ABOUT THE JERUSALEM SYNAGOGUE
The “Society for the Construction of a New Temple” was founded in 1898 with the aim of providing a replacement for the Zigeuner, Great-Court and New synagogues which were demolished during the reconstruction of the Jewish Town. In January 1899, the society purchased an old house in Jerusalem Street in Prague’s New Town as a site for the new building. The first design for the synagogue was prepared in Neo-Romanesque style by Alois Richter in 1899, the second in the Neo-Gothic style by Josef Linhart in 1901. The third design was drawn up in 1903 by the renowned Viennese architect Wilhelm Stiassny. This was approved the following year and undertaken in 1905-06 by Alois Richter at the society’s expense. The synagogue was dedicated on 16 September 1906 during the festival of Simhat Torah.
The Jerusalem Synagogue is an interesting example of Art Nouveau stylisation of the morphology of the Moorish style. The ground plan of the synagogue comprises a basilica type triple-nave with two transverse wings. The main facade displays a large Islamic arch and a rosette window with the Star of David in the centre and a biblical verse along the perimeter: “This is the gateway to the Lord – the righteous shall enter through it” (Psalm 118:20). The front gable is surmounted by a marble tablet of the Law with two turrets along the sides. The central arcade of the front portal is bordered by the verse: “Have we not one Father? Did not one God create us?” (Malachi 2:10).
A rhythm is established in the deep interior space of the synagogue by two rows of seven Islamic arches, which support the women’s gallery. The gallery breastwall is adorned with biblical quotations (Psalm 121:1 east, Psalm 122:6–7 north, Psalm 69:14 west, Psalm 141:1-3 south). An inscribed tablet, originally from the Zigeuner Synagogue, is positioned in the main nave, to the left of the entrance. The nave and gallery are illuminated by large stained-glass windows. The high Ark (aron ha-kodesh) is adorned with a vine leaf motif and the tablets of the Ten Commandments. The walls are adorned with diverse paintings and the interior is complemented by numerous wrought chandeliers. A large organ is located on the western tribune.
During the war, the Jerusalem Synagogue was used as a warehouse and, as a result, was protected from destruction. For almost a century it has been used for the services of the Jewish community of Prague. In January 2003, during a survey of the wall paintings, a parchment scroll was found under the marble slab to the left of the Ark, having remained intact for almost half a century. This is a calligraphically executed memorial document, which contains a description of the history of the building, information about the owners and builders of the synagogue, and a list of the firms and craftsmen involved in the construction and decoration of the building. The document ends with the following text by the founders: “This document was drawn up in commemoration of the successful completion of this building. It was signed by all those who were involved in the construction and, in the presence of many guests of honour, it was placed in the last stone of the building. May this temple survive many centuries and testify, even in the distant future, to the devout souls of its founders. May it fully serve its purpose for all time: to bring together worshippers in a place where they can uplift their souls to the Creator. May the Lord give! Done in Prague, on the 16th of September of 1906.”
The architect Wilhelm Stiassny (1842–1910) was born in Bratislava, attended the Vienna Polytechnic and Academy. During his studies he founded the Viennese Building Works with the aim of renewing close cooperation between architects and master craftsmen when undertaking new buildings. In 1866 Stiassny set up a separate architectural practice and, in 1868-1905, designed and supervised the building of 180 family houses, residencies, schools, orphanages, charity houses, hospitals and synagogues throughout the Habsburg Empire. He also undertook a number of buildings in Bohemia. His designs included a synagogue in Malacky (1886-87) and Jablonec nad Nisou (1892), the largest synagogue of Prague in Královské Vinohrady (1896-98) and Art Nouveau synagogues in Èáslav (1898-1900) and Prostìjov (1904). In 1877-78 he designed the Central Jewish Cemetery in Vienna, including a number of family vaults there. He was the founder and long-serving president of the Society for the Preservation and Conservation of Jewish Artistic and Historical Monuments (1895) and of the Jewish Museum in Vienna (1897).
RENOVATION OF THE SYNAGOGUE
The Prague Jewish community began renovating the Jerusalem Synagogue in 1992, at first repairing and restoring all the stained-glass windows with funding from Prague City Hall. The upper-floor prayer hall was fully renovated in 1996-97. The renovation project continued in 2001-02 with the restoration of the main façade and portal. Funding came from the Czech Ministry of Culture, Prague City Hall and the Jewish Community in Prague. Restoration of the interior wall paintings commenced in 2004, and plans were made for the gradual renovation of the interior furnishings. The Jerusalem Synagogue is an important example of early twentieth century Prague architecture and one of the major spiritual and cultural sites of the Prague Jewish community. In the summer months, it is open to the public and is used as a venue for concerts and exhibitions.