Archaeologists find inscriptions in destroyed Vilna synagogue - watch

In addition, during the excavation a prayer book survived the Holocaust, hundreds of coins from the 16th to 20th centuries and buttons of Napoleon's army, which passed through Vilna.

By
July 23, 2019 17:28
3 minute read.

Hebrew inscriptions found in Vilna Great Synagogue from 200 years ago (Credit: Loic Salfati)

Hebrew inscriptions found in Vilna Great Synagogue from 200 years ago (Credit: Loic Salfati)

Hebrew inscriptions from 200 years ago were discovered during an excavation project of the Great Synagogue of Vilna, which was burned down in the Holocaust and destroyed by the Soviets.

According to the researchers, Dr. Jon Seligman of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Justinas Račas of the Lithuanian Excavation Company, “The large and significant inscription, dated to 1796, was part of a stone Torah reading table that stood on the magnificent bimah of the synagogue in Vilnius.”

The table was donated – according to the text – by two brothers, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Shmuel, in memory of their mother, Sarah, and their father, Rabbi Chaim, who had emigrated from Lithuania and settled in Tiberias. It was from this table that the Torah was read to the congregants for about 200 years, until the burning of the synagogue and its final destruction by the Soviets 70 years ago.

The inscription, which was studied together with Dr. Vladimir Levin of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, reads: “In the year... [1796]: [This Torah reading table] was donated by Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Shmuel, the sons of Rabbi Chaim who lived in Tiberias, be it rebuilt and reestablished soon in our days.

“Our mother, the daughter of Rabbi Shabbtai, [died] on the 4th of Adar, [1782]... and our father Rabbi Chaim... died there on the 7th of Nissan, [1786].”

Hebrew inscriptions found in Vilna Great Synagogue from 200 years ago (JOHN SELIGMAN ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)


These brief sentences point to the deep connection between the Lithuanian (Litvak) community and the Holy Land, which has existed since the days of the Vilna Gaon until the present day.

According to the preliminary investigation, the donor family was one of the leading rabbinical families in Lithuania at the beginning of the 18th century. Due to the absence of the family name in the inscription, the information is not complete, and the public is requested to complete the puzzle and provide information about the family through the project’s Facebook page.

Another personal greeting from the past was discovered in the form of a seating plaque, for the head of the “Tzedaka Gedola” association, which managed the Great Synagogue of Vilna from the end of the 18th century until 1931.

“These are the discoveries that fascinate us most,” the researchers said. “It is the personal objects that provide a direct connection to people, to those who prayed here, that immediately ignites the imagination.”

Hebrew inscriptions found in Vilna Great Synagogue from 200 years ago ( Credit: JOHN SELIGMAN ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

The excavation of the Great Synagogue in Lithuania is a joint venture of the IAA, the Lithuanian Excavation Company, the Good Will Foundation and the Jewish community of Lithuania.

“The project of exposing the historic Great Synagogue of Vilna is part of the IAA’s ‘Heritage without Borders’ concept, which also includes the research of sites outside the borders of the State of Israel,” said Israel Hasson, director of the IAA. “This arises from the perception that the IAA was entrusted by the Israeli public to serve as the ‘watchtower’ on its behalf for the protection of heritage and cultural assets.”

Hebrew inscriptions found in Vilna Great Synagogue from 200 years ago (Credit: JOHN SELIGMAN ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)


This year’s excavation, with the participation of a team of Israeli, Lithuanian and international archaeologists and volunteers, uncovered large sections of the magnificent synagogue bimah.

Originally two stories tall, the bimah was built in the 18th century by means of a donation from the well-known Jewish philanthropist, the Yesod.

“The decorative baroque bimah, which was documented in photographs from the early 20th century, was a two-story structure set between four magnificent pillars that supported the ceiling,” the researchers said. “Between these columns, and on the front of the bimah, the cantor read the Torah to the congregation for 300 years. An interesting discovery was the terrazzo floor, which was colorful and elegant.

“Below the bimah, and also unknown to the researchers, was a large cellar. Among the finds recovered during the excavation were a prayer book that survived the Holocaust, hundreds of coins from the 16th to 20th centuries, and buttons of Napoleon’s army, which passed through Vilnius on its way to defeat in Moscow in 1812.

“The discovery of the pillars of the synagogue, the central parts of the bimah and the inscription attest to the potential inherent in the continuation of the excavation at the site and the exciting possibility of presenting the remains of the Great Synagogue of Vilna and shulhoyf [synagogue courtyard] in the future to the public.”


Related Content

Holocaust survivors enter Auschwitz 73 years after its liberation on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Janu
August 24, 2019
U.S. Army memo with Nazi phrase leads to commander's suspension

By ROSE L. THAYER/STARS AND STRIPES/TNS

Cookie Settings