Old New Synagogue
The Jewish town in Prague is full of monuments and important places. One such place is the Old New synagogue. The Old New Synagogue can be found in Josefov, and is considered to be the oldest active synagogue in the Central Europe. It also represents one of the oldest preserved medieval synagogues of twin nave design. This synagogue was completed in 1270 in the Gothic style. It belongs to one of Prague’s first gothic buildings, the Old Prague synagogue which used to be situated on the site of the present-day Spanish Synagogue, and was demolished in 1867.
Nine steps lead into the vestibule, from where it‘s possible to enter the double-aisled nave with six vaulted bays. The synagogue’s Christian architects who designed this double-nave system were probably inspired by plans of monasteries and chapels. The molding on the tympanum of the synagogue’s entryway is adorned with twelve vines and twelve bunches of grapes representing the Twelve Tribes of Israel. You will also find two large pillars aligned East to West in the middle of the room each supporting the interior corner of four bays. These bays include two narrow Gothic windows on the sides, with a total of twelve which also represent the Twelve Tribes. The narrow windows are perhaps responsible for many descriptions of the Altneu Shul as being dark and dingy, but it is now brightly lit with many electric chandeliers. Inside you can see the vaulting on the six bays with five ribs instead of the typical four or six. The reason for is that this was an attempt to avoid association with the Christian cross. But many scholars dispute this theory because they point to synagogues that have quadripartite ribs and Christian buildings that have the unusual five rib design (depicted to the right). The bimah from which Torah scrolls are read is situated between the two pillars. The base of the bimah repeats the motif found on the tympanum and it is decorated with engravings of twelve vines. The Aron Kodesh where the Torah scrolls are stored is situated in the middle of the customary niche in the eastern wall. Five steps lead up to the Ark which has two round stained glass windows on either side above it. A lectern in front of the ark has a square well a few inches below the main floor for the leader of the service to stand in.The twelve lancet windows in the synagogue direct light towards to the center of building, over the bimah, and, apparently, this led some members to compare the structure with Solomon’s Temple. The first three metres of the stairway leading to the attic have since been removed and the attic is unfortunately not open to the public. The synagogue follows the orthodox custom with separate seats for men and women during prayers. Women usualy sit in an outer room with small windows looking into the main sanctuary.
The unusual sign is a large flag on the standard at the west pillar bearing the Star of David, the text of Shema Yisrael and a Yarmulke-Jewish hat – probably the last a symbols of the Jewish community in Prague since the 15th century. The right to carry the flag which is the symbol of Jewish community autonomy was granted by Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor in recognition of the services of the Jewish community in the defense of Prague against the Swedes. The current flag was presented by King Charles VI.
One legend tells of the body of Golem, which was created by Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, has been stored in the attic where the genizah of Prague’s community is kept. Golem was usually used for the protection of the Jewish town faithfully if sometmes with confusion. At the end of Rabbi Loew‘s life he excerpted a Shem from Golems head and moved it into the Old New Synagogue because he was afraid that Golem would damage the Jewish town.
World War II
During World War II a Nazi agent was reputed to have interfered with the genizah and paid for the trangression with his life. Strangely enough, the Gestapo apparently never entered the attic during their occupation of Prague, and the building was spared destruction by the Nazis.
Old New Synagogue is only 20 minutes walk from our hostel, book one of our lovely apartments!