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Old New Synagogue

by danize.com@gmail.com

The Old New Synagogue is the oldest active synagogue in Europe and one of the first Gothic buildings in Prague. It was built in the late 13th century by stone-masons from the royal workshop who were working on the nearby Convent of St. Agnes. The synagogue is located in Josefov, the Jewish quarter of Prague, and has been the main synagogue of the Prague Jewish community for more than 700 years.

The synagogue has a unique twin-nave design with six vaulted bays and two large pillars that support the interior corners of four bays. The bays have two narrow Gothic windows on each side, for a total of twelve, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. The bimah, where the Torah scrolls are read, is located between the two pillars and has a base that repeats the twelve vine motif found on the tympanum of the synagogue’s entryway. The Aron Kodesh, where the Torah scrolls are stored, is located in the middle of the eastern wall.

The synagogue was originally called the New or Great Synagogue, but later became known as the Old-New Synagogue when newer synagogues were built in the 16th century. Another explanation for the name is that it comes from the Hebrew word «al tnay», which means «on condition» and sounds like «alt-nay» in Yiddish. According to legend, angels brought stones from the Temple in Jerusalem to build the synagogue on condition that they would be returned when the Messiah comes and the Temple is rebuilt.

The Old-New Synagogue is surrounded by many legends and tales. One legend says that it was protected from fire by angels transformed into doves. Another legend says that the attic of the synagogue is the home of the Golem, a clay creature created by Rabbi Loew to protect the Jewish community from persecution. The Golem was deactivated by removing a letter from its forehead, but its remains are still hidden in the attic.

The Old-New Synagogue is open daily except on Saturdays and Jewish holidays from 9:00 to 18:00. The entrance fee is 220 CZK for adults, 150 CZK for children and students, and free for children under 6. The entrance fee includes a tourist guide service on request. You can buy tickets online or at the entrance.

To get to the Old-New Synagogue, you can take public transport to Staroměstská station or walk from Old Town Square along Parizska Street and turn right onto Cervena Street. The synagogue is on your left at Maiselova 250/18.

Some tips and tours for visiting the Old-New Synagogue are:

  • You can also visit other synagogues and Jewish sites in Josefov with a combined ticket that costs 480 CZK for adults, 320 CZK for children and students, and free for children under 6.
  • You can join a guided tour of Josefov that includes the Old-New Synagogue and other attractions such as the Jewish Museum, the Old Jewish Cemetery, and the Spanish Synagogue. The tour lasts about 2.5 hours and costs 590 CZK per person.
  • You can learn more about the history and legends of the Old-New Synagogue and Rabbi Loew’s Golem with an audio guide that you can download for free from www.synagogue.cz/en/audio-guide.
  • You can admire the architecture and decoration of the Old-New Synagogue with a virtual tour that you can access for free from www.synagogue.cz/en/virtual-tour.

Some prohibitions for visiting the Old-New Synagogue are:

  • You cannot take photos or videos inside the synagogue.
  • You cannot bring large bags or backpacks inside the synagogue.
  • You cannot eat or drink inside the synagogue.
  • You cannot wear shorts or sleeveless shirts inside the synagogue.
  • You must cover your head with a hat or a kippah inside the synagogue.

Some things to see inside the Old-New Synagogue are:

  • The Torah scrolls in their velvet covers and silver ornaments in the Aron Kodesh.
  • The medieval chandeliers that hang from the vaulted ceiling.
  • The flag of Prague’s Jewish community that dates back to 1357 and has a yellow Star of David on a red background.
  • The Jewish hat that was worn by Jews in medieval times as a sign of distinction.
  • The memorial plaques that commemorate prominent rabbis and members of Prague’s Jewish community who died or were killed during various wars and persecutions.

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