Ground penetrating radar helps rediscovery of Vilna’s Great Synagogue
search

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Ground penetrating radar helps rediscovery of Vilna’s Great Synagogue

The Old Town of Vilnius, Lithuania
The Old Town of Vilnius, Lithuania
A panoramic view of the Old Town of Vilnius looking south from Gediminas Tower
A panoramic view of the Old Town of Vilnius looking south from Gediminas Tower

Ground penetrating radar has led to the rediscovery of the Great Synagogue and Shulhof of Vilna, for five centuries one of the centres of European Jewry which was said to have entranced Napoleon into stunned silence.

The remains, partially under a school, were located by a team of archaeologists from Israel, America and Europe, and will lead to an excavation next year.

Built in the 17th century in Renaissance-Baroque style, the magnificent structure was surrounded by other buildings, including 12 shuls, the community council, kosher meat stalls, the famous Strashun library and a complex of mikva’ot (ritual baths).

It formed a great centre of Torah study, with the team describing it as “the beating heart of the Lithuanian Jewish movement of Mitnagdim” and the home for Rabbi Eliyahu, the Vilna Gaon.

“This is a central part of Jewish heritage from this land,” said Dr. Jon Seligman from the Israel Antiquities Authority. “It’s the most important synagogue of Lithuania. For five decades, from the 15th century through to the time of the Holocaust, it was the centre of what we call Litvak Jewry, which emcompassed Lithuania, Latvia, Belorussia and down into Ukraine. This was the centre of a particular branch of Judaism which was against the Chasidic trend in Poland and Hungary. The building very much represented the Jews of this area and the way that they prayed.”

At the time, the city of Vilna had a 35 percent Jewish population, and the area around the synagogue supported Jewish life in the whole region, including the many shtetls or villages nearby.

The team found it using ground-penetrating radar, whereby FM radio-waves “look into the ground” and reflect off layers in the sub-surface. They found “significant remains” of the synagogue below the surface, including sections of the Great Syanagogue and possible remnants of the miqva’ot.

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...

Engaging

Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.

Celebrating

There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.

Pioneering

In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.

Campaigning

Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more:
comments