Rodef Shalom


What do Quantum Theatre Company, the Irene Kaufman Settlement House, and President Taft all have in common? RODEF SHALOM!

BUILDING HOURS: Open when Temple is open

GARDEN HOURS: June 1-September 15, Sunday-Thursday 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Saturday 12 p.m-1 p.m.

Indoors with Seasonal Outdoor Garden

Admission Price: Free


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About Rodef Shalom

Walking through the streets of Shadyside and the surrounding areas the massive green dome of Rodef Shalom can be seen peeking put from the treetops. Shady side is a tranquil family oriented neighborhood just a few blocks form Oakland. Rodef shalom is the oldest Jewish congregation in Pittsburgh being founded in the 1840’s. It boasts the only time a sitting president has given a speech from the pulpit on the day of the Sabbath in U.S. history. President Taft visited the congregation on May 29th, 1909. The congregation has a vibrant and rich history of interacting with the community. They helped to found the Irene Kaufmann settlement house, which provided early education, healthcare, and services to the surrounding immigrant community. Architecture is also represented through the history of Rodef Shalom

The congregation has had three homes in its history. They had to move as the size of the congregation grew, the current building was finished in 1907. Since Rodef Shalom is so old its buildings have had many different architectural designs. When the current building was being designed in the early 20th century they put in place electrical infrastructure before it was even available in Pittsburgh. The most obvious place to see this is on the hanging light fixtures in the sanctuary, they were put in place to be electrified after completion of the building. Rodef Shalom is also home to one of three biblical gardens in the U.S. where all the plants in it are mentioned in the bible. The garden was created by a retired Rabbi of the temple, who still maintains it to this day. There are plaques near each plant providing the passage of the bible they are mentioned in. The temple is also the home of the oldest Kimball organ and in the U.S. Kimball is the oldest manufacturer of organ in the continental U.S. it was founded in 1857.

The temple and the congregation have always been involved with the surrounding community. The woman’s club of Rodef Shalom hosts a bridge tournament every week. The building is home to a private library, and archive collection, and a preschool. Rodef Shalom has served many different purposes for the congregation and the community. When the public school system was first instituted in Pittsburgh Jewish students were discriminated against so Rodef Shalom started their own school and the Rabbi helped to write some of the textbooks. Rodef Shalom has continued their philosophy of community involvement to this day. In the spring of 2014 a local theater company, Quantum Theater, took over the entire building for a few weeks to put on an immersive play. They transformed the building into the early 1920’s and invited viewers to follow the actors throughout the performance. Rodef Shalom opened their doors to Quantum as they had done for so many community members before.

Rodef Shalom is always open for people to come in and learn more about their history. They welcome people to call ahead and schedule tours of the building. The congregation has continued the mission of Rodef Shalom to be open to the public and to offer assistance. The architectural beauty of the building and its history has been exquisitely preserved and is available for all to see. Rodef Shalom is a pillar of the community and will be that way many years in the future.

