05 May 2023

End of week reflections
on Biblical passages in
an exhibition in Prague

Biblical passage on display in the Jewish Ceremonial Hall in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout this week, in my prayer diary on my blog each morning my reflections have been drawing on my visits last month to the synagogues of Prague: the Old-New Synagogue, the High Synagogue, the Maisel Synagogue, the Klausen Synagogue, the Spanish Synagogue and the Pinkas Synagogue, and concluding tomorrow morning with the Jerusalem Synagogue.

The ticket system in the Jewish Museum also encourages people to visit the Ceremonial Hall, beside the Klausen Synagogue, where the exhibition looks at Jewish burial customs and the topic of the end of life.

The Jewish Ceremonial Hall was designed by the architect J Gerstl for the Jewish Burial Society, Hevrah Kaddishah, and was built in the neo-Romanesque style in 1906-1908.

The ceremonial hall is at the entrance to the Old Jewish Cemetery, founded in the early 15th century and one of the oldest and best-preserved Jewish cemeteries in Europe. There are about 12,000 tombstones in the cemetery, but the number of burials is far higher. Burials there ended in 1787.

On this Friday evening, at the end of the week rather than the end of life, I find myself reflecting on some of the Biblical passages I found displayed in the exhibition rooms of the Jewish Ceremonial Hall:

The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ And to him he said, ‘See, I have taken your guilt away from you, and I will clothe you in festal apparel.’ (Zechariah 3: 4)

A garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon. (Song of Songs 4: 15)

Once the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgement and by a spirit of burning. (Isaiah 4: 4)

I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. (Ezekiel 36: 25)

His head is the finest gold;
his locks are wavy,
black as a raven.
His eyes are like doves
beside springs of water,
bathed in milk,
fitly set.
His cheeks are like beds of spices,
yielding fragrance.
His lips are lilies,
distilling liquid myrrh.
His arms are rounded gold,
set with jewels.
His body is ivory work,
encrusted with sapphires.
His legs are alabaster columns,
set upon bases of gold.
His appearance is like Lebanon,
choice as the cedars.
His speech is most sweet,
and he is altogether desirable.
This is my beloved and this is my friend,
O daughters of Jerusalem. (Song of Songs 5: 11-16)

O hope of Israel,
its saviour in time of trouble,
why should you be like a stranger in the land,
like a traveller turning aside for the night? (Jeremiah 14: 8)

Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. (Leviticus 11: 44)

No weapon that is fashioned against you shall prosper,
and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgement.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord
and their vindication from me, says the Lord. (Isaiah 54: 17)

Shabbat Shalom

The Jewish Ceremonial Hall at the entrance to the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Morning prayers in Easter
with USPG: (27) 5 May 2023

The Pinkas Synagogue in Prague is a memorial to 77,297 Czech Jewish victims of the Holocaust (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

This is the Fourth Week of Easter, and we are now in the second half of the 50-day season of Easter.

Before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection. Following our visit to Prague earlier this month, I am reflecting each morning this week in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a synagogue in Prague;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Pinkas Synagogue was first built for the Horowitz family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Pinkas Synagogue, Prague:

During our visit to Prague last month, I visited about half-a-dozen or so of the surviving synagogues in Josefov, the Jewish Quarter in the Old Town in the Czech capital.

Despite World War II, most of the significant historical Jewish buildings in Prague were saved from destruction, and they form the best-preserved complex of historical Jewish monuments in the whole of Europe.

The Jewish Quarter has six synagogues, as well as the Jewish Ceremonial Hall and the Old Jewish Cemetery.

The Pinkas Synagogue, a 16th-century synagogue that is now a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, is the second oldest surviving synagogue in Prague. Its origins are connected with the Horowitz family, a renowned Jewish family in Prague.

Archaeological excavations show that in 15th century the area around the site of the Pinkas Synagogue included several wells, a mikveh or ritual bath and houses. By 1492, one of those houses belonging to the of Horowitz family, the house U Erbu, had its own private house of prayer.

The Horowitz family name that has its origin in the Yiddish name for the town of Hořovice (German: Horschowitz or Horowitz) in Bohemia. The patriarch of the family line is thought to be Aaron Meshullam Horowitz, the founder of the Pinkas Synagogue, who lived in Hořovice and Prague in the 16th century. He had eight sons who spread the family throughout Europe. The family later spread to the Middle East, the Russian Empire and the Americas. Today, 50,000 people around the world – mostly of Jewish Levite ancestry – bear a variation of the Horowitz surname.

