Look out for the ancient red flag above the bimah, featuring the Star of David. In 1357 Charles IV, the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, allowed the Jews of Prague to have their own city flag.
Originally called the New Synagogue, this holy place received its double moniker after other synagogues were built in Prague in the 16th century. It has survived nearly 750 years of turbulent history, and stands today in Prague’s Jewish Quarter as a powerful symbol of its ancient community.
The synagogue’s Gothic design is simple, elegant and deeply symbolic. As well as the oldest active synagogue in Europe, it is also the oldest with a double-nave design: its six vaulted bays each have two narrow lancet windows, totalling twelve in representation of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Above the entrance is a carved design of twelve vines with twelve bunches of grapes, again symbolising the Tribes. Two central pillars surround the bimah, from which the Torah is read: the bimah’s base also incorporates the twelve vines.
One legend surrounding the synagogue’s origins is that its stones were transported by angels from the Second Temple of Jerusalem, which was demolished in 70 AD - on the condition that they be returned on the Messiah’s arrival, when a new temple is to be built there.
Even more famous, however, is the legend of the Golem of Prague. The Golem was an artificial man or ‘robot,’ a monster made of clay by Rabbi Jehud Loew ben Bezalel in the 16th century. The Rabbi created the Golem to defend Prague from antisemitic attacks; it required no rest or sustenance, only the removal of the shem, a tablet bearing a Hebrew inscription placed in its mouth, on Shabbat. One day he forgot to remove the shem, and the Golem went on a rampage; the Rabbi removed the shem, and immobilized the Golem forever. The synagogue’s genizah, a storage place in the attic - which is not accessible to the general public - is reported to hold the Golem’s remains.
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