History of the synagogue
The history of the Jewish community in Zamość begins in 1588. Jews were invited to Zamość by the founder of the city, the chancellor and the great crown hetman, Jan Zamoyski. The settlement privilege, however, applied only to the Sephardim, i.e. to the community originating from the Iberian Peninsula. The high property status of this group and numerous trade contacts with the Middle East were to help in the economic development of the newly created city.
The settlement privilege allowed for the construction of a synagogue. At the beginning, a wooden synagogue was built. As Zamość was supposed to be a huge fortress, wooden buildings were forbidden in the city. In 1608, the Sephardic Jews began to build a brick synagogue, which was completed in 1618 or 1620. At the beginning, only the main hall was built. Only later, on the sides, one-story women’s section, i.e. spaces intended for women, were added. Each part had a separate entrance. The roof of the building was hidden behind an attic.
Built on a square plan, the synagogue’s main hall is lower than the ground level. To enter the building, you need to go down a few steps. This is due to the rules in force at that time, according to which a synagogue could not be higher than Christian temples and tower over the city. Placing it in a ground depression allowed for a higher vault. Additionally, Zamość was to be an ideal city. Therefore, a strictly defined ratio of the height of buildings to the width of streets and the canon of buildings were in force. The synagogue had to adapt its appearance to the character of the city.
The first thing that draws our attention is the interior design, so different from other Polish synagogues. Bright colors and stucco decorations bring to mind the ornamentation of the Italian late Renaissance.
The Sephardic Commune survived in Zamość until the mid-17th century. After the wars of that period, the Chmielnicki Uprising and the Swedish Deluge, the economic situation of the city began to deteriorate. The Sephardim began to leave and the Jewish community of Zamość was taken over by Ashkenazim.
It is a time of major changes in the architecture of the synagogue: the construction of the floors above the women’s galleries, the removal of the attics and the reshaping of the roof. It was also a period of cultural flourishing of the Jewish community in Zamość. The city became a place of training for future rabbis and at the end of the 18th century an important center of Haskalah, also known as the Jewish Enlightenment.
Famous personalities are associated with the Jewish community in Zamość are:
- Izrael Ben Moshe Halevi Zamość (1700–1772) – philosopher, Talmudist and mathematician. Lecturer in the Zamość yeshiva. Known all over Europe. He was the teacher of Moses Mendelssohn, the chief thinker and philosopher of the Haskalah.
- Salomon Ettinger (1800–1856) – physician, playwright, poet. One of the founders of modern Jewish literature in Poland.
- Yitzhak Leybush Peretz (1851–1915) - writer, lawyer. Considered one of the founders of contemporary Yiddish literature.
- Aleksander Cederbaum (1816– 1893) – journalist and publisher of the first Yiddish-language newspaper in Russia.
- Rosa Luxemburg (1870– 1919) - economist, political activist. Ideologist and philosopher of Polish and German social democratic movements.
The end of the Zamość Jewish Community was brought by World War II and the German occupation. At that time, the synagogue was used as a stable, then it housed a carpentry workshop. The building survived the war, although it was in a very bad condition. The southern women’s gallery needed to be rebuilt, which due to this fact is now devoid of decorative stuccos. The works carried out in the following years restored the building to its original, late Renaissance form.
Currently, the building houses the „Synagogue” Center of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage.
- Baranowscy Zofia and Jerzy, „Dzielnica żydowska w Zamościu”, Biuletyn ŻiH no. 63, 1967
- Kędziora Andrzej, Encyklopedia Miasta Zamościa, Zamość 2012
- Kowalczyk Jerzy, Zamość.Przewodnik, Zamojski Ośrodek Informacji Turystycznej, Zamość 1995
- www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/15158-zamosz-israel-ben-moses-ha-levi – access 2021-08-06