Archaeologists Uncover the Bimah of Vilna’s Great Synagogue

August 6, 2018 | Jewish Heritage Europe
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A team of researchers excavating the destroyed main synagogue in what is now the Lithuanian city of Vilnius (formerly Vilna) have found its bimah—the elevated central platform holding a table on which the Torah is read. Jewish Heritage Europe reports:

Following the discovery, Vilnius’s mayor, Remigijus Šimašius, announced that the school [built on the synagogue’s ruins in the 1950s and] vacated last year will be demolished in the coming years and a commemorative site about the synagogue will be developed and inaugurated by 2023, when Vilnius marks its 700th anniversary.

The Great Synagogue was built in the early 1600s in the Renaissance-baroque style. It became the center of Jewish life in Vilnius, towering over the shulhoyf (“synagogue courtyard”), a teeming complex of alleyways and Jewish community buildings and institutions including twelve [smaller] synagogues, ritual baths, the [offices of the] community council, kosher meat stalls, [and the famed] Strashun library. It was ransacked and torched by the Nazis in World War II, and the postwar Soviet regime tore down the ruins and built the school on the site.

The bimah was built in the 18th century following a destructive fire in 1748. Its construction was financed by a local benefactor, a writer and [rabbinic] judge named Yehudah ben Eliezer. . . . The archaeologists describe the bimah as having been “a two-tier baroque structure built of four Corinthian and eight Tuscan columns, decorated with lions facing the holy ark [where the Torah scrolls were kept].”

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