One Synagogue’s Epic Battle Over a Stained Glass Window of the Ten Commandments

May 18, 1850, was a banner day in the life of Congregation Anshi Chesed, a traditional synagogue in the heart of New York’s kleine Deutschland, the city’s preeminent German neighborhood. Several hundred of the congregation’s members, along with some of the city’s most prominent officials and a “great many other persons of distinction,” gathered together on that spring afternoon, crowding the area’s narrow byways, to dedicate the congregation’s spanking new building on Norfolk Street. Clutching a small card of admission—“not transferable,” it read—they jostled for admission to the Gothic Revival–style synagogue, the largest in the city, a structure whose ambitious proportions dwarfed all the other buildings in its immediate vicinity. A proud, and decidedly modern, urban presence, Anshi Chesed, also known as the Norfolk Street Synagogue, was said to be in step with the “progressive feelings of the age,” as well as the very last word in stylishness. Its architect, Alexander Saeltzer, had made sure of it. An up-and-coming professional in his early 30s who hailed from and was trained in Berlin and who, only a few short years later, would go on to erect New York’s storied Astor Library and its Academy of Music, Saeltzer adorned the exterior of his red-brick building with “ornamented turrets” and its interior with a “mammoth,” three-tiered chandelier from which hung 48 gas jets, then the height of novelty.

The Norfolk Street Synagogue also contained a prominently situated stained-glass window that depicted the Ten Commandments. As stunning as the building’s exterior turrets and as modern as its chandelier, it floated right above the ark that contained the Torah scrolls, commanding the attention of those seated in the pews below. The window’s unusual shape also drew the eye. Instead of embedding the 10 prescriptions within the rigid and customary geometry of two tablets, Saeltzer had them marching freely within the circumference of a circle. These Ten Commandments were in the round. More like the spokes of a wheel than the flat inscriptions on a stele, each “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not” was housed within its own unit of glass. To heighten the effect, a series of 10 petal-shaped panels occupied the center of the composition.

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About OyiaBrown

Please send me, as a comment to this page, any old material you have for inclusion in The Daily Joke Alert - to help enable us all to have our fancy tickled regularly! Never mind the state it's in as I tidy everything up prior to publication. Don't let good material go to waste - and so much does. In the interests of the environment we should always try to re-cycle everything, especially jokes. You know that makes sense! You may find some historical stuff here, but this does not really matter as humor is fairly timeless.

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