Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mystery in the Courtyard of the Arches

Supreme Court Building architect Ada Karmi-Melamede calls her courtyards "roofless rooms."
In a post last week we talked about the symbolism of the water conduit in the Courtyard of the Arches.
But today look carefully at the far end of the courtyard shown above.
From up close you can see it has the vaulted ceiling and the other characteristics of Medieval Crusader buildings in Israel!
A nod to the Crusaders! Yes, those same knights who crossed Europe, slaughtering Jews as they went, and who arrived in the Holy Land and killed all the Jews and Moslems they could find.

And facing it another universal tribute, an arch suggesting a Roman triumphal arch!
So our guide said.
OK, fine, again, no hard feelings.

But what is that mysterious thing in the arch, next to the pool of water?
I found no reference to it in the official brochure.
Orly Peled, in Yad Ben-Zvi's Jerusalem, a walk through time, writes this:
"Pay special note to the arched structure toward which the water of the conduit flows. Is this a church, a synagogue, or maybe a mosque? The architects intentionally left it enveloped in mystery, thus alluding to the ideal of the legal process that shows no favor on the basis of race, creed, color, or gender."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Horned animal within a medallion

This is the only animal I could come up with for Camera-Critters Sunday while still remaining in this week's tour of the Supreme Court Building.

The horned animal inhabits a floor mosaic found at al Makher in the Western Galilee.
Now he lives on the wall of the Supreme Court.
He is pretty old, from the Roman-Byzantine period.

This 5th or 6th century mosaic carpet and its explanation (see below) adorn the wall at the entrance to the largest courtroom.

Other than the one painting of the founders, the flame of justice, and a mysterious thing I'll show you tomorrow, I saw no art displayed in the complex.
I love it that beautiful stone mosaics native to this land are what was chosen to hang on the walls.
And of course, the architecture itself is the true creative and symbolic artwork here in the Supreme Court Building.
Maybe the Greek readers of this blog can translate fragments of inscriptions?

Friday, February 26, 2010

A library encircling a pyramid

After walking into the Supreme Court Building, ascending the wide stairs called "The Jerusalem Street," and looking out the panoramic window, you come to a large space that is the formal entrance to the building and is therefore called the "gatehouse."
BTW, the court's website has a nice interactive map you can play with with your mouse.

Look way up, through the high window, and you see the top of a pyramid!

Apparently this was inspired by the similar shapes of two ancient monuments in the Valley of Jehosafat (Yehoshafat): Yad Avshalom (Absalom's pillar) and the tomb of Zechariah.

Natural light comes through four round windows at the apex of the pyramid, forming slowly moving circles of sunlight on the inside walls and on the floor.

(I've started calling such things "reverse shadows" so I can share them for Hey Harriet's "Shadow Shot Sunday.")

Oh! there's another meme shot: a reflection of me for James' "Weekend Reflections."
As the brochure says, this serene space acts as the inner gatehouse of the building and serves as a turning point before the entrance to the courtrooms.
The marble floor has those straight lines which earlier we said represent the concepts of law and truth as direct paths.
But around the geometric floor, wrapped around the pyramid, is the round library.
Three floors of gracefully curved boxwood shelves from Denmark, filled with law books.
The concept of justice is represented by circles found throughout the building and expressed in the passage of the Book of Psalms, “He guideth me in the circles of justice for the sake of His name.” (Psalms 23:3).

Oops, another reflection! The English-speakers who came to take the guided tour of the Supreme Court.
The brochure explains, "The volumes, which contain centuries of legal thinking from many countries, embody principles of social justice and moral values. The prominence of the library and its proximity to the entrance to the courtrooms affirms the centrality of law in Jewish history."
Shabbat shalom!

Teak benches

I thought it strange that this Supreme Court Building employee was collecting the ashtrays from the 14 benches in the foyer. Ashtrays??

It left a strange empty hole.
Our guide explained that when the architects of the building were designing the furniture (yes, that too!) back in the 1980s, there were still no laws against smoking in public places.
Maybe nowadays people throw their chewing gum there instead of cigarette butts. Or whatever.
In any case, the man had a cleaning job to do.
All of the 14 benches in the niches are made of Burmese teak.
Our guide said that in 2010 that would not work. Today we are allowed to purchase only farmed (plantation) teak and not wood from original growth trees.
If you missed Monday's post on the benches inside the courtroom, you can look here.
These smooth and elegant benches are a contribution to RuneE's "Bench on Friday," where bench-lovers from around the world converge. You are invited too.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bringing the sky inside

For SkyWatch Friday here is the sky over Israel's Supreme Court Building.

