Waves PraguePrague Sharon

  • Issue: April 1997
  • Designer: J. Janicek
  • Stamp size: 40 x 25.7 mm
  • Plate no.: 309 - 310
  • Sheet of 15 stamps Tabs: 5
  • Printers: Government Printers
  • Method of printing: Offset

The Czechoslovak state, established in 1918 after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, united within its boundaries three different regions: Bohemia and Moravia (the Czech lands), Slovakia and Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia. While the histories of Bohemia and Moravia have been intertwined since the 11th century, Slovakia and Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia had belonged to the Hungarian kingdom for over a thousand years.

Czechoslovak Jewry thus consisted of three distinct communities: the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia who led a western-European life-style and tended, by and large, to assimilate; the Jews of Slovakia who were divided into Orthodox and Neologs (conservatives), and the Jews of Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia, marked by an eastern European way of life, and with a proportion of this population belonging to the Hassidic movement. Though Czechoslovakia's Jewish population between the two World Wars numbered about 350,000 less than two and a half percent of the entire population), the Jews played an important role in the spheres of commerce and industry, and took an active part in the nation's cultural life. Included among them were illustrious writers, scholars and musicians such as Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, Franz Kafka and Franz Werfel, who left their mark on world civilization.

The Jews, had apparently, already settled in Bohemia and Moravia during the Roman period, but no documents exist to substantiate this conjecture. Only from the end of the 10th century are there documents pointing to the existence of a Jewish community in Prague, and there is evidence of the existence of flourishing Jewish communities in Bohemia and Moravia from the 13th century. Already back in medieval times there was cultural integration between the Jewish community and the non-Jewish environment. The works of numerous Jewish scholars who lived and studied in Bohemia at the time, attest to a rich and vibrant Jewish culture, with a deep affinity for the nation in which they lived. Jewish communities in the Middle Ages conducted independent lives: they provided for the education and welfare of the community members, collected taxes, settled disputes according to the Jewish Law, took care of the sick, saw to the burial of the dead and built synagogues. The Altneuschul is the oldest existing synagogue in Europe today. Its construction was completed in 1270, and it was originally called the "New" or 'Great' synagogue. In the 16th century, with the erection of other synagogues in the ghetto, it was renamed "The Old-New Synagogue'. The Altneuschul, built in the Gothic style, is a unique example of a twin-naved medieval synagogue. The two central pillars divide the hall into two wings with the pulpit located between them. On the upper part of the wall above the Holy Ark runs the inscription acronym of the verse: "Know before whom you are standing", B.T Ber. 28 bI (which appears on the stamp). The Altneuschul, with its simple and pure architectural design, was singular in its imposing appearance as compared to synagogues of the period, the explanation for this being that its edifice was erected in the heart of the Jewish quarter without fear of offending the Christian environment's sensibilities. For hundreds of years, the synagogue was the center of the Jewish town, with the concourse before it serving as the venue for the Jewish market. Numerous legends have been linked to the Altneuschul, also called the "AITnal" ("On Condition"). The legend regarding the origin of the name "Al Tnai" tells that following the destruction of the Second Temple, angels took away stones from the ruins and carried them off to Prague, and it was on top of these stones that the synagogue was erected. Taking the stones, the angels cried out: Almighty God, we are taking these holy stones on condition; should the Temple be rebuilt speedily in our time, we will restore the stones to their place."

The Renaissance period saw the economic and cultural burgeoning of Prague's Jewish community, which gained a pre-eminent standing in the Jewish world. The community's intellectual elite took care to preserve and observe tradition on the one hand, while maintaining close ties with non-Jewish scholars and scientists, on the other.

The most pre-eminent figure in Jewish cultural life was Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (the Maharal, ca. 1512-1609). Rabbi Loew, a great Talmudic authority, expositor, moralist philosopher and mathematician, was born in Poznan. In 1553 he began a service of 20 years as the rabbi of Moravia, and from 1597 till his death he served as Chief Rabbi of Prague. During the second half of the 18th century the Maharal became the hero of several legends which portrayed him as a miracle worker and as the creator of the famous Golem (automaton). These legends made him famous, but overshadowed his image as a philosopher and expositor. However, Rabbi Loew's renown is based on his achievements in the fields of education and organization and his copious writings. His books, "Tiferet Yisrael", "Be'er ha-Gola" and "Nezah Yisrael" contain extraordinary philosophical thoughts on the place of the People of Israel among the nations of the world, the nature of nationalism and the national uniqueness, the problem of the Exile and the promise of redemption. His book "Netivot Shalom" is not only a thesis on Hassidism, but an entire pedagogic doctrine. Opposed to the method of pilpul" (dialectics), the Maharal favoured the simple interpretation of the Talmud, as a Mishna commentator. He encouraged scientific research so long as it did not conflict with the tenets of Judaism. The first day cover shows the official emblem of the Jewish community of Prague - a Star of David at the center of which is a Jewish hat. This emblem, known from the end of the 16th century, was displayed on the public buildings of the Jewish quarter and on the Jewish town hall which was built during that period and became a symbol of the autonomy of the Jewish community.

There are those who believe that the emblem was conferred on the Jews of Prague by King Ferdinand Ill, in recognition of the Jews' contribution to the war effort in the defence of Prague against the Swedish invasion in 1648, toward the end of the Thirty Years War.

The emblem appearing on the first day cover, is found at the entrance of the Jewish town hall building in Prague - and is surrounded by Hebrew letters (1795) indicating the date of its rebuilding following the great conflagration in 1754, in which a great part of the Jewish quarter was destroyed by the fire.

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Jewish monuments in Prague