Three Spaces

Sarah Eyler

Physical Space

Rodef Shalom’s current physical space includes many unique aspects. Its architecture is different from most religious buildings, with a green tiled dome roof peaking out of the many trees in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside. The current building has not always been the home of the congregation though. The Jewish congregation Rodef Shalom has used three different buildings since their formation. After using several small spaces for worship, construction for their first building on Eighth Street in downtown Pittsburgh began in 1861, which would become the first Jewish synagogue in Western Pennsylvania. The German-born architect Charles F. Bartberger supervised the construction of the gothic style building. As the congregation grew in the late nineteenth century, its first building was torn down to be replaced by a larger one in the same location, designed by Charles Bickel in 1901. Three years later, the congregation grew enormously under the leadership of Rabbi Dr. J. Leonard Levy. Thus, the decision was made to build a new synagogue near Oakland, the emerging civic center of Pittsburgh. The second building was then sold to the Second Presbyterian Church until it was torn down in 1959. The third, and current building was built at the corner of Fifth and Morewood Avenues in Shadyside with the architecture of Henry Hornbostel, who also designed the original Carnegie Institute of Technology and Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall. The building was completed in  1907 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Each of the three spaces that have housed Rodef Shalom were built with grand architecture. The Congregation’s first building was designed with gothic style architecture. It was more square shaped than the next tow buildings and included several arch shaped windows on the building’s front. The sanctuary had an elevated pulpit surrounded by a railing and pews on each side as well as an upper gallery. There was a circular Ark covered with a crimson curtain placed opposite the entrance with sliding doors and pillars at each side (1862 Rodef Shalom Building). The second building was larger and had more of a grand entrance than the first building. The centerpiece of the building was the large stained glass window over the entrance. The architecture of the second building is more similar to the current building, most likely because they were built only a few years apart, but the color of the building is much darker. Rodef Shalom’s current building, the only one still standing, is the work of Henry Hornbostel, who is responsible for several significant buildings in Pittsburgh, including the Carnegie Library in Oakland. Its green tiled dome roof is a signifying feature along with the large stained glass window over the Fifth Avenue Entrance. The main sanctuary is very large with grand architecture, seating over nine hundred people on the first floor and three hundred in the gallery. There are several menorah-shaped chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, a 1907 Kimball organ, four large stained glass windows designed by William and Annie Lee Willet which were taken from the second building, a beautiful stained glass skylight at the center of the dome-shaped ceiling, and a lunette over the Fifth Avenue Entrance (History).

In addition to the unique architecture and large indoor space, Rodef Shalom is also home to an outdoor seasonal biblical botanical garden, which was established in 1987. As the largest of only three in the nation, it is one of the most popular aspects of Rodef Shalom, despite only being open during the summer months. The setting of the garden is reminiscent of the Holy Land and includes a waterfall, a desert, a stream, and a representation of the River Jordan. The garden displays over one hundred plants grown in ancient Israel including wheat, barley, millet, olives, dates, pomegranates, figs, and cedar trees. Each plant in the garden is labeled and accompanied by a bible verse (About Us). The biblical botanical garden is one of Rodef Shalom’s most unique aspects and provides a beautiful outdoor green space to accompany the building and its grand architecture.

Theoretical Space

According to space theorist Edward Soja, there are three categories of space: perceived, conceived, and lived. Perceived space exists in reality; it is material and materialized spatiality and empirically measurable (Soja). In relation to Rodef Shalom, perceived space refers to the specific aspects of the space. The architecture of the building falls into the category of perceived space, like the green tiles on the roof of the current building, the skylight in the center of ceiling if the sanctuary, the stained glass windows in the sanctuary, and the biblical botanical garden. In addition to architectural aspects of the building, perceived space could be objects in the building, like the 1907 Kimball organ or menorah-shaped chandeliers in the sanctuary. Perceived space is what an individual can see and is utterly indisputable. The perceived space alone of Rodef Shalom is beautiful and unique, no matter what religion one practices. It stands out from the rest of the buildings in Shadyside.

Conceived space is defined as imaginary space, “entirely ideational, made up of projections into the empirical world from conceived or imagined geographies.” (Soja). In relation to Rodef Shalom, conceived space could refer the grandness of the architecture or the sacredness of the space as a Jewish synagogue. Another aspect of conceived space, according to Soja, is that it can overshadow the perceived space. For example, the conceived idea that Rodef  Shalom is solely a sacred space limited to those of the Jewish faith can overshadow its reality that, in addition to being a sacred place of worship, it has historical significance that can be of interest to anyone, regardless of religious denomination. I personally am not of the Jewish faith, but the undeniably beautiful perceived space and rich history of Rodef Shalom make it an interesting site to visit, despite the fact that I do not practice the same religion.

