The Jewish Museum in Prague isn’t a typical museum. The museum consists of seven sites — five synagogues, a cemetery and the Ceremonial Hall — spread throughout the city’s Jewish Quarter. It’s a great way to experience the city and learn about an important part of its history.
Jewish merchants starting traveling to the area that we now call the Czech Republic in the 9th Century, and Jews began living here in 10th Century (that’s over 1,000 years ago!). When Jews arrived in Prague to live, they were forced to live in only one section of the city, a neighborhood that flooded every year when the Danube River overran its banks, just like the Jewish Quarter in Rome flooded every Spring when the Tiber River did the same. Do you think that it’s fair had to live in these neighborhoods that flooded every year and where nobody else wanted to live? Why or why not?
Throughout the thousand years of Jews’ living in this region, the amount of freedom they had and violence they faced has varied. Today there are only about 4,000 Jews in all of the Czech Republic, and about half live in Prague.
The first stop in Prague’s Jewish Museum is the Maisel Synagogue, which was originally built in 1592 then burned down in an anti-Jewish riot called a pogrom in 1689 and rebuilt multiple times after that. It is no longer a functioning synagogue but houses artifacts that give the visitor an overview of the history of the Jewish people in Prague.
Above, the front of the Maisel Synagogue, note the Star of David and the Roman numerals one through ten, representing the Ten Commandments.
As we learned in Museum Club, Jews were forced to wear a yellow Star of David badge that identified them as Jews during the Holocaust, but that was not the first time in European history that Jews had to wear a particular item of clothing. Above is a hat that all Jewish men were forced to wear in the Middle Ages.
Second stop in the Jewish Museum is the Pinkas Synagogue, which was built almost 500 years ago and today serves as the city’s Holocaust Memorial.
The names of the approximately 80,000 Czech Jewish victims of the Holocaust are handwritten on the inside walls, and over the loudspeaker the names are read or a Jewish singer known as a cantor sings the Psalms, a book from the Hebrew Bible, or what Christians call the Old Testament (if you’ve heard the phrase “the valley of the shadow of death”, you’re familiar with at least one line from the Book of Psalms).
Entrance to the Pinkas Synagogue. Again, note the Star of David and Ten Commandments above the door.
Take a listen below for the beautiful chanting:
One wall of the Pinkas Synagogue with the handwritten names of Holocaust victims. Original Ark of the synagogue, where the Torah scrolls were kept. Names of death and labor camps where the Nazis sent Jews in Holocaust are written on either side of the Ark.
Stay tuned for more on my visit to the Jewish Quarter in future posts. . . .