Pósito, Alhama de Granada, Spain

13th century

La Paracha Tetzaveh (תצוה – You will order), Exodus 27:20 – 30:10, describes the preparation of olive oil for the menorah, the making of the high priest’s clothes, including the Choshen (חֹשֶׁן – Pectoral ) fixed at the Ephod (אפוד – richly embroidered vest), decorated with twelve stones, different liturgies and the manufacture of the altar of perfumes.

Exodus 28:19
וְהַטּוּר הַשְּׁלִישִׁי–לֶשֶׁם שְׁבוֹ, וְאַחְלָמָה.
In the third row are:
Le Leshem (Opale), Shevo (Agate) and Achlama (Amethyst) (1).

“The Achlama stone was designated for the tribe of Gad, because this jewel supports the heart of man within the battle and the Bnei Gad were renowned for their skill in the art of war” (2). The word אחלמה (amethyst) has a numerical value of 84, the same numerical value as עזז, meaning to be strong, to have courage (3).

The small Spanish town of the Granada region, Alhama (4), is known for its thermal waters (5), its spectacular natural environment and its rich historical heritage, notably the Pósito, an ancient 13th century synagogue which was transformed at 16th century in a communal attic (Pósito). Located on the Plaza de Los Presos (Place des Prisonniers), it is today one of the most emblematic buildings in medieval Alhama.
The Pósito is built according to the Sillería technique (6). Its interior is made up of two large naves separated by a large central arch.

(1) The Temple Institute lists no less than thirty different opinions trying to identify the gems of the pectoral.
(2) Rabbi Moshe Weissman, Le Midrach Raconte, Ed. Solomon Haïm Lehiani, p. 335.
(3) Gematry 84 : א=1+ח=8+ל=30+מ=40+ה=5 et ז=7+ז=7+ע=70
(4) Hebrew transcription is אלחמה, which has the gematry 84.
(5) Alhama is a term that comes from Arabic الحمام (Transcription: Al Hama) which means the hammam (thermal baths).
(6) Technique in which the stones are precisely cut to adjust perfectly to each other without the use of mortar or cement.

Casale Monferrato, Piedmont, Italy


In the Parasha Terumah (תרומה – contribution), Exodus 25:1 – 27:19, Moses receives instructions for the construction of the Mishkan (מִשְׁכָּן – Tabernacle). The children of Israel participate by bringing their contributions, providing necessary materials such as gold, silver, copper, wood, etc.

Exodus 25:3 and 8
וְזֹאת הַתְּרוּמָה אֲשֶׁר תִּקְחוּ מֵאִתָּם: זָהָב וָכֶסֶף וּנְחֹשֶׁת[…]
וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם.

And this is the offering which you shall take from them: gold, silver, and copper […]
And they shall make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.

Jewish presence in Casale Monferrato, beginning in the 1430s, was later than in other regions of Piedmont (1). Under different dynasties, Jews, primarily engaged in lending and commerce, experienced periods of relative security. With the annexation to the House of Savoy in 1708, they were confined to the ghetto. During the Napoleonic occupation, they achieved full equality. From 1933 and the rise of fascism, signs of antisemitism began to appear and intensified over time, leading Jews from Casale Monferrato to seek refuge in major Italian cities or in the countryside, and some even fled to Switzerland.

Although its exterior retains the anonymous character of ghetto synagogues, that of Casale Monferrato, built in 1595 and remodeled several times, represents a baroque masterpiece of Piedmontese architecture. The prayer hall benefits from the lighting provided by fourteen windows, seven on each side, embellished with gilding. Its barrel-vaulted ceiling is beautifully decorated with a blue-green ceiling, where the words “זה שער השמים” (This is the gate of heaven) are inscribed in gold letters. Large copper chandeliers add to its splendor. The finely crafted wooden moucharabiehs of the women’s gallery overlook the hall. The Holy Ark, designed with precious materials and adorned with solid gold, reveals, once its doors are open, a crimson damask and golden ornaments as well as the Ten Commandments sculpted in cobalt blue. On the first floor is the Jewish Museum of Art and History (2), which houses a collection of ceremonial silver objects and embroidered textiles.