The Horowitz family is a rabbinic family that traces itself back to the 12th century, and that includes some of the great rabbinic scholars of Provence and Italy in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries. It is said they changed their Sephardic surname Benveniste to Horowitz when they moved to the town of Horowitz near Prague in the 16th century.

Aharon Meshulam Horowitz decided to replace the house in 1535 with a synagogue for his family. The synagogue is probably named after his grandson, Rabbi Pinkas Horowitz.

The architectural components in this building are in the Gothic and Renaissance styles. For example, the reticulated vault is in the late Gothic style, but its ornaments have Renaissance features and the portal is pure Renaissance.

An annex in Renaissance style was added between 1607 and 1625, and so the synagogue was extended with a vestibule, a women’s section and a balcony. The annex was designed by Judah Tzoref de Herz, who was also the architect of the Maisel Synagogue.

The floor of the synagogue is below the ground level so it has suffered repeatedly from floods and moisture. In the second half of 18th century, it was necessary to restore the Aron haKodesh or the Holy Ark and the bimah or reading platform, which had been damaged by flood. Both were restored in the Baroque style.

In 1793, Joachim von Popper, a successful businessman and communal leader, donated the wrought-iron rococo grille that still adorns the bimah. The grille is decorated with the emblem of the Jewish community in Prague – the six-pointed Magen David or Star of David with a conical Jewish hat.

Radical steps were taken in 1860 to address the problem of floods. The floor level of the synagogue was raised by 1.5 metres. The baroque bimah as removed, the seats surrounding the walls in the traditional synagogue arrangement were replaced with church-like rows of pews, and the interior was now dominated by a pseudo-Romanesque style.

However, less than century later, during reconstruction in 1950-1954, the original floor-level was restored, as well as the appearance of the synagogue.

In the following five years, the inside walls of the synagogue were covered totally with the names and biographical dates of 77,297 Bohemian and Moravian Jewish victims of the Holocaust, the Shoah.

These names are arranged by communities where the victims came from and are complemented with the date of birth and death of each individual where these are known.

The memorial was designed by painters Václav Boštík and Jiří John. It opened to the public in 1960, but was closed after less than a decade in 1968, after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia – ostensibly because of the problems caused by moisture in the synagogue.

After the ‘Velvet Revolution’ in 1989, the synagogue was restored over a three-year period and opened to public. However, it took another three years to restore the inscriptions of the names on the walls that had been damaged by moisture in the intervening years.

A flood damaged the synagogue once again in 2002, but the inscriptions were restored once more.

An exhibition on the first floor displays pictures drawn by children and young teenagers in the concentration camp in Terezín (Theresienstadt). The children were given drawing lessons and encouraged by Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (1898-1944), a painter who had studied at Weimar Bauhaus.

Her experience at Bauhaus influenced her art lessons in Terezín. She encouraged the children to express themselves in drawing to grapple with their grim experiences, to recall memories from home and to express their dreams for the future. Their pictures offer a wide and varied description of daily life in Terezín and tell the many stories of these children.

Most of these children, as well as Friedl Dicker-Brandeis herself, died in Auschwitz. These paintings and drawings are the only remaining witnesses to their lives – they survived because Friedl Dicker-Brandeis hid them in Terezin before she was deported to Auschwitz. After the war, about 4,500 of these images were given to the Jewish Museum in Prague.

Today, the synagogue is administered by the Jewish Museum in Prague and commemorates the 77,297 Czech Jewish victims of the Shoah.

The wrought-iron rococo grille that adorns the bimah in the Pinkas Synagogue seen from the women’s gallery (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 14: 1-6 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 1 ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ 5 Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6 Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’

The walls of the Pinkas Synagogue are covered with the names of 78,000 victims of the Holocaust (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘The Work of Bollobhpur Mission Hospital.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by USPG’s Regional Manager for Asia and the Middle East, Davidson Solanki, who reflected on the work of Bollobhpur Mission Hospital, Bangladesh, for International Midwives’ Day today.

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray this morning (Friday 5 May 2023, International Midwives’ Day):

Let us pray for midwives near and far. May hospitals and trainers seek to support them and may we value our midwives for their expertise in bringing life into the world.


Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life:
raise us, who trust in him,
from the death of sin to the life of righteousness,
that we may seek those things which are above,
where he reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Merciful Father,
you gave your Son Jesus Christ to be the good shepherd,
and in his love for us to lay down his life and rise again:
keep us always under his protection,
and give us grace to follow in his steps;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The names of concentration camps are inscribed on the wall around the Aron haKodesh in the Pinkas Synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org