My trip to Italy was filled with amazingly beautiful and powerful experiences that will be with me all of my life. It was especially challenging to confront the barrier between Christianity and Judaism in Europe, and the suprising place in which those lines broke down...
The divides between Judaism and Christianity over history in Europe is familiar to most people and the fact that this divide would still be so strong (though not as overtly violent) would also not likely be suprising to people. This divide is most profoundly expressed in the traditional Roman Catholicism that is predominant as well as the lack of: Conservative, Reform, Renewal, etc. Jewish presence. The potential for a strong Messianic Judaism in Europe is significantly dampened by both parties strong adherence to religious traditions uncomfortable with redefining boundaries. With that said, there was one area where the artisitc paved a road toward commonality (though entirely without intention).
Italy is home of some of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world, particularly in Florence and Venice. Interestingly enough, the main Synagogue in Florence, and the Synagogues in Venice are also some of the most beautiful in the world. The Synagogue in Florence is the same shape as the famous Duomo in the same city. The inside of the Synagogue has a pipe organ, pulpit, and the ark is placed right where the altar would be were the building to be a Church. Amazingly enough, this particular Synagogue was commissioned by the Orthodox community. They had no intention of using the organ on Shabbat or the pulpit. It was designed this way because they hoped to attract more Jews who had strayed from Judaism through creating a place similar to a Church. The starkest difference is that the scrolls of the Torah replace the image of Yeshua on the cross. Incidently, the Synagogues in Venice were also not built Jews because in order to be an architect one had to be a member of a guild, and Jews were not allowed such memberships.
What we have here is an ironic twist provoked by a need for both the Church and the Jewish people to have beatiful places to worship God where the difference between them, visually, lies in the exaltation of the written Word (Scrolls and Hebrew letters) for one, and the Fleshly dimension (images and the Living Word) for the other. As the title of my blog would suggest, I see these two categories is indivisibly ONE.
What a beautiful thing to know that when Jews and Christians in this period decided to build their beit t'fillot all the differences in theology couldn't keep out the unbreakable link between them.