The Bronx Supreme Court is a temple of solitude, a place where I contemplate dualities. It is intensely public and private, secular and religious.
A sculpture of Moses on the court steps exemplifies the flux between traditional Judaism and the idea of Western Civilization. The long-suffering man holding the Ten Commandments carved in Roman numerals is a vision of the Renaissance, not the Moshe Rabbeinu of my stiff-necked people.
To feature Moses so prominently in 1933, the fateful year this shrine to the law was dedicated, was surely a Philosemitic gesture. In those years, an estimated half a million Jews lived in The Bronx. Yet according to Jewish religious law, no images of humans are to be drawn, let alone sculpted.
New York took an ecumenical approach to their municipal spaces which meant sculptures, such as Triumph of Law at the Manhattan Appellate Courthouse could include religious figures like Moses and Zoroaster as long as they were interspersed with secular figures like Lycurgus of Sparta and King Arthur.
At twilight, beneath the friezes and fasces of the edifice, a group of men are smoking weed and drinking beer. Teens skateboard on terraced steps and eat fast food beneath the court’s columns. This may not have been the architect’s vision of the Agora, but there is a gritty truth in it.