The synagogue

Opening ceremony in the Portuguese Synagogue in 1675The site of the present synagogue (the Esnoga or Snoge) was acquired on 12 December 1670. Construction work began on 6 Iyar 5431 (17 April 1671) under architect Elias Bouwman. Work came to a halt early in 1672, the so-called year of disaster, until 27 May 1674. Eventually, on 10 Menachem 5435 (2 August 1675) the Esnoga was solemnly inaugurated.

Above the entrance the date 1672 is inscribed in gilt Hebrew lettering, this was the year the building was supposed to have been ready. The text is taken from Psalm 5, verse 8: In the abundance of Thy lovingkindness will I come into Thy house (Bishenat va'ani berob chasdecha abo beetécha lif'k). According to Jewish tradition the appropriate letters are marked with a so-called perat katan, signifying the year. The last words of the verse also contain the name Aboab, that of the chief rabbi, or chacham, whose initiative it was to build the synagogue.

The building rests on wooden piles. The synagogue is surrounded by a row of low buildings, housing the winter synagogue, the rabbinate, the mikwe (ritual bath), offices and archives. The world-famous, oldest jewish Ets Haim library is also housed in these buildings. The authentic courtyard serves both as a safe playground for the children and a place for to walk and talk. In accordance with the Shulchan Aruch ruling (Yoreh De'ah 286;3) the synagogue does not have a mezuzah since it does not contain a residence.

The layout is of the longitudinal Iberian-Sephardi type with the Hechal (Ark) and tebah (bimah) at opposite ends of the interior while the seating is divided into two equal halves facing one another and separated by an aisle. The deal floor is covered with fine sand - in the old Dutch fashion - to absorb dust, moisture and dirt from shoes and to muffle the noise.

Restorations

Over the centuries the Portuguese Synagogue has been rebuilt and restored several times, but the building's character has always been preserved. In 1773 and 1774 the rear area with the entrance to both women's galleries and the landing were dramatically redone. Between 1852 and 1854 the small leaded panes were replaced by cast-iron windows. An enclosed porch was added at the entrance.

Service in the Esnoga on 9 May 1945, the first service after the Second World War. Photo: Boris KowadloCompared to the Great Synagogue, the Esnoga kept unharmed during the Second World War and preserved all the 17th century elements and collections. On 9 May 1945, the Esnoga was used again for a service for survivors of the Second World War.

After 1945 the Portuguese-Jewish Congregation preserved the synagoge and the annexes independantly. During a minor restoration in 1955-1959 the former main room of Ets Haim Seminary was rearranged to serve as a winter synagogue with heating and electric lights. The benches in this area are from 1639 and were originally used in the synagogue on the Houtgracht. The hechal is from 1744. During the colder months services are held in the winter synagogue.

During the 1980s the structure had become so weak that the building suffered serious deformations. The walls had settled more than the columns, which supported the relatively light wooden roof structure. Rust in the iron anchors caused cracks in the gable, and corrosion had seriously damaged the arch windows. Sections were rotten, and the vaults were flooded. Lack of ventilation drove moisture upward via the pillars.

In 1992 and 1993 the Portuguese Synagogue underwent a sweeping restoration. The restoration largely entailed renewing the foundations. The timber roof structure was restored, the 72 cast-iron arched windows were changed, and rusty parts were replaced. The magnificent chandeliers were cleaned, polished and varnished during the restoration. The annexes were modified as well. Ets Haim Library was thoroughly restored, and seats were added to the women's gallery in the winter synagogue. The old Mendes Coutinho house (residence of the former shammash or sexton) was converted into a main entrance and gift shop, and the mikvah (ritual bath) was modernized.

The costly renovation in 1992 and 1993 was funded through contributions from the Dutch government, the City of Amsterdam and the Foundation Friends of the Portuguese-Jewish Synagogue (SVP).

In consultation with the Dutch and communal government the Cultural Heritage Foundation of the Portuguese-Jewish Congregation (CEPIG) was established in 2003 to preserve the monument.

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