Jewish Cemetery in Josefov
One of the most impressive sights in Prague is the Old Jewish cemetery
in Josefov, the former Jewish ghetto. This cemetery was used from
1439 to 1787 and is the oldest existing Jewish cemetery in Europe.
The Nazis made it a policy to destroy Jewish cemeteries, sometimes
using the tombstones for target practice, but Hitler ordered that
this cemetery be left intact, since he was planning to build a Jewish
museum in Prague after all the Jews in Europe had been exterminated
according to his diabolical plan.
Tombstones in the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague
There are more than 100,000 Jews buried in this small plot, the
graves being layered 12 deep in some places. This is not unusual
for European cemeteries where space is at a premium. In Germany
where the graves are also 12 layers deep, the tombstones mark only
the top layer of the buried coffins. In the Old Jewish Cemetery
in Josefov, there are around 12,000 tombstones, crowded closely
together with almost no grass between them. Some of the tombstones
look like beds, like the one on the left in the photograph below.
Jewish Museum in Prague
At the present time, The Jewish Museum in Prague consists of exhibits
in four of the old Synagogues and the Ceremonial Hall, along with
the Old Jewish Cemetery which extends from the courtyard of the
Pinkas Synagogue to the rear of the Ceremonial Hall and the Klausen
Synagogue. There are two other Synagogues in the old Jewish quarter
that are still being used as places of worship, so they have no
exhibits. One of them is the Old-New Synagogue (shown in the photograph
below) which dates back to the 13th century; it is open to the public
as part of the museum, except on Saturdays and Jewish Holidays.
The other one is the High Synagogue which is in the same building
as the Old Town Hall; neither the town hall nor the High Synagogue
were on the museum tour when I visited Prague in October, 2000.
Some tourist guidebooks for Prague still mention the textile exhibits
in the High Synagogue, which are apparently no longer open to the
The 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.
Dates 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.
Attached to the Jewish town hall and housing the Jewish museums
collection of silver, Torah pointers and ceremonial crowns is the
High Synagogue so named for its' location on the second floor. The
lower chamber houses a kosher restaurant. Mordecai Maisel founded
the synagogue. The current building is a reconstruction and dates
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
children drawings illustrating the same.
Golem 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 creator 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