Architectural Ideas in Judaism and the Weekly Torah Portion
By Joshua Skarf
Hardcover, 598 pages, including 115 diagrams and images
Urim Publications, 2023
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.
Subjects range from overt examples of architectural stories and commandments to Talmudic discussions about daily life. The author addresses topics large and small, from the origin of cities and affordable housing, to finer details like moisture control and stair design, all viewed through extensive references to rabbinic sources and architectural treatises. He is able to communicate new perspectives on Torah in a way that is both interesting and accessible to non-professionals.
Essays are arranged according to the weekly Torah portion, with at least two entries per parsha.
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“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 and Israel Prize winner.
“This book is both fascinating and enlightening. Well worth reading.” –Rabbi Dr. Israel Drazin, author of the Unusual Bible Interpretations series.
"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." -Ben Rothke, Jewish Link
“A delightful book...tents, houses, civic buildings, altars, temples, cities with zoning regulations, cemeteries, hydraulic systems, instruments of war and peace, Skarf has knowledge to deepen our understanding of all those structures...He marshals evidence from one end of rabbinic literature to the other, from classical studies of architecture, and from the most modern scholarship.” –Louis Finkelman, The Detroit Jewish News