The Jerusalem Jubilee Synagogue is a landmark in early twentieth century Prague architecture as well as an important spiritual and cultural centre for Jewish Prague.
Every cloud has a silver lining, as they say, and although the reconstruction of Prague’s Jewish quarter, Josefov, in the late 1800s, gave the kiss of death to three lovely old synagogues, it also gave birth, in the next century, to the Jerusalem or Jubilee synagogue, the city’s largest and most spectacular.
A “Society for the Construction of a New Temple” was founded in 1898 and in January 1899, it purchased a site for the building. Interestingly it was not in Josefov but in Jerusalem Street in the New Town. In 1904 Viennese architect Wilhelm Stiassny’s design was approved and construction began in 1906. The synagogue was dedicated on 16 September 1906 during the festival of Simhat Torah. As this was also the 50th anniversary of the Emperor Franz Josef I, it was name the Jubilee Synagogue.
The Synagogue combines the contemporary Art Nouveau and ancient Moorish styles. It consists of a triple-nave with two transverse wings. The main facade features a large Islamic arch surrounding a rosette window with a central Star of David. On the perimeter, an inscription from Psalm 118:20 reads “This is the gateway to the Lord – the righteous shall enter through it” A marble tablet, flanked by two turrets sits on the front gable. The arched entrance is inscribed with a verse from Malachi 2:10 “Have we not one Father? Did not one God create us?” The interior is lit by stained vast glass windows and ornate chandeliers. Two rows of Islamic arches support the women’s gallery above. In the main nave is an inscribed tablet from the Zigeuner, one of Josefov’s demolished synagogues. The high Ark (aron ha-kodesh) is ornamented with a vine leaf motif and the tablets of the Ten Commandments.
During the war, the Jerusalem Synagogue was used as a warehouse and, as a result, was spared destruction.
In 1992 the Synagogue was renovated with funding from the Czech Ministry of Culture, Prague City Hall and the Jewish Community. In January 2003, during a survey of the wall paintings, a parchment scroll was found under a marble stone near the high ark. It contained a description of the history of the building, information about the owners and builders of the synagogue, as well as a list of the firms and craftsmen involved. The document ends with the following text
“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 Jerusalem Jubilee Synagogue is open for prayer on Saturdays at 9.00 a.m. all year and on Fridays at 20:00 from April to September. During the summer months, it is open to the public and is also used as a venue for concerts and exhibitions.