This shot is from Sacher Park.
No, those are not graves in the foreground, only ventilation openings for the road tunnel below.
On the right is the pedestrian bridge we talked about a week ago that leads up to the main entrance of the Supreme Court Building.
In the center of the building is the tinted panoramic window we looked out of and saw much of Jerusalem below.

I have read that the architects, Ada Karmi-Melamede and her brother Ram Karmi, like to combine modernist universal design principles with a Mediterranean building style, e.g. sensitivity to climate and regard for the importance of the relationship between light and shade in a land blessed with sun.

If you have been following this blog's tour for the past week, you know how well the Karmis succeeded. The interior of the building is indeed bathed in soft indirect natural light.
During the day no electric lighting is needed.
From almost every place in the building you have a chance to sky watch.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Koresh, Hammurabi at the gates of Jerusalem?!

Just a few more beautiful things to show you from the Supreme Court Building.
The foyer of the courtroom area expresses all the architectural contrasts of the building--inside and outside, old and new, lines and circles.
The natural stone wall is a continuation of the wall that begins at the building's entrance.
Opposite it, in stark contrast, is a modern white wall with 14 tall niches containing windows and lovely curving benches for the public.

Natural light enters these niches through pyramid-shaped skylights, creating shadows on the white wall that change throughout the day.

As we mentioned a few days ago, courts in biblical times were situated at the gates of the city.
Deuteronomy 16:18 says "You will appoint judges and officers in all your gates . . . and they will judge people with a just judgment."
Here in the foyer there is a gate for each of the five Supreme Court courtrooms.
The three-tiered design of the entrances represents these gates and is also meant to remind us of the three-tiered design that was used for entrances to many public buildings in the ancient Near East. Our guide mentioned Mesopotamia, for example.
I am wondering if this could be a form of tribute to the Babylonian King Hammurabi.
Around 1790 B.C.E. he enacted the famous Code of Hammurabi in ancient Babylon.
Our modern law systems in the world are still indebted to this ancient law code.
Or perhaps it is a hat-tip to Koresh, a.k.a. Cyrus the Great, king of Persia?
After all, following his conquest of Babylon in 539 B.C.E. he did free the Jews, captives of the Babylonian exile.
We were finally allowed to return and to rebuild the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem.
And indeed, in the Supreme Court Building's Judicial Heritage Museum, I found a written tribute to Koresh.
Well, actually it is a thank you letter from Chaim Weizmann to British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour, dated November 19, 1917, thanking him for the Balfour Declaration .
But it says
"Since Koresh the Great, history has never know a declaration that inspired a greater understanding of political wisdom or far reaching diplomacy and justice toward the Jewish People than this declaration, may it be remembered for all time."

The long answer to a comment

This pillar is next to, but not part of, the Supreme Court Building.
The Hebrew on its top says Nizkor, meaning We will remember.

Historian/artist/blogger Abraham Lincoln asked me about the trials of Nazis in Israel.
Some information I found is so interesting I'd like to share it with you all.
Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann was captured in Argentina by Mossad agents in 1960 and was brought to Jerusalem for trial.
The only public place big enough for such a trial back then was Binyanay HaUma, the convention center.
He was found guilty of "crimes against the Jewish people" and "causing the killing of millions of Jews." Eichmann was executed by hanging.
The death penalty is reserved only for such special cases as his.
In fact Eichmann is the only one ever put to death by an Israeli court.
The second crimes against humanity trial was when John (Ivan) Demjanjuk was extradited from Ohio to Israel in 1986.
The court found him guilty in 1988 and sentenced him to death by hanging.
He was placed in solitary confinement during the appeals process that followed.
But in 1993, five Supreme Court justices (sitting as the High Court of Justice) overturned the guilty verdict because new evidence had become available after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
This is the trial from which Abe Lincoln remembers seeing parts of our new Supreme Court Building on American TV.
The Israeli Supreme Court's 405-page ruling read:
"The main issue of the indictment sheet filed against the appellant was his identification as Ivan the Terrible, an operator of the gas chambers in the extermination camp at Treblinka . . . By virtue of this gnawing [new evidence indicating mistaken identity] . . . we restrained ourselves from convicting the appellant of the horrors of Treblinka. Ivan Demjanjuk has been acquitted by us, because of doubt, of the terrible charges attributed to Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka. This was the proper course for judges who cannot examine the heart and mind, but have only what their eyes see and read."
They also added: "The facts proved the appellant's participation in the extermination process. The matter is closed — but not complete, the complete truth is not the prerogative of the human judge."
I find this remarkable, what the judges said!
And they refer to the Hebrew Bible references, e.g. Jeremiah 11:20, that have God examining our "heart and kidneys," usually translated as "the heart and mind."
The combination heart and kidneys is a Hebraism for the inmost part of the person .
Meanwhile, Demjanjuk returned to America, was stripped of his citizenship, and in May 2009 was extradited to Germany. His trial is now going on in Munich.