The final category of space, lived space, combines the real and the imagined and is defined as how the space is used and how it affects one’s life (Soja). As lived space is specific to each person, there are many ways in which Rodef Shalom can be seen in terms of lived space. Rodef Shalom is first and foremost a Jewish synagogue, so that is the main factor of its lived space, but it also hosts many events that are not directly connected to the congregation and those can factor in as well. For example, Quantum Theatre staged a play, Tamara, at Rodef Shalom. For the play, they repurposed several rooms to create the set. The play transformed the perceived space and added another perspective to Rodef Shalom’s lived space.

Importance of the Space

Rodef Shalom is a great site, and its historical significance to the city of Pittsburgh makes it an interesting visit, regardless of one’s religious denomination. There is a lot of history behind the congregation. It was the first synagogue in Western Pennsylvania. It has used three different buildings since its formation and its current building is one of five synagogues on the National Register of Historic Places. The congregation hosted President Taft, the first United States President to ever speak from the bimah of a Jewish congregation during regular Sabbath services (History). The building itself is very unique. I have personally never come across another religious building with a bright green roof or the largest Kimball organ still in use.

Taft at Rodef Shalom
Taft at Rodef Shalom (Image 4)

Rodef Shalom is important in a historical sense, but the congregation has also been a pillar in the Pittsburgh Jewish community for over one hundred and fifty years. The congregation is currently Pittsburgh’s leader in the fight against hunger, cosponsoring the Empty Bowls fundraiser in support of the Community Food Bank and Just Harvest. They also conduct food drives throughout the year to collect food for the Squirrel Hill Food Pantry. The congregation is also involved with LGBT rights and the inclusion of persons with disabilities (Social Action).

Rodef Shalom holds a lot of importance in the city of Pittsburgh. As the oldest congregation in Western Pennsylvania, it has a rich history which includes three different buildings. The first was built in 1861, the second in 1901, and the current building in 1907. The space itself is unique and full of history, but there is also a rich history in the people of the congregation. Rodef Shalom has been a pillar in the community since its formation and currently participates in many projects for the betterment of the community. Rodef Shalom is a great site in Pittsburgh, regardless of religion. The beauty of the building along with the unique biblical botanical garden and the rich history of the congregation make it a place of interest to anyone.

Seen and Not Seen

Catie Costello

Rodef Shalom has a very colorful and involved history in Pittsburgh. They are the oldest Jewish congregation in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area. Rodef Shalom is more than just the physical building that they are housed in; in fact many of the things that make Rodef Shalom unique have no physical presence or being. The building they are housed in at the moment is their third home; they outgrew their former locations. Rodef Shalom has always put community first, their original location was strategically located in walking distance for all of its members so they could make it to worship on the day of the Sabbath when they were not allowed to use technology or electricity. The being of Rodef Shalom is a combination of the physicality of the building, the people of the congregation, and the community involvement of the two together.

1907 Rodef Shalom Building Exterior This is the third and current building of Rodef Shalom.(Historic Pittsburgh) (Image 3)

When I first visited Rodef Shalom I had very null feelings about the site. When I thought of “Secret Pittsburgh” what came to mind was Steelers stadium, Point Park, and other major landmarks; not a synagogue. I already had a preconceived notion of what a Jewish temple would be like. In George Robinson’s book Essential Judaism He goes over and explains the Jewish faith, the prayers, the history, the structure of the temple, and the traditions. Robinson states,

The essential structure of the synagogue today reflects the physical structure of the Temple as well. At the front of the sanctuary space is the Aron Kodesh/Holy Ark, containing the Sifrei Torah/Torah scrolls. Hanging over the Ner Tamid/Eternal Light, a visual equivalent of the eternal light of Torah, prescribed by God to Aron and his sons in Exodus 27: 20-22. (Robinson)

The quote shows the traditional structure of all Jewish temples and the meaning and history of their origin. I knew temples to only be places of worship, which is how Robinson’s text describes them. To most tourists Rodef Shalom is a utilitarian space, not a landmark. It is not a place to seek out and visit, unless you need to worship. Rodef Shalom is much more than its physical building and religious purpose.

