Honestly, the concept for this post came from the idea of taking a vacation, which leads to "where to", which leads to "I wonder if there are any interesting Jewish historical sites to see there." Having been an Art History major (with architecture being a particular love of mine), this is not an unusual rabbit hole for me to fall into. Whether in person or virtually, if we're going to be traveling, why not take a look at some beautiful and historic synagogues around the world?
Aside from the home, the most important symbol of Jewish life is the Synagogue, where faith and community are nurtured and sustained. There is no standard synagogue architecture. Typically a synagogue contains an ark (where the Torahs are kept), an “eternal light” burning before the ark, two candelabra, pews, and a raised platform (bimah), from which scriptural passages are read and from which services are conducted.
But no two synagogues are alike. Each has its unique history and characteristics. Here in the United States, we have a vast array of styles ranging from the relative simplicity of the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, to the magnificence of the Eldridge Street Synagogue in lower Manhattan. In Europe, and throughout the rest of the world, you can see the architectural trends of the times they were constructed in, such as Romanesque arches, intricate Moorish carvings, or Gothic stained glass windows.
No passports are needed, enjoy the tour...
The el Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia is said to have been built in 586 BCE or 70 CE, which would make it the oldest synagogue still standing and in continuous use in the world. Two other claimants to be the oldest synagogue structures still standing are the Old Synagogue in Erfurt, Germany, which was built c. 1100, and the Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca in Toledo, Spain, which was built in 1190. However, neither has been used as a synagogue for centuries.
The Ben Ezra Synagogue of Cairo has the honor of being the longest-serving synagogue in the world, having continuously served as one from 1025 until the mid-20th century. Owing to the migration of nearly all of Egypt's Jews to Israel, today the monument functions as a museum.
Il Cal Grande Esnoga is a Sephardic synagogue in Sarajevo completed in 1587. It's the oldest synagogue in Bosnia and Herzegovina, built by the first Sephardim to arrive in the city during the Spanish Inquisition.
Eldridge Street Synagogue was one of the first synagogues erected in the United States by Eastern European Jews. Located in New York City, it is imposing and magnificently decorated, it's interior awash with stained-glass rose windows, elaborate brass fixtures, and hand-stenciled walls. Built in 1887, it's now open to the general public as the Museum at Eldridge Street.
Synagogue of Casale Monferrato, Italy - Casale Monferrato's synagogue has been situated in the building in what is now known as Vicolo Salomone Olper since 1595. The sumptuously decorated interior is simply dazzling, its Baroque walls and ceiling embellished with elaborate paintings, carvings, and gilding. Casale Monferrato is one of the few synagogues that survived in Piedmont, which once had many.
Jubilee Synagogue, also known as the Jerusalem Synagogue for its location on Jerusalem Street, is an active synagogue in Prague, Czech Republic. It was built in 1906, designed by Wilhelm Stiassny, and named in honor of the silver Jubilee of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria.
Sherith Israel Temple was completed in 1905 during California's Gold Rush era. Located in San Francisco, it is a congregation widely known for its innovative approach to worship and lifecycle celebrations and is part of the movement of Reform Judaism. It's one of the few buildings in the city to have survived relatively unscathed from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
Dohány Street Synagogue, Hungary - The largest synagogue in Europe, Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest was built between 1854 and 1859, it stands on the site of the house where Theodor Herzl (1860–1904), father of modern political Zionism, was born.
The Touro Synagogue or Congregation Jeshuat Israel was built in 1763 in Newport, Rhode Island. It is the oldest synagogue building still standing in the United States, dating to the colonial era, and the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue building in North America. In 1946, it was declared a National Historic Site.