Old Jewish quarter

Old Jewish QuarterThe Jewish quarter is a small area known as Josefov between the Old Town Square and the Vltava River. Most of it can be walked through and around in a single day but any detailed explorations needs time. The Jewish cemetery, Old-new synagogue, Klausen Synagogue and the Pinkas synagogue are the most worthwhile sights. Be prepared for entrance fees at several of the sights. The history of the area dates back to the 11th Century. Though the Jews of this time prospered and coexisted in relative peace with their neighbours, the crusades of the 11th century were to bring a tidal wave of sorrow. While en-rout to the Holy Land, the crusaders massacred the Czech Jews and plundered their properties. Those who survived were forcibly converted to Christianity. In this period, several significant changes were imposed on the remaining Jewish communities. Their synagogues were burned to the ground, their civil rights were severely limited and they were forced to build their community on the right bank of the Vltava only, thus limiting their movements and clearly identifying their minority group. This was the beginning of what later came to be known as the Jewish ghetto, an area which today is frequented by tourists. Among the many atrocities through the centuries committed on the Jews that, of the Nazi era was to have the most devastating effect. At this time there were an estimated 56,000 Jews residing in Prague alone. Only 10% of the country's entire Jewish population would survive the German occupation. Most were first sent to the prison camp of Terezin (60 km North West of Prague) which today stands as a memorial museum and is open to the public. The size of the Jewish community left in the Czech Republic and Prague today is difficult to estimate. After having been one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe, they are now among the smallest. The history of the Czech Jews has been unique and tragic, leaving behind proof of their historical significance to this part of Europe, which can be visited to this day. Since the collapse of Communism the Synagogues of the old town seem to have been re-awakened and new activity by the local Jewish community growing. Several Jewish organisations have been formed, buildings renovated and kosher restaurants reopened. A sign, we hope, of the comeback of a people.


The Old Jewish Cemetery

Old Jewish Cemetery
The Old Jewish Cemetery can be visited Mon-Fri and Sun. The cemetery is an eerie plot of land, piled with gravestones in all manner of positions, dating back to the 15th century and was in use until 18th century. However, the present day cemetery - consisting of thousands of bodies, layer upon layer, in a topsy-turvy heap - originates from the end of the 17th century and beginning of the 18th century. During this period Jews were forced to live crammed together in the small area now known as Josefov which then amounted to no more than a ghetto. The 'ghetto' walls were finally pulled down (mid to late 18th century) and Jews left to live in relative prosperity as crafts men and traders until the devastating Nazi era. The cemetery lies adjacent to other Jewish sights, all of which are open to visitors.


Old / New Synagogue

Old/New SynagogueDates back to the middle of the 13th century, which means that this is the oldest synagogue in Central Europe, the gates themselves are the oldest in Prague. The early Gothic style gives you an idea of how many of the buildings once looked like. There are many legends about this building. One of them claims that angels came with the stones from which the synagogue is built and have protected it ever since (unrelated or not the synagogue has avoided two big fires). The synagogue was renovated in the 19th century and is used for religious services. Notice the separation of men and woman. During the service the synagogue itself is reserved for the men, while the women must follow the service through small windows in the wall. The synagogue is still in use.


Klaus Synagogue
Klaus synagogue

 

 

Now a small museum of Jewish culture displaying art and artefacts including paintings, combs, books and some fine torah crowns. Perpendicular to the synagogue is the building of the Prague Burial society, which holds a large collection of paintings of Jews who were held at the Terezin concentration camp and a series of children drawings illustrating the same.


Pinkas Synagogue

Pinkas synagogue

The story goes that Rabbi Pinkas apparently had a dead monkey thrown through his window. However the pranksters did not know that the monkey had swallowed some gold coins belonging to its master who was a goldsmith - the monkey had been trying to imitate the master biting the coins for authenticity. Rabbi Pinkas noticed that the carcass was unusually heavy and so cut it open to find all the coins. He dedicated the gift to the building of this synagogue. Story aside the Pinkas Synagogue today is the gateway to the Jewish cemetery. During communism the building was closed for restoration, during which time all the names of holocaust victims inscribed on the walls were unfortunately erased. However a new project endeavoured to restore all 77,927 names to their rightful place and they now cover the entire interior of the nave.

 


Spanish Synagogue

Spanish synagogue

 

Built on the outskirts of what was the Jewish ghetto in 1868, is was a house of worship for an increasing number of Reform Jews. Its faŻade is a rich expression of Moorish architecture.

 

 


Golem

GolemGolem is a Hebrew word, which has been translated in several ways: embryo, primitive matter, unformed matter, man without intelligence, manners and morals to name a few. The fascination Jews have with the possibilities of animating lifeless matter, as the creater himself did, are evident in the texts and teachings of the Kabbala. With the help of the appropriate ritual and the secrets prescribed by the texts it is possible to create a soulless human or creature from simple primitive matter such as clay. Hence the Golem in Prague, which has grown to mythical proportions, was created by Rabbii Loew out of clay but has unfortunately got loose and to this day runs amok somewhere in Prague; some say it resides in the rafters of the Old/New synagogue. Few might be able to tell you the true origin of the story as the superstitious speculations of so many visitors to Prague has caused the story to take on every conceivable shape and fancy.