The Trialectic of Being and the Irene Kaufmann Settlement House

Rodef Shalom uses its space in a more fluid way than other institutions. It is not only a place of worship but fosters many non-secular functions, for example the Irene Kaufmann Settlement house (IKS). The IKS house was the largest settlement house for most of the 19th and 20th centuries in Pittsburgh; in the beginning it served mostly the Jewish population. In the settlement house there was a school, introductory English classes for migrant children and their parents, and many health services provided. When it first started out it was small enough to be housed in a few empty rooms at the Rodef Shalom building, but as it grew it required its own larger space.Rodef Shalom and the Rabbi of the time reached out to the Kaufmann family of the congregation to finance a new larger building to house IKS. The Kaufmann family named the building after their deceased daughter Irene. The spatiality of the two groups started out as one physical building but as time progressed they separated. Even though the two were not connected anymore the formation of IKS was linked to Rodef Shalom and many of the services in the new building were still provided by members of the congregation. IKS and Rodef Shalom served the community as a whole providing services to anyone no matter their religion. The sociality of the space expanded as the program grew to serve more people.

Anniversary Celebration The Irene Kaufmann Settlement house on the 25th anniversary of its foundation (Historic Pittsburgh) (Image 5)

Space either present or non-present, physical or non-physical plays a major role in the current being of Rodef Shalom. Space is commonly thought to mean only the physical measurements of a building or place, but it has many other components that don’t meet the eye. Theorist Edward Soja breaks down and explains space with different trialectics. I will be using the Trialectic of Being to help explain the space of Rodef Shalom. The three components of the “Being” trialectic are spatiality, historicality, and sociality. Spatiality according to Soja combines the ideas of physical and conceived or imaginary spaces. Rodef Shalom has its physical space in the building it is housed in, although its conceived space is how it has interacted with the community throughout history. An example of this conceived space would be the history of the Irene Kaufmann Settlement house, as entailed before, Rodef Shalom helped found IKS but as time progressed the two organizations diverged. The two organizations are no longer connected physically. IKS is part of the space of the Rodef Shalom because it is part of spatiality of the organization. Historicality is the idea that events in history help mold the space of a being. IKS also serves as a good example for this because; the histories of the two organizations are intertwined and neither would be the same today without each other. Sociality is how a being interacts with the world around them. For Rodef Shalom the sociality is represented in all the services they provide now and in the past to the community. For example, Rodef Shalom offers bridge games every Monday and a private library to its members; both of these show the sociality of the being of Rodef Shalom.

When I went on my initial tour of Rodef Shalom there was no mention of IKS at all, I only learned about it through my personal outside research. This calls into question of historicality. IKS has almost been forgotten in its relation to Rodef Shalom both through the spatiality and sociality aspects. Historically IKS will always be a part of Rodef Shalom, just not as many people may know about it. Rodef Shalom involvement in IKS shows their community outreach and ideal of service. Even if the connection of the two beings is lost, the way that they shaped each other is still present today. On Rodef Shalom’s personal website (insert link here) they have a whole page dedicated to their history, nowhere on that page is there mention of IKS. Something so integral to the congregation and the city of Pittsburgh has been omitted on their personal history page. The connection between the two has become weaker through time but the impact of their time together is still felt in the city and carried though in the ideals of the congregation of Rodef Shalom today.

The Trialectic of Spatiality and Tamara

Rodef Shalom also challenges traditional ideas of space within the physical space of their building. Just recently in the spring of 2014 Quantum Theater Company, a local Pittsburgh company, collaborated with Rodef Shalom to use their space to put on a play. The play called Tamara took over the entire building except the sanctuary. It was an immersive production where the actors and sets encompassed the entire space and viewers walked around from room to room following the characters. Quantum changed the space of Rodef Shalom; spaces that were originally auditoriums or rooms of worship were now stages or dressing rooms. The entire building that was once a religious site was now a theater for four weeks. People who would have never come to Rodef Shalom were now part of the physicality and history of the space. Rodef Shalom allowed their space to be changed and altered dramatically, until it was almost unrecognizable as a temple. Quantum transformed and changed the being and space of Rodef Shalom temporarily.

