Synagogue Models (1)

This is the 1st stamp in a series of four stamps featuring synagogue models from the display at Tel Aviv's Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora. It displays the model of the Altneuschul synagogue in Prague.

For two thousand years the synagogue has been a major pillar of Jewish continuity, an original Jewish institution from which the Christians later derived the church and the Moslems, the mosque. It was already widespread, both in the Land of Israel and the Diaspora, in Second Temple times, and after the Destruction of the Temple (70 AD) it became the sole focus of Jewish communal worship.

Architecturally, synagogues were at all times profoundly influenced by their non-Jewish surroundings but inside they were unique - a house of assembly (which is the meaning of the word "Synagogue" and of its Hebrew equivalent), which was the focus of Jewish religious and communal life, a place of prayer, study and meeting, of inspiration, consolation and hope. Tel Aviv's Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora features a series of meticulous models reproducing famous synagogues down the ages and throughout the world. Four of these models are featured in this SOH Lite entry.

In Christian countries, severe laws restricted Synagogue buildings which had to be low and inconspicuous. The 14th century Altneuschul was in the heart of the Jewish quarter of Prague. It is built below street level and on entering, the worshipper descends a few steps. This was a common feature in synagogues of the time, explained by the rabbis as so constructed to observe the words of Psalms 130:1 "Out of the depths have I called thee, O Lord". However, the more likely reason is architectural: as the building had to be kept low, internal height could be achieved by lowering the floor.

The Altneuschul is the oldest synagogue in Europe still in use. Its name meaning "Old-New Synagogue" (originally it was the 'New Synagogue "' but received its present name when an even newer one was built) inspired the title of Theodor Herzl's utopian novel of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel "Altneuland" (Old-New Land). The Gothic-style building is gloomy and mysterious and has given rise to many legends, most famous of which was the story of the "Golem" the man-made monster created by Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel of Prague (a.k.a. the Maharal of Prague) to save the Jews of the city who were under attack.

The stamp was issued in 1987. Designer: D. Ben-Dov.