The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Modernization of the Cultural Heritage of Hasidism: From the Wooden Synagogue in Tolna (Ukraine) to the New Synagogue of Tolna Hasidim in Jerusalem

As Hasidic followers gravitated towards their roots, they often cited the architectural forms of their past in the design of modern synagogues. Striking examples of this include replicating the appearance of the “770” – the Chabad headquarters in New York – around the world and incorporating features of 16–19th-century Galician synagogues in the design of modern religious structures in Jerusalem. We see this as a desire to “generate” a Hasidic genealogy through architecture, as well as to visualize the cabalistic thesis that the Messianic Temple will unite all the synagogues of the world.

In this series is the synagogue erected by followers of Talne Hasidism in Jerusalem in 2014. Here it was recreated the appearance of Torah Ark from the old synagogue in the town of Talne (Ukraine), belonging to the movement’s founder, David Tversky (1808–1882). Photographs of this synagogue by Ukrainian art critic Danyla Shcherbakivsky (1877–1927) and its graphic reconstruction unexpectedly revealed its cultural heritage to followers of the current Talner Rebbe, Yitzchak Menachem Weinberg, and aroused the desire to include it in the structure of the new synagogue.

The new Torah Ark was modernized: the composition, volumes and decorative floral elements were kept from the old model, but other motifs – such as the rich symbolic bestiary and the murals on the theme of God’s mercy and punishment, reflecting the essence of Talne Hasidism – were rejected. This reduction simplified the Torah Ark’s mystical image as a divine portal and neutralized the allegorical language of the decor. Obviously, for the new generation, these images have lost their meaning and relevance. This interpretation of cultural heritage raises a number of questions about the strategy of its use in modern practice: from documentary fixation of the past to its partial or radical rethinking within the framework of modernity.