Bela Taraseiskey, Great Synagogue of Vilna, ©2006, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 24 inches, Reconstructed from old images.
The Great City Synagogue of Vilna was built of stone from 1630 to 1633, after permission was given to build a stone structure to replace the Old Synagogue. In 1635 the synagogue was pelted with stones by rioters, the interior was destroyed and all it contained was looted.
It was rebuilt in Renaissance-Baroque style in the schulhof, and in the course of time it was surrounded by a complex of some twenty synagogues, among them an old wooden 15th century synagogue, rebuilt between the 18th and 19th century, prayer-houses of the artisans’ guilds, a beth-midrash, a mikveh, the community center, the famous Strashun rabbinical library; the prayer-house of Rabbi Eliyahu ben Solomon Zalman, the Gaon of Vilna (1720-1797), built in 1800. The whole complex became a great Talmud Torah study center and the heart of the movement of the Mitnaggedim. The synagogue was partly destroyed by the Germans during World War II. After the war the synagogue and the whole schulhof complex were destroyed by the Soviet authorities and replaced by housing blocks.
Three original pieces from the Great Synagogue of Vilna survived the destruction quite miraculously and are now on display at the Vilna Gaon Jewish Museum: a door of the Holy Ark, a reader’s desk (Omed), and a bas-relief with the Ten Commandments.