The Old-New Synagogue
Even the mere fraction remaining of the Prague ghetto is amongst the most valuable Jewish monument in Europe. One of the most admired places, apart from the Old Jewish Cemetery from the beginning of the 15th century, the Jewish Museum and several synagogues is the Old-New Synagogue, as well as being amongst the oldest preserved Gothic buildings in Prague!
A synagogue that remembers the Middle Ages
This massive stone structure, with its late-Gothic crowfoot gables, dates from around the year 1270. Originally called the New or Great Synagogue, it only came to be called the Old-New Synagogue with the building of further synagogues around the end of the 16th century. It has survived floods, fires, pogroms and the clearance of the Jewish quarter at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. With the exception of the years 1942-45, it has served uninterrupted as the place of worship and main synagogue of the Prague Jewish community for over seven hundred years.
Legends of angels and the Golem
The building is surrounded by a number of myths and legends. It is said that, during fires in the ghetto, it was protected by the wings of angels in the form of doves; even better-known is the legend of the Golem. The legendary creator of the strange, artificial being, fashioned from clay, was the most famous rabbi of the mediaeval Prague ghetto, Rabbi Loew – Judah Loew ben Bezalel (1512–1609). So respected was Loew by the people that, to this day, no-one has sat in his chair in the synagogue since his death.
What lurks in the synagogue attic?
While there are many legends about artificial beings – golems – the Prague Golem is amongst the most famous. According to the legend, the rabbi eventually had the clay giant laid to rest in the attic of the synagogue, to which, to this day, entry is forbidden. The rabbi even went so far as to remove the external staircase, and the doors to the attic, set at a height of twelve metres, are still accessible only with the aid of a ladder. The remains of the Golem were not, however, found in this, or any other, synagogue.