In the darkness along the banks of the Maldau River near the city of Prague, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel and his assistants fashioned a form in the mud. The year was 1580 and anti-semitic sentiments were once again threatening the nearby Jewish community. Rabbi Loew had received an answer to his prayer for help in the form of a dream, an answer that involved ancient rites to raise a protector from the lifeless mud, rites to create a golem.
Legends tell of the creation of the Golem from mud and brought to life via a special inscription on the Golems forhead. According to the classic tale the golem - an animated anthropomorphic being - protected the Jews for a period of time before becoming too powerful and uncontrollable and killing gentiles at random. Removing the magic that had animated him, Rabbi Loew confined the golem's form to the attic of his synagogue and had the room sealed for the safety of the community.
Located in the ancient Jewish quarter of Josefov, Prague, is a synagogue built in 1270. Called the Old New Synagogue or Altneuschul, to reflect the belief that the building contains stones from the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, it is still being used as a house of prayer and is the oldest surviving synagogue in Europe. It has been the main synagogue of the Prague Jewish community for more than 700 years, with the faithful praying regularly except for a four year interruption from 1941 to 1945 due to the Nazi occupation.
The Old New Synagogue is involved in other legendary tales aside from the golem. One has it that the building has survived for so long only because it was protected against fire in the ghetto by the wings of angels transformed into doves.
Among the historical aspects of the building are a couple of architectural oddities associated with the story of the golem. Interior steps to the attic have been removed and at the back of the building a ladder to a sealed door is tantalizingly built into the wall. The attic remains sealed to this day and visitors to Prague continue to be entertained by the otherworldly story.
Know Before You Go
Metro: Line A to Staromestská.
- Frommer's: Old-New Synagogue (Staronová synagóga): http://www.frommers.com/destinations/prague/A23516.html
- Sacred Destinations: Old-New Synagogue, Prague: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/czech-republic/prague-old-new-synagogue
- Wikipedia: Old New Synagogue: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_New_Synagogue