THE JEWISH SYNAGOGUE
Until 1840, Alba Iulia was the only city in Transylvania where Jewish settlement was allowed, which led to the development of an important Jewish community in the city. In the eighteenth century, there were two Jews’ prayer houses, one for the Sephardic Jews (Spanish rite), the other for the Ashkenazi Jews (from the German influence area, Yiddish speakers). The synagogue in question was built in 1840, being the first masonry synagogue in Transylvania. It bears the name “Mareh Yezekiel” after the rabbi during which it was built.
In the synagogue, women had access only upstairs through a separate entrance to the so-called “Women’s Hall.” Inside the sink can also be seen, with an important role in the religious ceremony, handwashing is imperative.
On the facade of the synagogue, to the left of the entrance, three metal cannons can be seen embedded in the wall, dating back to the Revolution of 1848-1849. At that time, in the spring-summer of 1849, the city was subjected to a prolonged siege by the Hungarian revolutionaries under the command of General Józef Bem, who occupied the area of Lower Town, where the synagogue is located.
Another episode related to the history of the synagogue, and representative of the fate of the Jews in the 1930s and 1940s is the bombing of October 23, 1938. A wall and the furniture were then affected, but the bombing did not cause any loss of life, since, being cold and the synagogue was unheated, the ministry was held in the other synagogue in the city, across the road (the so-called “Sephardic synagogue,” which was demolished in 1983). The authors of the bombing were not discovered, some rumors pointing to the Romanian Legionnaires, others indicating Hungarian perpetrators.
The decline in the number of Jews in Alba Iulia (only 20 people were recorded in the last census) makes the minian (the quorum of prayer with ten Jewish men who know the ritual) not secured and thus the religious ceremony can not take place. This synagogue is the only one preserved in the Alba County.
Scientific consultant: Tudor Roșu, PhD historian
Translation made by: Ciprian Dobra, PR expert
Alba Iulia hosts the oldest Israelite community in Transylvania, with a permanent activity until today. The city centre preserves Alba County’s only brick wall synagogue. Constructed in 1840, the synagogue is also the oldest of its kind in Transylvania.
Baring the name of Rabbi Ezekiel Paneth, during whose time the synagogue was built, the construction is austere, but also Baroque and Neo-Classical elements are visible in its style.
The three metal „balls” on the façade of the synagogue are three cannon balls, which are left in the wall during the Revolution of 1848-1849.
Nearly a century later (1938) the synagogue was strongly shaken by a bomb attack – an event which is depicted on a plaque on the eastern wall of the central nave. A wall and some furniture were damaged in the blasts; fortunately, there was no loss of life. The authors of the attack were never discovered. While some rumours pointed to the Romanian legionnaires, others indicated Hungarian perpetrators.
At the entrance to the synagogue you will find a room that was formerly used as a prison – probably for those who committed religious offenses. Here, you can also witness the sink that was used for the religious ritual of hand washing.
The building houses a single nave, a large meeting room (in the midst of which is the bimah), and a podium (used for the Torah, the holy book of the Jews). By the eastern wall lies the aron kodeș, a cupboard where the Torah scrolls are held.
In the past, women could only access the synagogue through a separate entrance, which leads them to the so-called „Women’s Hall”.
A decrease in the number of Jews in Alba Iulia has resulted in the dismantling of the minian (the quorum of ten Jewish men who are accustomed to key rituals). For this reason, religious ceremonies can no longer be held. On the occasion of larger celebrations, community meetings take place in a smaller room of the synagogue.
In recent years, the edifice has gone through a vast restoration process.