Romania has a very rich Jewish heritage. While the first Jewish people arrived in the territory of modern Romania during Roman times, it wasn't until large immigration waves in the 15th and 16th centuries that a sizeable community was established. Over time, several Jewish families became quite prosperous and the community was able to fund the creation of some magnificent religious heritage sites. Our Religiana list will take a look at some of these outstanding sites and examine the rich Jewish heritage of Romania.
Grain Merchants' Synagogue in Bacău
The Grain Merchants' Synagogue (Cerealiştilor), is the only surviving building out of 22 synagogues that existed in the town before WWII. The synagogue was built in 1899 and renovated after a fire in 1924. The shape of the synagogue resembles a provincial theater. The longitudinal building has two tiers of windows, a high curved roof and an elaborate entrance. The synagogue is surrounded by modern buildings: Erou Rusu 31. The building has been used as a museum since 1991.
The Great Synagogue (Hoykhe Shul) was erected in 1834. The synagogue consists of an elongated building decorated with pilasters. Twelve windows, set at the level of the upper floor, illuminate the rectangular main prayer hall. The synagogue includes three spaces with wall and ceiling paintings: the main prayer hall, the women’s gallery, and the heated small prayer hall.
The (GAH) Synagogue in Suceava was founded in 1870 by the Gmilut Hasadim society. The synagogue was rebuilt many times: in 1910, in 1929, in 1975 and in 1983 (Streja A., and Schwarz L., "The Synagogue in Romania", The Hasefer Publishing House, 2009, 116-117). The modern building, disproportionate and asymmetrical, appeared as a result of numerous renovations. However, three large windows of the prayer hall and smoll windows of the women's gallery on the second floor on the south façade clearly indicate the nature of the building. The women's gallery is located on the second floor and is now on both sides of the prayer hall: on the west and on the north.
The Great Synagogue in Fălticeni is a monumental construction with an area of about 600 square meters. The synagogue was built in 1868 according to the date on the Torah Ark. The walls of the synagogue were dissected by pilasters and decorated with cornices. The entrance to the synagogue on the north side is artistically elaborated. A balcony is situated above the entrance. The west wall of the synagogue is adorned with a large balcony. The place of Torah Ark on the eastern wall pointed by the round window. The synagogue is decorated with large semi-circular windows.
The Synagogue in Râmnicu Sărat was reportedly built in 1855. Sixteen lancet windows on the north side, six on the south side, and four on the east side give light to the prayer hall. A second tier of small round windows lights the women's gallery. The windows are decorated on the building exterior with intervening pilasters and curved blind arches. A semicircular apse on the east side of the building marks the niche of the Torah ark. The vestibule of the synagogue serves as a small prayer room and leads to the main prayer hall. The women's gallery occupies an upper-tier (balcony) that compasses the main prayer hall on three sides.
The Old Wooden Synagogue in Piatra Neamț dates from 1766. It underwent restoration in 1826, 1854, 1870, 1928, and 2010. According to legend the Baal Shem Tov prayed here, hence it is sometimes called the "Besht Synagogue". The synagogue building consists of a rectangular prayer hall with a women's gallery on the north side. The interior floor is sunken one and a half meters below the exterior ground level. An octagonal wooden dome, typical of 18th-century wooden synagogue architecture, rises above the bimah in the center of the main prayer hall. A stone vestibule attached to the west side of the wooden building functions in winter as a smaller, warmer prayer hall.
The Leipziger Temple in Piatra-Neamţ was originally built by David and Pinchas Kolomier in 1839 and renovated in 1904 after a fire. The rebuilt synagogue features a high curved roof and two tiers of windows. The windows in the upper tier are circular, while those in the lower tier are semicircular (forming the top section of an arch). Atypically the eastern wall, which contains the niche for the Torah ark inside the main prayer hall, is a long wall; the prayer hall is thus wide instead of long. The exterior of the eastern wall (at the place corresponding to the niche for the Torah ark features a rectangular apse decorated with pilasters, a blind arch, and an inscription with the name of the synagogue.
The Unirea Sfântă (Holy Unity) Synagogue in Bucharest is an Ashkenazi synagogue built in 1908-1910 by architects Iulius Grünfeld and Herman Jankovici. This brick building in the Neo-Moorish style now serves as a museum.
The Great Synagogue of Iași was built between 1657 and 1671 and is the oldest synagogue still in activity in Romania. It is possible that the Great Synagogue in Iasi was originally built in wood due to the general prohibition of stone synagogues. Damaged by a fire in 1822, the woodwork and painting were destroyed and restored. A new round of restoration work was carried out in 1914. In 1939, the Great Synagogue was one of the 112 Jewish prayer houses in Iași. In front of the synagogue, a high obelisk was inaugurated in 1976 in memory of the victims of the Pogrom of Iași on 28 and 29 June 1941.
The Great Temple in Oradea is an Orthodox synagogue built in 1890 by architects Ferencz Knapp and Nándor Bách. It was restored between 2009 and 2017. This Neo-Moorish brick building still serves as a synagogue.
Jews settled in Sibiu in the mid-19th century. There were 5 and 9 Jews in 1850 and 1857 respectively, and 168 Jews in 1869. By the turn of the 20th century, however, the community was much larger and numbered 875 Jews in 1900 and 1,307 in 1910. Such a large community needed a synagogue, which could reflect its size and prosperity. The Great Synagogue in Sibiu was erected in 1899 according to the design of a Hungarian architect Ferenc Szalay. Although the synagogue is well preserved, is was not used for worship in the last 40 years. The small Jewish community today uses for prayer a room in the community building behind the synagogue. The Great Synagogue is a large building with an impressive western façade facing one of the main streets of Sibiu. The façade features Neo-Romanesque decorations and is surmounted by the Tablets of the Law. The magnificent prayer hall expresses the taste of the Orthodox current among Hungarian Jews: the "bimah" is situated in the center of the hall and the women's gallery has a "mehitzah"/arches with curtains, which prevent men from seeing women. Four wooden columns are placed at the corners of the "bimah", a feature popular in Hungarian synagogues. The eastern wall of the hall is richly decorated with murals.
The Iosefin Synagogue on Timişoara is an Orthodox synagogue built in 1910. The synagogue has undergone numerous restorations (1910, 1929, 1975, 1983, 2003). The brick building contains elements of Neo-Moorish and Neo-Romanesque style. It still serves as a synagogue.
The Cetate (Citadel) Synagogue in Timişoara is a Neologist synagogue built between 1863 and 1865 by architect Schumann. This brick building contains elements of both Neo-Moorish and Neo-Romanesque style. It still serves as a synagogue.