The Detroit Tigers won the American League pennant in 1909 with Ty Cobb as their star, but then fell back to mediocrity for a quarter century. In September 1934, on Rosh Hashanah, a hush fell over the congregation in this building and then the murmur became so loud that Rabbi Hershman had to call for quiet. Hank Greenberg—the Tiger's giant first baseman—entered.
Temple Beth El was the first congregation founded in Detroit—in 1850. Shaarey Zedek was the first congregation to break off from Temple Beth El, doing so in 1861 and thereby become the first conservative congregation in the city. In the late 19th century, the congregation had a synagogue on Winder Street. Later, the congregation built a synagogue at Willis and Brush. Indeed, this congregation occupied five synagogues before moving into the beautiful building you see in 1932. By the 1920s, it was the largest Conservative congregation in Detroit, having as members a number of civic leaders. In 1926, the congregation decided to locate at West Chicago and Lawton. Albert Kahn was selected as the architect for the synagogue but NIMBY people in the neighborhood protested the closing of an alley, a legal dispute that went all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court, but Congregation Shaarey Zedek won. The economic travails of the Depression also slowed the construction of this synagogue.
Albert Kahn participated with Mason in building the Temple Beth El building that is now Wayne State's Bonsteel Theater. And then he designed a second home for his own congregation. The impressive building Kahn designed at 8801 Woodward at the corner of Gladstone that is now the Lighthouse Cathedral. Kahn, in the 1920s, was impressed by the Romanesque Revival synagogues that were built in Chicago and Cleveland, so he selected that style for Shaarey Zedek. The exterior is exceptionally attractive with a certain lightness that contrasts with the impressive but rather heavy late medieval appearance of Sacred Heart Seminary. Kahn designed an attractive triple entry through a small arcade for this synagogue. The interior also received great attention from Kahn and his colleagues, so there are impressive wooden trusses with an elaborately decorated ark wall.
In 1962, Congregation Shaarey Zedek moved away from this building and into one of the most impressive synagogues I have seen—built by the Albert Kahn firm and located in Southfield.
Would Hank Greenberg play for the Tigers on Rosh Hashanah? The Detroit press discussed this and, not surprisingly, reported conflicting opinions from various rabbis. The learned rabbi of the Orthodox Beth Abraham pointed out a passage in the Code of Jewish Law that, he interpreted, permitted playing baseball on Rosh Hashanah. Apparently, a rabbi from Jerusalem gave a similar interpretation. Greenberg played, hit two home runs at Navin Field, and powered the Tigers to a 2-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox. After the game, he told his teammates he felt guilty for playing and promised not to play on Yom Kippur. The Tigers won the pennant, but lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals. Hank Greenberg played an important role in the assimilation of Jewish immigrants in the USA. He was the first Jewish American to become a very popular sports star, hitting 58 home runs for the Tigers in 1938 when he went into the final weekend of the season with a chance to eclipse the record of Babe Ruth.
Architect: Albert Kahn
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival with touches that some see as Moorish in origin
Date of completion: 1932
Use in 2002: The same as in 1932—a house of worship for a religious congregation
Photo: Ren Farley, May, 2008
Note: So far as I know, Congregation Shaarey Zedek/Clinton Street Greater Bethlehem Church is not listed on any historic register.
Return to Religious Sites
Return to Homepage