Remuh Synagogue and Cemetery
ul. Szeroka 40
The smallest of the seven synagogues of Kraków, it has long contrasted with the others due to its decidedly more modest decor. After the renovation completed in April 2016, it became the main site of prayer for the members of the Jewish community in Kraków.
Remuh is the Hebrew notation of the acronym made from the first letters of “Rabbi Moses Isserles”. The Remuh acronym gave the synagogue its name, and the Hebrew inscription on the gate on Szeroka Street announces that we are entering the New Synagogue of the blessed memory Remuh. After a thorough renovation ended in April 2016, it became the main place of prayer for members of the Jewish community in Kraków.
The permit to have a synagogue constructed (or, rather, to adapt his home into one) was obtained by a wealthy merchant, Isserl ben Josef from King Sigismund (Zygmunt) II Augustus himself. It was to be a gift for his son, Moses Isserles, who held the post of rabbi of Kraków and rector of the local yeshiva (Talmudic school). He also wrote works on religion, philosophy, mysticism and natural sciences, and was the most outstanding codifier of Ashkenazi law (i.e. of the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe). His ritual code entitled Mappa (The Tablecloth) is used to this day by Orthodox Jews all around the world. Although the synagogue was built in the mid-16th century, its contemporary form would make it hard to find any clearly renaissance feature. What, in turn, captures the eye are the stone buttresses supporting the relatively small edifice.
In 1968 it was visited by the then Metropolitan Bishop of Kraków, Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, and in 1992, President of Israel Chaim Herzog came here to pray. In January 2016, a bench commemorating the hero of the Polish Underground State, witness of the Holocaust, and diplomat – Jan Karski – was set up on the square in front of the synagogue.
Situated by the synagogue, the Remuh Cemetery is a few years its senior, as the first burials are dated to 1551. It was closed early in the 19th century, and until the Second World War it remained a fairly neglected place with just a few dozen tombstones; during the war, the Nazis additionally turned it into a landfill.
When the ordering works began in 1956, a sensational discovery was made: around 700 tombstones dating from the latter half of the 16th century to the first half of the 19th century were discovered under a thick layer of soil. Most were incomplete and damaged, yet they were covered in bas-relief ornamentation typical of Jewish decorative art. The motifs include the crown, symbolising virtues and the pious life of the deceased, grapevine leaves on the graves of the rabbis symbolising wisdom, knowledge, and maturity; and a picture and a bowl denoting the House of Levi, who carried out support functions at the synagogue. Standing in the cemetery today are 711 gravestones, some of the sarcophagus type, others in the form of freestanding slabs, that is matzevahs. Fragments of the slabs that couldn’t be saved were used to create a kind of mosaic on the inner side of the wall from Szeroka Street, building the so-called Wall of Tears.
Jews from all over the world are drawn to this place by the grave of Moses Isserles (d. 1572). Most leave kvitelach, that is small slips with requests, here, hoping that Remuh will intercede for them before God. His grave is the only one in the cemetery that was not damaged during the war. Its rescue is attributed to a miraculous intervention: a tale that the German who wanted to destroy the tomb was struck by a bolt of lightning kept being told. His matzevah bears the following 16th century inscription: “from Moses [the prophet] to Moses [Isserles] there was no such Moses”. It is a testimony to the great respect that Remuh enjoys among Jews.
After Kazimierz became part of Kraków in 1800, the cemetery was closed owning to a decision by the Austrian authorities, together with all the church cemeteries of Kraków, situated as a rule, in densely inhabited residential quarters. The New Cemetery was set up on the outskirts of Grzegórzki village, at today’s ul. Miodowa 55. Currently, the New Cemetery covers nearly 19 ha (47 acres) with 10,000 gravestones standing within, the oldest one dated to 1809. Buried here were the most eminent Kraków Jews from the 19th century to our time, including the painter Maurycy Gottlieb (d. 1879) and Deputy Mayor of the city Józef Sare (d. 1929).
Be sure to see:
- stone money box by the door with an inscription reading “gold, silver, copper,” which was to encourage generosity
- a late-renaissance stone Aron Kodesh, between double pilasters, crowned with the tablets of the Decalogue
- the plaque on the right-hand side of the Ark of the Torah commemorates the place were Rabbi Remuh used to pray, and which remains unoccupied during services to this day
closed on Saturdays and Jewish holidays
Tickets: PLN 10/5
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