Portuguese Synagogue

Mr. L.E. Visserplein 3

Portuguese Synagogue

On one side of Jonas Daniel Meyer Square stands the world-famous Portuguese Synagogue. This building was constructed in the years 1671 to 1675, about 75 years after the first Sephardi Jews arrived in the Netherlands, refugees from the persecutions of the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal.

Portuguese Synagogue

City architect Elias Bouman directed the building of what was then the largest synagogue in the world. The classical form is similar to that of Protestant churches of the day. The building itself, with its enclosed square at the front entrance, is an echo of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. In 1641 the Amsterdam rabbi Jacob Juda Leon had constructed a much-admired wooden model of the Temple.

In 1934 the Czech journalist Egon Erwin Kisch recorded in his book Emigrants: place of residence - Amsterdam:

The Portuguese Synagogue is not, for instance, like the Altneu Shul in Prague. In no way could it be described as a shabby, shivering, timorous meeting place for illegal immigrants - no, it is a splendid construction, a Jewish cathedral… The nave, supported by pillars of hewn granite, reaches to the heavens and resembles those churches in Iberia where Jews of yore were dragged in to hear sermons of conversion to Christianity, or to be forcibly baptized.

The Portuguese Synagogue is the home of the 'Ets Haim' (meaning Tree of Life) Library, which contains one of the world's major collections of Sephardi writings, of inestimable value to scholars of Judaism. The Portuguese Synagogue building became the model for other Sephardi synagogues, such as ones in London, Willemstad (Curaçao), Paramaribo (Surinam) and New York. This synagogue and the Gerard Dou Synagogue were the only two such buildings in Amsterdam to emerge unscathed from World War II. After the war the remnant of Sephardi Jews started to use the building once again and in the 1950s and 1990s it underwent complete renovation 
 


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