... There within the village [of Kefar Baram] is the synagogue of Rabbi Simeon son of Yohai. It is a most magnificent structure [built of] large and well carved stones and large, long columns. I have never before seen a more magnificent building!
Anonymous Jewish pilgrim, early fourteenth century C.E.
The ancient synagogue of Kefar Baram in the Upper Galilee was visited and chronicled repeatedly by medieval Jewish pilgrims to the Land of Israel. Modern interest in ancient synagogues dates to the nineteenth century when European explorers combed the hills and valleys of the Holy Land in search of biblical treasures. Since that time the remains of synagogue life have been discovered in over one hundred sites in the Land of Israel and numerous others throughout the Greco-Roman world. "Sacred Realm: The Emergence of the Synagogue in the Ancient World" tells the story of those synagogues and their place in the history of Judaism and of Western civilization.
"Sacred Realm" is the first comprehensive exhibition ever on the history of the ancient synagogue. The fact that it has been organized by the Yeshiva University Museum is most significant. It reflects the commitment of both Yeshiva University and its museum to creatively embrace both modernity and traditional Jewish culture (Torah im Derekh Eretz). It is through the wisdom of Sylvia Herskowitz, Director of the Yeshiva University Museum, and the unflinching support of Erica Jesselson, Chair of the Board of Trustees, that this exhibition has come to fruition. It has been an honor for me to work with both of them, with the staffs of the museum and of the exhibition, and with the numerous individuals and institutions that came together to make "Sacred Realm" a success.
This catalogue both documents the exhibition and serves as an introduction to the state of synagogue studies today. The contributors to this catalogue, scholars from diverse disciplines who reside in the United States, the Netherlands, and Israel, have each presented his or her distinctive visions of the ancient synagogue.
"Sacred Realm" opens with contributions by two of the leading U.S. scholars of Judaism during the Greco-Roman period, Professor Lawrence H. Schiffman of New York