Seating and the American Synagogue

By Jonathan D. Sarna

Rutgers University Press, 1991

One can learn much about the history of the American synagogue by looking at where members of the congregation sat. Seating patterns mirror social patterns. In determining where to sit, people disclose a great deal about themselves, their beliefs, and their relationships to others. This study of seating patterns focuses on one ramified aspect of American synagogue seating: the allocation of scats and the resulting shift from stratified to free (unassigned) seating. Like the tumultuous debate over mixed seating, the controversy over free seating reflects the impact of American equality and democracy on synagogue life. American society was conflicted with regard to its goals: some considered equality of opportunity the ideal, others looked for equality of condition. Furthermore, egalitarian ideals, however defined, clashed ever more forcefully with the reality of social inequality and the desire of the newly rich to engage in "conspicuous consumption." These disputes -- the one a conflict over ideals, the other a clash between ideals and realities -- affected religious institutions no less than society at large. Changing synagogue-seating patterns reflected these disputes and provide an illuminating case study of how American religion and society have historically interacted.

Topic: Socioeconomic Status, History, Freedom, Change, Egalitarianism, Values, Synagogues and Congregations

Name of Publication: Belief and Behavior: Essays in the New Religious History

Editor: Swierenga, Robert P. , Vandermeer, Philip

Page Number(s): 189-206

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Genre: Book Chapter

Coverage: United States

Language: English

Copyright Holder: Author

Copyright Information: Download for personal use, freely distribute link

Bibliographic Information:
Sarna, Jonathan D. Seating and the American Synagogue. Belief and Behavior: Essays in the New Religious History. Rutgers University Press. 1991: 189-206. http://www.bjpa.org/Publications/details.cfm?PublicationID=12089


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