I don't like to recommend anything written about Israel by the BBC, but they do have a brief slideshow explaining the various trials of Demjanjuk.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Flame of justice in the foyer

Yes, F is the letter of the day at ABC Wednesday.

The flame of justice "burns" in the foyer of our Supreme Court Building.

The stairs descend to . . . nothing more exotic than the cafeteria.

The "founding fathers," so to speak.
Shimon Peres, Yizhak Rabin, Teddy Kollek, and a Rothschild look on (in the 1980s) as architects Ram Karmi and his sister Ada present their model for a new Supreme Court Building.
The building, dedicated in 1992, was a gift of Yad Hanadiv, the foundation of the Rothschild family, to the State of Israel.
This painting hangs at the entrance. It is the only painting I saw during the entire guided tour of the beautiful building.
(For more, please click on the label Supreme Court.)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Having my day in court*

For That's My World Tuesday let's continue our tour of Israel's Supreme Court Building that we started last week.

This photo is from the Court's website.
The new (1992) Supreme Court Building is in Givat Ram, at the western entrance to Jerusalem.
In this photo you can also see the Knesset, part of Jerusalem, and the hills on the eastern horizon where the desert begins.
This is the biggest of the five courtrooms for the 15 Supreme Court justices.
The judges sit on the dias, normally in panels of three.
At the computer screens sit a stenographer and a law clerk.
Lawyers sit at the semi-circular table.
Not in the photo: prisoner's dock to the left and press box to the right.
Members of the press can take notes but not photographs during proceedings.
You see no place for a jury because Israel does not have the jury system.
The back wall of the courtroom, of beautiful latticework wood, has a round window up near the high ceiling.
Joan, our excellent guide, said that the window is meant to remind the justices that Someone is watching them.
All five courtrooms are similar in architectural structure, inspired by ancient synagogues of the Talmudic period (200 C.E. - 600 C.E.) and by various historical periods in the Middle East.

Benches are for the public.
The public has the right to attend all court proceedings except for those matters held “in camera” and which deal with security or matters protected by the right of privacy.
If you'd like to see more of the beautiful building and learn its symbolism, come again tomorrow.
(* "To have one's day in court" = to have an opportunity to be heard.)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

International Mother Language Day

We interrupt our walk through the Supreme Court Building in order to celebrate International Mother Language Day!

Click on the plaque to read about the "Father of modern Hebrew."

This house in Jerusalem, on Ethiopia Street, is where the Ben-Yehuda family lived.
Eliezer and Deborah left Europe and came to Palestine in 1881. Their first son, Ben-Zion, was born in 1882.
Ben-Yehuda was passionate about reviving the Hebrew language, and he made his wife promise
to raise the boy as the first all-Hebrew speaking child in modern history.
It was hard but it worked.
Legend has it that the little boy with Hebrew mother tongue carved the graffiti in the stone of his house. Shovav--mischievous boy!
Can you make out a crescent moon inside the rectangle, and what is supposed to be a star?
That was the Ottoman Turk flag back then, when the Land of Israel was a part of the Turkish empire.
In the years following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 came waves of mass immigration of Jews from 70 different countries, all speaking different languages.
Israel became known as the only country in which the parents learn the mother tongue from their children.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A birdbath in the Supreme Court??

The Justices' chambers and the administrative wing of the Supreme Court surround the Courtyard of the Arches.
The design reminds us of Jerusalem's Rockefeller Museum, built during the British Mandate period.
The water at its center might remind Jewish visitors of the religious importance of immersion in the mikva for one's "ritual purification."

This little bird was using the water conduit as a birdbath!
Thankfully, she gave me a picture for Camera-Critters Sunday.
Do you think she was aware of the symbolism of her esteemed surroundings?

The water was bubbling up like a spring.
The Supreme Court leaflet says,
"The Courtyard, made of stone, suggests the arid conditions of the desert which border Jerusalem. . . . The stone quarried from the earth and the water reflecting the sky represent the biblical symbols of truth and justice."
The courtyard is inspired by Psalms 85:12:
אֱמֶת, מֵאֶרֶץ תִּצְמָח; וְצֶדֶק, מִשָּׁמַיִם נִשְׁקָף. "Truth will spring up from the earth and justice will be reflected from the heavens."
Is the 23rd Psalm your favorite? The one that begins "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul; He guideth me in straight paths for His name's sake."
Well, sorry to say, the English translation is wrong. Ma'agelai tsedek in Hebrew is "circles of justice" and not "straight paths."
You need to know this in order to understand the symbolism in the Courtyard of the Arches in Israel's Supreme Court Building!
Guide Orly Peled explains it:
"The pure spring water, to which justice is likened, flows through the conduit following a straight, consistent, and clear course. Within this straight line, however, the water travels in circular riplets [the circles of justice] . . . , reflecting the fact that justice is often subjective and may be broadly interpreted.
The entire construction consists of a combination of straight lines (the law) and rounded ones (justice)."

