalú, not far from Girona.

A statement issued by the Museum and Patronat Call di Girona says the mikveh is located on the site of the third and last of the Jewish Quarter’s synagogues that were built before the expulsion of the Jews in 1492.

The archaeologists report that:
The pool was directly connected to a small adjacent chamber located on the western side, of which the western curtain wall and original rectangular adobe paving have been uncovered. Together they comprise a unitary and perfectly watertight whole, accessed via a single doorway in the southern wall. The lintel and lower parts of the doorjambs are preserved. The pool was fed by water from a tank located some two metres to the south of this doorway, a space which at the time probably served as an open patio.

The water tank, another new discovery, is a structure bounded by walls made of stone and mortar. It has a rectangular floor 110 cm by 160 cm and a depth of 50 cm covered entirely by a detailed opus signinum. The bottom is not flat but slopes in a northerly direction and it empties into a drain that passes through the northern wall of the tank towards the pool room.

All of the documented structures were covered with earth and re-used between the late  fifteenth century (the tank) and the mid-sixteenth century (the room adjacent to the pool). The results of the excavations have therefore been effective and we can now state that these are the remains of the ritual baths or mikveh used by the Girona Jewish population from 1435 until the time of its expulsion.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

New Publication: Alex Gorlin on Kabbalah in Art and Architecture

 Berlin, Germany. Jewish Museum. Daniel Libeskind, architect.  A building open for seemingly limitless interpretations.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2003

New Publication: Alex Gorlin on Kabbalah in Art and Architecture

Architect Alex Gorlin, known for his synagogue at the North Shore Hebrew Academy in King's Point Jewish Center synagogue in King's Point, Long Island and his recent addition to the Louis Kahn-designed Temple Beth El in Chappaqua, New York, has compiled a book about finding Kabbalah in art (mostly modern) and architecture.  The book isn't so much about artists'  and architects' attempts to insert Kabbalah in their work (though there examples of this), but rather of how to use Kabbalah as a lens for seeing and understanding art and architectural colors, forms and space. 

Kabbalah in Art and Architecture

By Alexander Gorlin. Pointed Leaf Press, 2013, 192 pages, $60. 

Gavriel D. Rosensaft, author of the Building After Auschwitz: Jewish Architecture and the Memory of the Holocaust (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011) has previously written a review in the Forward.

I recommend looking at Gorlin's and Rosensaft's books together; the authors view some of the same buildings with different frames of reference.  Rosensaft has the deeper back story, with much more history and analysis, but Gorlin offers useful pithy descriptions in his extended captions, but always in the context of Kabbalah.  Their interpretations or not contradictory; they are complementary.  

But be warned - though the both the Holocaust and Kabbalah are often referenced in modern architectural works, sometimes an architectural shape is just a shape, an architectural void just a void.