Prague is a magical, mysterious city, full of fascinating tales and legends. During your stay in your Prague apartment, you might want to find out more about them. Many are linked to the city’s ancient historic buildings, and one of the best-known legends is that of the Golem of Prague, which is connected with the Old-New Synagogue, in Josefov. According to the legend, this early robot (incidentally the word “robot” is Czech) is apparently hidden in the attic of the Old-New Synagogue (Staronová synagoga), in the Jewish quarter. You’re sure to hear about The Golem of Prague at some point during your visit to Prague, and there are many versions of the story.
Long ago, in Prague’s Jewish Ghetto, lived Rabbi Löw. This was during the reign of Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor in the 16th century. Löw was a mystic, philosopher, scholar of the Talmud and a leader of the Prague Jewish community. In order to protect it against anti-Semitic attacks, he created a golem (a Hebrew word meaning “unformed substance”), an artificial man that was unable to think, from mud from the River Vltava. Then the Rabbi inserted a shem, a tablet bearing a magical Hebrew inscription, into the golem’s mouth, bringing it to life.
The golem mainly carried out household chores, such as carrying water or chopping wood. And because it was an artificial being, it was never hungry or thirsty, nor did it need to rest. In short, it was the perfect servant. During the Sabbath, the golem was not allowed to work, so the Rabbi took out the shem from the golem’s mouth and put it back after the Sabbath ended.
One day, Rabbi Löw’s only daughter fell ill, and he spent all his time treating her. He forgot all about the golem, which had no work to do. As a result, it flew into a rage, destroying everything. It ran amok, smashing furniture and demolishing rooms. In addition, any people, animals and birds crossing the golem’s path were killed.
When the Rabbi learned about what had happened to the golem, he interrupted a service he had just begun at the Old-New Synagogue and hurried home. He immediately touched the golem, freezing it, and took out the shem for good, so that the robot could not come back to life.
Then Rabbi Löw hid the remains of the golem in the Old-New Synagogue and, according to legend, the artificial man is remains there to this day. And what about the shem? Some say that it is still there too.
Situated in the heart of Prague’s Jewish Quarter, the Old-New Synagogue dates from 1270 and was once the main synagogue of the Prague Jewish community. It is the oldest functioning synagogue in Europe, and is one of the oldest and most beautiful Gothic monuments in Prague.
The main hall is, in a sign of humility, lower than the rest of the building. The 12 narrow windows of the synagogue correspond to the 12 Tribes of Israel. You’ll notice a relief of the branches of a vine tree, above the doorway; the 12 bunches of grapes, like the windows, represent the 12 Tribes of Israel. The original layout and seating has been retained and Rabbi Löw sat at seat no 1.
The most important place is to the east of the synagogue (facing Jerusalem), where the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) is kept. Because it is sacred, it can be touched only with a silver pointer. The sanctuary is covered by an embroidered curtain and an eternal light burns in front of it. The other lights are chandeliers dating from the 16 to 18th centuries.
In 1995, the Old-New Synagogue became a national cultural monument and is one of the most visited monuments in the Czech Republic.
We started with a legend and will finish with one. According to the synagogue, during fires in the Jewish Quarter, angels turned into doves and protected the synagogue with their wings. The synagogue therefore escaped serious damage and services continue to be held there. Here our sorry ends. But if you want to learn more and visit the Old-New Synagogue, your Prague apartment is perfectly located for exploring the Jewish Quarter.