The Old Jewish cemetery of Prague is a daunting site. About 12,000 graves in eleven layers hold the remains of Europe’s oldest existing Jewish community.
The oldest grave — Avigdor Kara
The oldest grave in this cemetery that abuts the Pinkas Synagogue belongs to Avigdor Kara, who died in 1439. The matzevah, however, is a copy — the original stands behind glass on exhibition at the Maisel Synagogue. Avigdor Kara was out of Jewish Town when 3,000 Prague Jews — including his father — were murdered in the Old New Synagogue in 1389. He wrote an elegy, which is still read on Yom Kippur at the Old New Synagogue.
The MaHaRaL, Rabbi Judah Liva ben Bezalel
The MaHaRaL’s grave is marked with a lion (lev). Born in Worms, Germany, Rabbi Lev (also known as Loew) was a scientist, philosopher, mathematician, astronomer and teacher. He served as Chief Rabbi of Moravia and Bohemia. His breakthrough work included the ideas of a Jewish state and learning through play vs. memorization.
He died in 1609 and his tombstone is built as a tent or little house. This type of monument became popular in Prague in the early 17th century, built for prominent members of its Jewish community.
Hendl Bassevi died in 1628. She was the second wife of Jacob Bassevi, the financier and court Jew under Habsburg emperors Rudolf II, Matthias, and Ferdinand II. Jacob was head of the Jewish community and the first Jew in the Habsburg Empire to rise to the nobility (and receive the title von Treuenberg). The lions on top of the grave bear the Bassevi coat of arms.
Next post: Symbols among the Jewish graves of Prague
Thanks for bringing all of the photos and history into our homes.
I’m glad you’re able to visit so many historic places and grateful for your posts and pictures. Enjoy every minute.
Rabbi Judah Liva ben Bezalel – learning through play vs. memorization. Wow! We 20th century educators aren’t as inventive as we think we are!
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