The purpose of the Bet Tfila — Research Unit for Jewish Architecture in Europe is to document and research the sacred and secular architecture of Jewish communities in Europe with reference to its development within the cultural, historical and typological context. The Research Unit acts as an interdisciplinary German-Israeli entity, disseminating the results in scholarly and popular publications in order to raise the awareness of the general public for the need to preserve the endangered visual culture of the Jewish people. Through this effort, a young generation of scholars will be introduced to this subject, in an effort to integrate it into the curriculum of European universities.
Since 1994, the Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Department of Architectural History at the Technical University of Braunschweig (Brunswick) have documented and researched the architecture of extant former synagogues, ritual baths and cemetery chapels in Germany, and studied the archival material of buildings destroyed since 1938, thus making them accessible for critical comparative research.
Endangered Jewish buildings and their imminent loss — especially in Europe, but also in North Africa, the Middle East and beyond —make the systematic research of Jewish visual culture an urgent task. Previous research in Germany indicates that even nowadays, former Jewish ritual buildings, which have lost their original function, are still being disfigured by alterations and demolished.
To save the Jewish visual heritage from oblivion and destruction, the Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem set up the Jerusalem Index of Jewish Art over 20 years ago. This computerised database of Jewish visual culture comprises all periods and regions worldwide. Up to now, over 200,000 objects have been systematically measured, described and photographed in thirty-seven countries. The Index deals with all objects of Jewish art and is divided into five sections: Ancient Jewish Art, Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts, Ritual Objects and Synagogue Furnishings, Modern Jewish Art, and Architecture of Jewish Buildings. Its objective is to present the visual legacy of the Jewish culture as a multifaceted entity within the context in which it developed, thus gaining insight into the history and culture of Jewish communities.
In order to provide a permanent basis for the ongoing documentation and research of Je-wish architecture in Europe, the Center for Jewish Art and the Department of Architectural History are establishing a joint research body entitled: Bet Tfila – Research Unit for Jewish Architecture in Europe.
Concurrent with the research of ritual buildings and Jewish community facilities, the Research Unit may also study the history and typology of the Temple, the Church and the Mosque, which are expressed in its Hebrew name, Bet Tfila — a house of prayer.