Jewish Monuments In Prague

Jews had probably already settled in Bohemia and Moravia (parts of the Czech Republic) during the Roman period, but no documents exist to substantiate this conjecture. Only from the end of the 10th century are there documents pointing to the existence of a Jewish community in Prague, and there is evidence of the existence of flourishing Jewish communities in Bohemia and Moravia from the 13th century. Already back in medieval times there was cultural integration between the Jewish community and the non-Jewish environment.

The works of numerous Jewish scholars who lived and studied in Bohemia at the time, attest to a rich and vibrant Jewish culture, with a deep affinity for the nation in which they lived. Jewish communities in the Middle Ages conducted independent lives: they provided for the education and welfare of the community members, collected taxes, settled disputes according to the Jewish Law, took care of the sick, saw to the burial of the dead and built synagogues.

The Altneuschul is the oldest existing synagogue in Europe today. Its construction was completed in 1270, and it was originally called the "New" or 'Great' synagogue. In the 16th century, with the erection of other synagogues in the ghetto, it was renamed "The Old-New Synagogue'. The Altneuschul, built in the Gothic style, is a unique example of a twin-naved medieval synagogue. The two central pillars divide the hall into two wings with the pulpit located between them.

On the upper part of the wall above the Holy Ark runs the inscription acronym - which appears on the stamp - of the verse: "Know before whom you are standing", (from Talmud Bavli, Berakhot, 28b). The Altneuschul, with its simple and pure architectural design, was singular in its imposing appearance as compared to synagogues of the period, the explanation for this being that its edifice was erected in the heart of the Jewish quarter without fear of offending the Christian environment's sensibilities. For hundreds of years, the synagogue was the center of the Jewish town, with the concourse before it serving as the venue for the Jewish market.

The Renaissance period saw the economic and cultural burgeoning of Prague's Jewish community, which gained a pre-eminent standing in the Jewish world. The community's intellectual elite took care to preserve and observe tradition on the one hand, while maintaining close ties with non-Jewish scholars and scientists, on the other.

The most pre-eminent figure in Jewish cultural life was Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (the Maharal, ca. 1512-1609). Rabbi Loew, a great Talmudic authority, expositor, moralist philosopher and mathematician, was born in Poznan. In 1553 he began a service of 20 years as the rabbi of Moravia, and from 1597 till his death he served as Chief Rabbi of Prague.

During the second half of the 18th century the Maharal became the hero of several legends which portrayed him as a miracle worker and as the creator of the famous Golem (automaton). These legends made him famous, but overshadowed his image as a philosopher and expositor. However, Rabbi Loew's renown is based on his achievements in the fields of education and organization and his copious writings.

His books, "Tif’eret Yisrael", "Be'er ha-Gola" and "Nezakh Yisrael" contain extraordinary philosophical thoughts on the place of the People of Israel among the nations of the world, the nature of nationalism and the national uniqueness, the problem of the Exile and the promise of redemption. His book "Netivot Shalom" is not only a thesis on Hassidism, but an entire pedagogic doctrine.

Opposed to the method of "pilpul" (dialectics), the Maharal favored the simple interpretation of the Talmud, as a Mishna commentator. He encouraged scientific research so long as it did not conflict with the tenets of Judaism.

The stamps were jointly issued by Israel and the Czech Republic in 1997. Designer: J. Janicek.