return to Home page  The inspiration for the design of The Temple in University Circle  

Arnold Berger


Abba Hillel Silver, ordained at the Hebrew Union College in 1915, became rabbi of a small Reform congregation in Wheeling, West Virginia. He soon earned a regional reputation. In June 1917 he was called to The Temple in Cleveland, where Rabbi Moses J Gries had helped create one of the nation's largest Reform congregations. This pulpit and his extraordinary gifts soon put him on a national stage. In June 1919 he was named to a commission to spend a month in Palestine. It would be his first trip to Palestine.


Coming to Jerusalem

After traveling to Paris the delegation went to Egypt and then to Palestine.

For Jews, Christians and Moslems, the first trip to Jerusalem is a special time. For Abba Hillel Silver, raised in an ardently Zionist family and an active Zionist since he was 13, his first visit would have been a peak experience, with heightened sensitivity a life-long memory.

The delegation, including Silver, would have visited Mount Scopus, the highest mountain near Jerusalem, for it offers the best view of the Old City. Their desire to see the most important building project of the day, the Hebrew University, would also have taken them there.

The Old City as seen from Mount Scopus is shown below, in a 2010 photo. To adjust it back to 1919 when Silver viewed it, imagine that there are no modern buildings. What remains is what he saw: a barren area with several historic religious structures. Only one of them was Jewish, the white-domed building near the right, the Hurva Synagogue.

The Hurva Synagogue

The Hurva Synagogue (Hurva is Hebrew meaning "ruins") was Jerusalem's main Ashkenazi synagogue. Its design is Byzantine, with a polygonal structure and domed roof. The building Abba Hillel Silver saw in August 1919 had been erected in 1864 on a site where for centuries Jerusalem's main Ashkenazi synagogue had stood. He would have visited it, may have prayed in it and, as we will see, remembered it as a symbol of an enduring Israel.

The Temple at University Circle

Rabbi Silver returned to Cleveland and The Temple in September 1919. Early in 1920 it bought land in University Circle and began to plan to build its new home. Silver had indicated his preference for Byzantine design. The Building Committee selected an architect and traveled to several cities to see synagogues of interest. Excavation began on December 4, 1922. On September 19, 1924 The Temple at University Circle was dedicated.

The Hurva Synagogue, which had been reduced to ruins once more by Arab soldiers in 1948, was rebuilt again on the same site in 2010. Its photo is shown below, next to one of The Temple in University Circle. Do you see how well Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver remembered the synagogue he visited in Jerusalem in the summer of 1919?

Hurva Synagogue ● Jerusalem

The Temple ● Cleveland Ohio

On the design of the sanctuary

In his unpublished memoir, written near the end of his life, Abba Hillel Silver expressed his thoughts on the interior design. Visit the Silver Sanctuary and be inspired by it. 


  • Abba Hillel Silver in late 1917   Photo: CSU Special Collections  

  • Old City photo: Roman Kriman

  • The Temple in University Circle Arnold Berger

  • Silver Sanctuary photo by William T Van Pelt, 2008

Links to learn more  (links to other websites will open in a new window)

Byzantine architecture
    ● Byzantine Architecture (Wikipedia)
    ● Hagia Sophia, influenced the design of the Hurva Synagogue (Wikipedia)
    ● Hurva Synagogue (Wikipedia)

The Temple in University Circle
  ●Building The Temple in University Circle by Gail Greenberg

The Temple - Tifereth Israel
   ● Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
   ● Our pages on The Temple-Tifereth Israel

Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver
   ● The Abba Hillel Silver website

Thanks to Professor Robert Nelson of Yale University for contributing to this page.


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