Sun-Thu, 10am-4:30pm; Fri, 10am-3pm; Sat, noon-5pm
N, R, W at Fifth Ave.-59th St.; 6 at 68th St.-Hunter College
In 1845, with about $30 collectively, a group of German immigrants established the first Reform Jewish congregation in the city. More than a century and a half later, Temple Emanu-El numbers 10,000 members and occupies the world’s largest Jewish house of worship. From its humble beginnings in a rented room on the Lower East Side to its 1927 merger with another congregation, Temple Beth-El, the temple has grown in prestige while modernizing its practices, enacting reforms such as eliminating mandatory head-coverings for men. The size and grandeur of the temple’s 17,500-square-foot main sanctuary were meant to convey Judaism’s importance in the fabric of the nation. It was built in a mix of old and new architectural styles, its basilica shape and arched Romanesque windows opening into an Art Deco–style lobby, clad in stately wood and travertine marble. A 21st-century restoration dusted off 75 years' worth of dust, leaving the interior as clean and vibrant-looking as ever. Inside the 2,500-seat worship area, ruby-red carpeted aisles stretch the length of half a football field and culminate at an archway that reaches nearly ten stories to the ceiling. Beyond, marble steps lead to the pulpit area, or bimah, as well as to the ark, which contains seven Torah scrolls (including one recovered from the Holocaust) and is itself built in the shape of an open scroll. A choir and organ, hidden behind columns above the ark, pour lilting scales into the void above the nearly 280 cushioned wooden pews on the floor and balcony. Stained-glass windows spray light down onto the walls, which are laced with shimmering strips of gold between acoustic tiles. The congregation hails largely from this tony neighborhood and includes a healthy stock of billionaires and elites (Michael Bloomberg, Eliot Spitzer, and the Ochs family, among them). The temple’s rich history is brought to life in an in-house museum where religious relics, some dating back to the sixteenth-century and possibly earlier, are put on public display.Note
Visitors should call ahead to confirm that the sanctuary is not closed due to a funeral or other event.
Tours are self-guided for walk-ins. Tours with a docent are available for groups, booked at least two weeks in advance.
Two smaller chapels also can be viewed, both of which sport windows by Louis Comfort Tiffany: a luxurious private chapel with Roman columns that arch into Byzantine-style domes, and a smaller chapel that’s used almost daily.
Open to the public, Sun.—Thu., 5:30 p.m. (enter on 65th St.); Fri., 5:15 p.m.; Sat., 10:30 a.m.