Discovery in Lithuania: archeologists find ruins of Great Synagogue … – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on August 18, 2017

Volunteers, students and archaeologists excavate two recently uncovered mikves once belonging to the Great Synagogue of Vilna.. (photo credit:DR. JOHNATHAN SELIGMAN)

In 2015, a radar survey discovered ruins near a school in Vilnius, Lithuania. The ruins were of the Great Synagogue, and since their discovery they have provided substantial new insights into the life the Jewish community living there before the Holocaust.

In the past three years, archaeologists have uncovered ruins of mikves and bathhouses that have been underground for over 70 years. Doctor John Seligman, the head of the dig sight, says these findings give us critical information about the history of the Jewish people in Lithuania.

The archeologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority have discovered many clues as to how the Jewish community lived and thrived in Vilnius before the Holocaust. Such conclusions are drawn from the architecture and the structure of the mikve by exposing aspects such as Halachtic traditions, and methods of water transportation and sewage systems. The team also searched for answers in a nearby dig site in Punary, the site of a great Nazi massacre.

After the devastation and expulsion of the Jewish community in Vilnius, the Nazis burned the building to the ground, and during the Soviet rule, a school was built were the synagogue once stood. In 2015, a survey team was sent by the Israeli Antiquities Authority in hopes of finding ruins underground.

The researchers rejoiced when their radar picked up remains of the synagogue, and now hope to find more information about the community that once was and we can create a memorial site in their honor. The Antiquities Authority has to enlisted a variety researchers, students and volunteers from Israel, Lithuania, and the United States - Jews from all over the world - and aspire to create an environment of cooperation.

The Great Synagogue, built in the 17th century, was the largest and most extravagant synagogue in Lithuania. It was the heart of the Jewish community of the whole country. Jews would frequent the center on a daily basis. The building was of Renaissance-Baroque architecture and included 12 Beit Midrash (one of which belonged to Rav Eliyahu, the Gaon from Vilnius), mikves, a communal gathering house, kosher meat stands, and the famous Shtrashon library. Of these facilities, two mikves have been uncovered during the excavations.

Doctor Seligman says, until this point, we have had fragments of information about the life of the Jewish community in Vilnius. The goal of this mission is to turn the legacy of the Jewish community of Vilnius as an inseparable part of the entire Jewish Lithuanian legacy and to preserve the site for future visitors.

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Discovery in Lithuania: archeologists find ruins of Great Synagogue ... - The Jerusalem Post

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