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 5.57.12 PM
Image of the Tamara performance in Rodef Shalom. A screenshot of Quantum Companies website landing page. (Quantum Link)                     (Image 6)

By allowing the playhouse to take over the space Rodef Shalom also altered their perceived space. Perceived space is space that we can see, touch, feel, and smell. Soja further expands the idea of spatiality with its own trialectic. The trialectic of spatiality consists of perceived, conceived, and lived. The conceived space is the imaginary spaces and what we cannot see. The lived spaces are how we use space and how it affects our life, its kind of like a combination of perceived and conceived. For Rodef Shalom, the perceived space is the physical building they are in and what that means. I perceived the building as boring and utilitarian when I first visited. I had no idea about the community involvement and non-secular activities that Rodef Shalom has participated in. The conceived space of Rodef Shalom is similar to how they transformed the space into the theater production. Even though the sets and actors are no longer there when you walk through the space their past presence affects how you interact with it. The conceived space is anything that affects how you perceive the space in the moment that is not physically there. Lastly the lived space of Rodef Shalom is the combination of the two. The lived space is how we interact with the space and how we affect it based on what we can perceive and conceive about the space. My personal lived experience of Rodef Shalom is shown through my shift in appreciation. I went in thinking it would be boring but, through my research of Rodef Shalom my opinion of the space has changed. Even if I could not see the play happening, I knew it occurred and that changed how I saw and interacted with the space. The lived experience of space is a two way street. Conceived and perceived space affects how we humans see a space, but how we interact and change a space affects the conceived and perceived space in the future.

Rodef Shalom is an important pillar of the community. It is not just a place of worship; it also acts as a pseudo-community center for members and non-members of the congregation. Rodef Shalom is an integral part of the history of Pittsburgh. From the first congregation to the opening of the school and IKS, Rodef Shalom has concreted them selves as a member of the community and history. Through their use of physical and non-physical space Rodef Shalom has fostered their legacy of community involvement. The use of historicality, spatiality, sociality, conceived, perceived, and lived space helps to fully encompass the broad realities of what Rodef Shalom has done throughout history and the meaning of that in the present time.

Works Cited

“About Us.” RODEF SHALOM BIBLICAL BOTANICAL GARDEN. N.p., 11 Mar 2014. Web. 16 Dec. 2015

“History.” Rodef Shalom. Rodef Shalom, 02 Oct. 2014. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.

Robinson, George. Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs, and Rituals. New York: Pocket, 2000. Print.

“Social Action.” Rodef Shalom. N.p., 24 Sept. 2014. Web. 17 Dec. 2015.

Soja, Edward. Thirdspace: Journeys to Lost Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. Cambridge MA: Blackwell Publishing Inc., 1996. 53-70.

Image 1

“1862 Rodef Shalom Building.” 20121102-hpicrsc-0001 Rodef Shalom Congregation Collection. Historic Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.

Image 2

” 1901 Rodef Shalom Building.” 20121102-hpicrsc-0002 Rodef Shalom Congregation Photograph Collection. Historic Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.

Image 3

“1907 Rodef Shalom Building Exterior.” 20121102-hpicrsc- 0003 Rodef Shalom Congregation Photograph Collection. Historic Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.

Image 4

“President Taft’s Visit to Rodef Shalom.” 20121102-hpicrsc-0006 Rodef Shalom Congregation Photograph Collection. Historic Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.

Image 5                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    “Anniversary Celebration”. 7812.129.IKS Oliver M. Kaufmann Photographic Collection of the Irene Kaufmann Settlement, January 1918. Historic Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Web. 05 Nov. 2015.

Image 6                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Screenshot of Quantum Theater’s landing page, depicting the cast of the play Tamara. Tamara was written by John Krizanc and Richard Rose, it was directed by Karla Boo and John Shepard and preformed at Rodef Shalom from August 7th to September 14th 2014. Screenshot taken on December 16th, 2015.