(1) Daniel Carpi (1926-2005) was a historian specialized in the history of Italian Jews. He was head of the Jewish history department at Tel Aviv University and also taught at Yeshiva University, the Sorbonne, and St Antony’s College, Oxford.
(2) Known as the Museo degli Argenti (Museum of Silverware).

B’nai Israel, Baltimore, Maryland, United States


In the Torah portion of Mishpatim (מִּשְׁפָּטִים – laws, Exodus 21:1-24:18), following the revelation at Sinai, The Lord establishes laws regarding the release of slaves, loans, justice, the treatment of strangers, observance of festivals, and agricultural offerings. God also promises to guide Israel to the Holy Land and warns against pagan practices. The people commit to following these commandments, and as a sign of this commitment, Moses ascends Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. The haftarah (Jeremiah 34:8-22 & 33:25-26) also deals with the release of slaves.

Jeremiah 34:10
וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ כָל-הַשָּׂרִים וְכָל-הָעָם אֲשֶׁר-בָּאוּ בַבְּרִית, לְשַׁלַּח אִישׁ אֶת-עַבְדּוֹ וְאִישׁ אֶת-שִׁפְחָתוֹ חָפְשִׁים,
לְבִלְתִּי עֲבָד-בָּם, עוֹד; וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ, וַיְשַׁלֵּחוּ.

And all the princes and all the people hearkened, that had entered into the covenant to let every one his man-servant, and every one his maid-servant, go free, and not to make bondmen of them any more; they hearkened, and let them go.

The B’nai Israel Synagogue:
The Chizuk Amuno(1) congregation, founded in 1871 in Baltimore, Maryland, experienced a split in 1873 when a group of newly arrived Russian Jews, stricter in their practices, formed the B’nai Israel congregation. In 1895, B’nai Israel acquired the building that the Chizuk Amuno congregation had constructed in 1876. The B’nai Israel Synagogue is distinguished by its neo-Moorish architectural style and its Ark, carved from wood and flanked by two minarets. In 1973, B’nai Israel embarked on a restoration project for the synagogue, which was officially designated a historic monument by the city of Baltimore in 1977. It remains one of the oldest Orthodox synagogues still in operation in the United States.

Freedom Park:
In 1975, the B’nai Israel community donated land to the city of Baltimore for the construction of a park, named Freedom Park. This park, dedicated to the liberation of all victims of oppression, reflects the B’nai Israel community’s commitment to the values of freedom and justice.

(1) Chizuk Amuno is the Ashkenazi pronunciation of Hazak Emunah (חזוק אמונה – strengthening faith).

Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.


In the Parasha Yitro (יתרו, Exodus 18:1-20:23), impressed by the divine miracles, notably the opening of the Yam Souf (the Red Sea) and the war against ‘Amalek, Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, joins the Israelites. He advises Moses on governance. The Jews gather at the foot of Mount Sinai. God reveals to them that they have been chosen to be a ‘kingdom of priests’ and a ‘holy nation’, and He proclaims the Ten Commandments.

Exodus 20:14:
וְכָל-הָעָם רֹאִים אֶת-הַקּוֹלֹת וְאֶת-הַלַּפִּידִם, וְאֵת קוֹל הַשֹּׁפָר, וְאֶת-הָהָר, עָשֵׁן
And all the people saw the voices and the torches, the sound of the shofar, and the smoking mountain.

The Beth Sholom congregation, founded in Philadelphia in 1919, moved to Elkins Park in the 1950s and began to build a new synagogue to accommodate an increasing number of members.

Designed by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright(1), the Elkins Park synagogue, an architectural masterpiece(2), is distinguished by its inclined walls in stepped translucent reinforced glass and plastic. The interior is bathed in natural light during the day, and at night, the entire building radiates with artificial light. From the outside, the building rises towards the sky, evoking a “luminous Mount Sinai(3). On each of its three large edges, the architect has placed a stylized seven-branched candelabrum, visible from all sides.

(1) Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), an American architect and designer, completed more than 400 projects. In 1991, the American Institute of Architects recognized him as the greatest American architect in history.
(2) This is the only synagogue designed by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 70 years of creation. It was inaugurated a few months after his death.
(3) Luminous Mount Sinai is a description by Frank Lloyd Wright himself.