“Sacred Space: Then and Now”

Yesterday evening the wife and I attended a lecture at the Arnstein Jewish Community Center in Knoxville. Part of the “Sacred Space: Then and Now” series sponsored by the Partnership for the Academic Study of Early Judaism, the event featured Dr. J.P. Dessel, a (former?) University of Tennessee-Knoxville professor, speaking on the topic “A Look into Ancient Synagogues: Comparing Knoxville’s own with those of the Middle East.”

The speaker emphasized the continuity of synagogues in form and function over the past 2000 years. One fun fact: In some synagogues it’s easier for visitors to get permission to open the Ark and view the Torah scrolls than to go into the kitchen. The synagogues work hard to keep a kosher kitchen, even when not all the congregants eat kosher at home.

Members of the audience pressed the speaker for information on when the custom of separate seating for men and women began. He left the impression that the archaeological evidence doesn’t support separate seating in ancient times as strongly as some think.


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