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Congregation Shearith Israel
New York, NY

This magnificent neoclassical-styled synagogue was consecrated in 1897, and restored in 2002. In the Orthodox and Sephardic traditions of the original Spanish and Portuguese members, worshipers sit in antiphonal pews facing the central bema— men on the first floor, women in the balcony above— from which the Torah is read during services. Sermons are given from the pulpit at the far east end of the large and reverberant sanctuary. We designed a Shabbat speech reinforcement sound system, suitable for use on the Sabbath and Holy Days in an Orthodox synagogue. Working with the Zomet Institute in Israel, we identified equipment and methods meeting strict Halachic restrictions of Jewish law. Loudspeakers blend into the historic style and fabric of the sanctuary. Speech reinforcement of the pulpit adds loudness and clarity to the spoken word, yet the loudspeakers are completely “invisible to the ear;” the rabbi’s voice is carried effortlessly throughout the sanctuary. Acoustics considerations focused on materials and finishes to assist the cantor’s unamplified voice while improving liveliness of the sanctuary for congregational participation.

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