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Archaeologists expose Today Torah ark of Vilna synagogue burned by Nazis

  • By Editor
  • 08 27
  • 2021

BY ITZHAK RABIHIYA / SNN, Space Network News

For the first time since the Holocaust and Soviet destruction: The remains of the Aron Kodesh (Torah Ark) and the Bimah of the Great Synagogue of Vilna were fully exposed. Just this morning, while sifting the soil in front of the Aron Kodesh, A silver Yad was found. The Yad is a pointer used to read from the Torah scroll 

In Vilnius, Lithuania, an excavation of the Great Synagogue of Vilna has fully exposed the Aron Kodesh (Torah Ark) and the Bimah that was destroyed 60 years ago by the Nazis and the Soviets. This was announced today (Thursday) at noon that the Israeli-Lithuanian excavation expedition, directed by the archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Dr. Jon Seligman, at the end of this season of a six-year excavation project, aimed at uncovering the remains of the Great Synagogue of Vilna and parts of the Shulhoyf, the center of the Jewish community and Torah life of Vilna. This excavation began with a ground-penetrating radar test at the site and developed into excavation and significant discoveries.

"Just this morning, while sifting the soil in front of the Aron Kodesh, we found a silver Yad. The Yad is a pointer used to read from the Torah scroll", the archaeologists said. 

The Great Synagogue of Vilna, built in the 17th century in Renaissance-Baroque style, was the major part of the "Shulhoyf"- a large Jewish center of Torah and community study. This was the heart of the Lithuanian Jewish community and it included 12 synagogues and prayer halls, a bathhouse and mikvehs (ritual baths), the community council building, kosher meat stalls, a famous library named after "Strashun", the Gaon of Vilna’s seminary, and more. Centuries of existence came to an end with the destruction of the Jewish community of Vilnius during the Holocaust. The monument, which was sacred to the Jews of Lithuania, was looted and burned by the Nazis, and in 1956-7 its remains were completely destroyed by the Soviet authorities. A modern school was built on the premises. 

A few years ago, Dr. Jon Seligman visited Vilnius as part of a roots trip, sparking the idea of revealing and discovering what was left of the compound and the synagogue. 

 

According to Dr. Seligman of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Justinas Rakas, of the Kultūros paveldo Išsaugojimo pajėgos, whose excavation included a combined team of Lithuanians, Israelis and North Americans, "When we arrived to excavate the Aron Kodesh and the Bimah, from which generations of Jews read the Torah scroll for 300 consecutive years, it became clear, unfortunately, that the core of the synagogue had been greatly damaged by Soviet destruction. Still, two impressive staircases, clearly visible in the many images of the synagogue before its destruction, were discovered and are evidence of their existence. In addition, the excavation of Bimah was completed including the entire façade of the Bimah and the complete remains of one of the fourhuge pillars that supported the roof of the Great Synagogue." 

The Aron Kodesh (Torah Ark), whose remains were unearthed during the excavation season that has now ended, and which appears in all its glory in the many pictures of the synagogue, was enovated after a fire in the 18th century with the contribution of the "Yesod" Yehuda ben Eliezer (b. 1762). The foundation also donated the ornate Bimah, which was a two-story structure with four Corinthian columns and eight Tuscan columns. 

The excavation of the Great Synagogue in Lithuania is a joint venture of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Kultūros paveldo Išsaugojimo pajėgos, the Good Will Foundation, and the Jewish Community of Lithuania. 

According to Eli Eskozido, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, "The recent discovery of magnificent parts of the Great Synagogue shows the potential for further excavation of the site,I n anticipation of the exciting possibility of displaying the remains of the future.  

Photo: Jon Seligman, Israel Antiquities Authority

SNN, Space Network News (www.spacenetworknews.com) 

 

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