Architectural Ideas in Judaism and the Weekly Torah Portion

By Joshua Skarf

Pages: 594 includes 115 b/w diagrams/images

ISBN: 978-965-524-368-0

Urim Publications

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ArchitecTorah is a collection of 178 short essays that investigate the Torah through the lens of architecture. Each essay briefly introduces a piece of architectural theory, a building, or a section of building code and then reexamines a well-known topic in the Torah to uncover new and insightful interpretations.

About the Author

Joshua Skarf is a licensed architect living and working in Jerusalem. He studied in Yeshivat Har Etzion and has degrees in architecture from the University of Michigan and Bezalel Academy. He has designed hospitals, train stations, shopping malls, Israeli consulates, army installations, elementary schools, museums, and research facilities in Israel. Skarf was born in Toronto, grew up in Michigan, and has been living in Israel since 2004.

Praise for ArchitecTorah

“The unique perspective of an expert in architecture exploring the Torah contributes much to our understanding of the verses, midrashim, and classical biblical commentaries. Most readers, who are not used to examining the Torah from this angle, will be surprised to discover just how significant a contribution it makes to our knowledge and appreciation of the Torah. ArchitecTorah enriches our understanding of the sources in an original and thought-provoking manner.” 

–Rav Amnon Bazak, Yeshivat Har Etzion

“Joshua Skarf introduces the reader to a new genre in Biblical scholarship – the wonderful world of architecture. This book offers a fresh perspective on familiar themes and makes the reader aware of architecture as an ever-present framework of service in Jewish practice. Seeing the Torah through this lens expands our understanding of the built environment as a Divine act – not something reserved for professional offices in the business of building utilitarian structures. The scholarly references to architectural history and the illustrations that accompany this work enrich it for both the lay and professional architectural reader. I am excited to add this book to my Torah library.”

–Elisheva Levi, AIA, LEED AP, lecturer on Architecture in the Torah

“Architecture is the art of giving form, function, and aesthetic to concrete structures. God, the Creator, is the archetypal architect of our world. While we may not realize it, architecture affects many aspects of our lives, whether it be the house in which we live, the office in which we work, the institution in which we are educated, etc. – they all play a significant role in how we live our lives. For human beings are constantly, subconsciously being affected by the manifold forms which they enter and exit throughout their lives.

“How much of this very basic fact is reflected in our classical Jewish sources? Overtly and explicitly – perhaps relatively little. But there is an implicit layer of awareness hinted at throughout our sources. It is this layer that Joshua Skarf has succeeded in uncovering in ArchitecTorah, thus demonstrating persuasively the foundational nature of this concept.”

–Rabbi Dr. Daniel Sperber, Author of The City in Roman Palestine

"Author Joshua Skarf is an architect who has a passion for the subject. The book contains over 170 short pieces that examine the Torah via architecture. Skarf starts the essays with an introduction to the architectural topic or history and then connects it to the Torah parsha.

If you asked most people to come up with architectural ideas in Torah, they’d struggle to come up with more than five. But the book clearly shows how significant architecture is to the Torah. From building technology for the Tower of Babel, halachic issues in cemetery design, public and private spaces, to sukkah balconies and more. You’ll read each chapter and see how eminently clear it is that architecture is an integral part of the Torah.

...Never in the book does Skarf use a forced peshat to make a point. Everything here is well-researched and logically sourced. Architecture plays a vital role in both religious rituals and public safety. Skarf has written a fascinating and engaging work of highly original ideas. This is one of the most engrossing books I have read in a while, and I think you will enjoy it, also."

–Ben Rothke, The Jewish Link

"Skarf gives at least two examples for each of the 54 weekly biblical portions. The items he focuses on are clear, interesting, and thought-provoking. He identifies what is unclear in biblical passages, inquires what underlies the things, and derives information and lessons from his query. For example, he shows how the biblical commands to install a roof guardrail and place mezuzot on doorposts teach helpful safety, spiritual, and other practical lessons beyond these requirements. He draws on many writings, including rabbinical commentaries, Talmuds, Midrashim, Halacha, Roman and Greek literature, and modern writings... In short, this book is both fascinating and enlightening. It is well worth reading." 

–Rabbi Dr. Israel Drazin, San Diego Jewish World