The straight and narrow

The court building we have been studying in the last few posts was dedicated in 1992.

But the Supreme Court Bridge was added to it only in 2005.

The top of the bridge gave a welcome spot of shade on an unseasonably hot February day.
Good for Hey Harriet's "Shadow Shot Sunday."
I came by bus to Jerusalem's Central Bus Station. It is just beyond the tall hotel, about ten minutes walk.
The architects, Ram and Ada Karmi, explain that the location of the Supreme Court at the entrance to the city, near the Central Bus Station, emphasizes its accessibility to all Israelis.
In biblical times, the entrance of a city is where the judges sat and judged on Mondays and Thursdays.
As Deuteronomy 16:18 says, "You shall appoint magistrates and officials . . . in all your gates . . . and they shall govern the people with due justice."

When I walked onto the bridge, toward the court, it literally felt like I was on the straight and narrow.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Symbolic reflections

Let's continue our walk through the Supreme Court Building.
The benches (near the mosaic) of the previous post are visible in this first photo.

Let the guard thoroughly inspect your bag (or he may use the X-ray machine), answer his questions, walk through the metal detector, and YOU ARE IN.
In 1986 a competition was held and 174 proposals from around the world were submitted.
Israeli architects Ram and Ada Karmi, a brother-sister team, won.
Before creating their design for this new justice building, they reread the Hebrew Bible.
Drawing inspiration from biblical metaphor, they put into play the contrasts of
  • inside and outside
  • old and new
  • lines and circles

In the coming week we will walk through the building and see examples.

For James' "Weekend Reflections" meme, here is a mirror that runs between the floor and the wall in many places of the Supreme Court Building.

One idea of the mirror, here running on the right of the main entrance stairway, is from the biblical book of Amos (5:24):
"But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream."
The stairway resembles an old Jerusalem lane, complete with streetlamps. The floor here is stone, not marble, like a Jerusalem courtyard of 130 years ago.
The wall of unhewn stones (from quarries from every region of Israel, united in one wall), with no mortar in between, reminds us of the walls of ancient Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.
The wall on the left is plain white plaster. The new faces the old.
The reflecting mirrors show our contact and emotional connection with the land.
They create the illusion that the building's foundation extends deep into the earth.
This effect recalls the foundations of the Old City of Jerusalem and suggests that the roots of law and justice are also deep.
The panoramic window floods the stairs with natural light.
We are inside but feel outside.
Sacher Park and the 19th century neighborhood of Nachlaot are at our feet.

Thermal baths, anyone?

Welcome to RuneE's "Bench on Friday" group.
His bench is under thick snow today; mine is the extreme opposite.
(Enlarge the pictures to be doubly impressed!)
Have a seat on the bench and watch the diverse groups entering Jerusalem's magnificent Supreme Court building.

Even better, gaze at the mosaic carpet that adorns the entrance.
It was found up in Israel's north, on the border with Jordan, near the border with Syria.

The curative powers of the Hammat Gader hot springs were famous since ancient times.

Among the visitors to the baths during the Roman-Byzantine period were many Jews and also Jewish sages, who mentioned the baths in the Talmud. A synagogue for their use was built nearby.

The dedicatory inscriptions from the synagogue mosaic are interesting.
Here above the original Aramaic is translated into Hebrew and English, readable with a click.
. has great photos and info for the old Hammat Gader complex.
The neighboring kibbutzim have reopened Hammat Gader as a modern hot springs spa.
You will be amazed by the workshops they offer--Tibetan bells, Holistic pulsing, Crystals, Signs of the universe, etc..

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Too warm

At 3:30 this afternoon the sun was still high enough to be reflected from the cars in the Hadassah Hospital parking lots.
But the haze to the west disguised the Jerusalem Hills.
There is a village on the hill behind the first line of trees, but you would never know it in today's weather conditions. It was windy, dusty, hot.
Israel is having the warmest February on record.
Many of us are digging in the storage box to get our sandals and T shirts out again.
Trees and flowers are thoroughly confused.
Happy SkyWatch Friday to you all, especially those who are tired of snow and cold.