According to Jewish law or halakha, a synagogue is a place where—traditionally at least—10 adult males are permitted to gather for prayer. Before the destruction of Lithuanian Jewish life and culture during the Holocaust, this place could be anywhere, from a simple room in an apartment to the splendid opulence of a purpose-built structure such as Vilnius’ Taharat Ha-Kodesh Choral Synagogue. Designed in the so-called Moorish style by the architect Dovydas Rozenhauzas and opened in 1903, the city’s sole surviving active Jewish house of worship was originally intended to serve the religious needs of Vilnius’ Jewish elite, who needed an appropriately ostentatious building to reflect their wealth and status, although today it’s used by all of the city’s Jews, rich, poor or otherwise. Surviving both the Nazis, who used it as a pharmacy, and the Soviets, who turned the building into a factory, since being given back to the official Vilnius Jewish Religious Community at the end of the 1980s a slow and costly process of renovation has been underway. Still out of action is the original mikvah, or ritual bath, although much of the once extravagant interior is slowly being returned to its original grandeur. Of particular interest to visitors is the former choir section on the second floor, now sealed off and as the name suggests and the place where singers would accompany religious services, the brass lamp found for sale on the internet that once graced a synagogue in Palanga and, upstairs, a rickety machine for making matzos that comes with its own fascinating story. In keeping with synagogue tradition, the building serves many different functions and is often filled with music and dancing in contradiction to the stereotypical image of the Litvaks as a serious and scholarly community. Ring the doorbell to get inside and try to get a tour if you can.
City centre location
Open 10:00 - 16:00, Sun 10:00 - 14:00. Closed Sat.