Jewish Quarter of Prague, Prague Josefov
Prague has long had a Jewish Quarter. It was originally located in the Castle district but eventually spread over to the Josefov area around the 12th Century. Josefov was little more than a slum area until the end of the 19th Century. In the late 1800s large sections of the Jewish Quarter were demolished and art nouveau apartment buildings went up. Josefov is now a nice area to stroll through with a wealth of historic information on the Jewish history in Prague.
The Klausen Synagogue (Klauzova Synagóga), located near the entrance to the Old Jewish Cemetery, dates to the 17th Century. The exhibition is entitled "Jewish Customs and Traditions, Part I: The Synagogue and Holidays" and is part of the Jewish Museum in Prague's Josefov area. As the name of the exhibit suggests the Klausen Synagogue discusses Jewish traditions, including weekday services, the Sabbath, and holidays, as well as the calendar in the Jewish tradition. A basic familiarization with Judaism is presented through topics which include the Hebrew Bible, Talmud, Torah scroll, and associated items such as pointer, mantle, binder, and others. Other Jewish traditions, which include bar mitzvah, bat mitzvah, marriage, and more, are also explained. The Klausen Synagogue offers a very informative introduction to Judaism.
The Old-New Synagogue in Prague was built in the later part of the 13th Century. It was originally named the New Synagogue to differentiate it from another, even older Synagogue, which stood on the same location prior. The name Old-New Synagogue was created when other synagogues began to emerge in the same area, which could be considered newer.The Old New Synagogue is the oldest standing Jewish house of worship in Europe. It has been in use continuously since it was built with the exception of the period of Nazi occupation in the early 1940s. The building is now partially below street level, because the streets have been raised since the time it was built. Consequently the interior, even with high ceilings and old chandeliers, is quite dark. Nonetheless, the interior has remained in its current state for hundreds of years.
Pinkas Synagogue (Pinkasove Synagóga) in Josefov, an active Jewish place of worship for some 400 years, is today a memorial to the Jews from Bohemia and Moravia who fell victim to the Nazis. The names of Czech Jews sent to concentration camps cover the walls, along with the names of the towns they came from, and their date of birth and death. Not all the dates of their deaths are known, so often times they date they were deported to the concentration camp is used. The memorial, known as Memorial 77, 297, which indicates the number of names listed, was designed in the late 1950s by Václav Boštík and Jirí John. The names were promptly erased by the communists in 1959. In 1989 following the end of the communist era the names were added again. In 2003 the names had to be rewritten once again following a major flood in Prague, which damaged the Pinkas Synagogue as well as other buildings.
The Maisel Synagogue (Maiselova Synagóga) is named for the Maisel family who had the synagogue built for their own personal place of worship in the 16th Century. Mordechai Maisel, credited with funding reconstruction of the old Jewish ghetto, was a wealthy man and the financier for the Hapsburg King in the 16th Century.During the Second World War the building was used to store Jewish artifacts, which Hitler planned to use in a "Museum of the Extinct Jewish Race" which he hoped to create. Now part of the Museum of the Jewish Quarter, exhibits explain the history of the Jewish community in Bohemia and Moravia. Displays include Jewish silverware, documents, and Torah mantles.
Old Jewish Cemetery
The Old Jewish Cemetery (Stary zidovsky hrbitov) in Prague is unique primarily for it's high density of graves. At the time, the Czech government did not allow Jewish people to bury their dead outside of this designated area. As a result graves were dug to accommodate 12 bodies set vertically, with tombstones placed immediately in front of the one previous. The Old Jewish Cemetery contains about 12,000 tombstones and up to 100,000 graves all crammed into this one small area. The graveyard was used from the 15th to the 18th Centuries.The New Jewish Cemetery is also one of Prague's attractions, although that is primarily due to its occupants. Buried here are the remains of the writer, Franz Kafka.
The Ceremonial Hall of the Burial Society (Obradni Sin) in Josefov is the old mortuary for the Old Jewish Cemetery. The structure was built in 1911 and 1912 and designed in a Romanesque style. The building is now one of the venues for the Jewish Museum in the Josefov area of Prague.The exhibition at the Ceremonial Hall contains items related to "Jewish Customs and Traditions" Part II: Ways of Life". The main theme is death and illness, with descriptions of how bodies are washed and prepared for burial, gravestones and tombs, memorials, and paintings from the Prague Burial Society.
The Spanish Synagogue, part of the Museum of the Jewish Quarter, focuses on the history of the 18th, 19th, and 20th Centuries. The building itself is quite spectacular. Built in the last half of the 19th Century, the interior features a dome ornately painted in neo-Moorish style. The photo collection on display offers a glimpse into Jewish life and the sights of Josefov in the 19th Century. It also documents the turmoil surrounding the Jewish population that was sent to concentration camps.The Spanish Synagogue also contains the Jewish Library. Classical music concerts are held here and feature the music of Jewish composers.
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