Main SourcebooksAncientMedievalModern

Subsidiary SourcebooksAfricanEast AsianGlobalIndianJewishIslamicLesbian/GayScienceWomen

About IHSP Help Page IHSP Credits


By Gerard Fernandez

I. Before Construction 

The Temple Emanu-El began construction on April 11, 1927. The congregation of Temple Emanu-El had joined the congregation of Temple Beth-El in 1926. Temple Beth-El was located on 67th and Fifth Avenue at the time and across from the temple was an enormous double mansion owned by Mrs. Caroline Schermerhorn Astor. Since Temple Emanu-El which was located at 42nd street was becoming too small and there was too much confusion in mid-town, the congregation decided to build a new temple that was located in a scenery that members could more easily concentrate on prayers.

The site broke ground and the architects that designed the temple were Robert D. Kohn, Charles Butler, and Clarence Stein. The associate architects were a firm named Mayes, Murray, and Phillie. The temple's first ceremony was in September 1929, a few short weeks before the stock market crash. The finish product took only five years and had resulted in an enormous temple costing approximately $7,500,000.

II. Architecture 

The architecture of the Temple Emanu-El resembles the great cathedrals of Europe. The massive limestone walls that are decorated with Romanesque details give the public an idea of medieval times. Directly out front of the temple is an enormous wheel-like window. The window is detailed as a traditional Magen David (six-pointed star). The two columns that run on either side of the window have two lions resting at the top resembling guardians of the temple. The three sets of beautiful bronze doors at the entrance bear symbols of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Beyond the entrance, the temple engulfs a person with an monstrous sanctuary that is capable of seating 2500 members. The ceilings are 103 feet high, the width is approximately 77 feet, and the length is 147 feet. The absence of interior supporting pillars is made possible by the system of
buttresses. There are Gustavino acoustical tiles applied to the walls above the marble wainscoting. The idea of these tiles is to improve acoustic quality. The main center of worship is at the eastern wall. This architecture is common in most Jewish temples in the western world because it is too symbolize all eyes looking towards Jerusalem.



Beth-El Chapel 

Temple Emanu-El complex has also a small chapel named Beth-El Chapel, a 6-story religious school that doubles as the community house, and a Judaica collection that is spread throughout the temple.

The smaller chapel is connected to the main sanctuary. The chapel can seat up to 350 members. The main focus of worship has a six pointed star at the wall and contains two domes on the ceiling. There are columns that run down the sides of the chapel. The ceilings are 45 feet high, the width is 50 feet, and the length is 84 feet. The smaller chapel has a distinct Byzantine architecture.

The Wheel-like Window 

The enormous front window contains twelve spokes that are to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. Within the window there is the Star of David, the symbol of the Jewish religion. The window recalls mosaic synagogues built in the Holy land during the second to sixth centuries of the common era. Around the inner circle are smaller circles that may resemble cosmos or smaller stars.

The Religious School 

The six-story school which also operates as the community house was built in 1959 at a cost of 4 million dollars. The school is located at 66th and Fifth Avenue.

III. Judaica Collection 

The Judaica Collection that Temple Emanu-El possesses is over 500 pieces of Jewish art objects. The diverse collection has pieces that range in date from fourteenth to twentieth century. Most of the pieces are of Jewish ceremonial art and household ritual objects. There is also a small collection of memorabilia of the history of the Temple. The main focus of the collection are the following four pieces:

  • Bloomingdale Torah Crowns: These crowns are used to decorate three of the Torah scrolls. These crowns are located in the main sanctuary of the Temple.
  • Set of Schiff Torah Ornaments : This set of ornaments was presented on May 25, 1890 by Jacob H. and  Theresa Schiff in commemoration of the confirmation of their daughter.
  • Boller Sabbath and Festival Hanging Lamp 
  • Lewis May Presentation Vase : Lewis May was president of Temple Emanu-El at 43rd and Fifth Avenue from May 4, 1865 to July 22, 1897. The vase was built in commemoration of May's 25 years of devotion to the Temple.



IV. Importance 

The Temple Emanu-El was built to remove the constant distractions that occurred at 43rd street and also to enlarge the congregation. The temple is at a beautiful site that borders central park and gives the members a spiritual uplifting by architecture and faith.

The beams of light that enter through the wheel-like window allow members to feel the presence of God. The temple has been there through W.W.II and will continue to remain there for the Jewish community.

V. Information 

E-mail:  [email protected] 
Tel: (212) 744-1400
Location: 65th and Fifth Avenue, New York City, New York


VI. Bibliography 
  • Wilensky, Eli, AIA Guide to New York City, Third Ed., Harcourt Brane Jovanovich Pub., San Diego, 1986.

Back to Medieval New York

The Internet History Sourcebooks Project is located at the History Department of  Fordham University, New York. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and other medieval components of the project, are located at the Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies.The IHSP recognizes the contribution of Fordham University, the Fordham University History Department, and the Fordham Center for Medieval Studies in providing web space and server support for the project. The IHSP is a project independent of Fordham University.  Although the IHSP seeks to follow all applicable copyright law, Fordham University is not the institutional owner, and is not liable as the result of any legal action.

© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 5 June 2023 [CV]