Jewish Museum Amsterdam
The Jewish Museum of Amsterdam highlights Jewish culture, religion and history.
Jewish Museum Amsterdam
A complex of synagogues
The museum is located in a former compound of four Ashkenazi synagogues, built by a community of Jews who had fled persecution in Eastern Europe and settled in safe and tolerant 17th century Amsterdam. In 1671 the first of these sanctuaries was opened, proudly called the Great Synagogue, ‘Grosse Shul’ in Yiddish, the vernacular of the Eastern European Jews. Right next door, a second shrine was opened in 1685. That Upper Synagogue, ‘Obene Shul’, was built atop a kosher butcher, hence the name. In 1700 the Third Synagogue, ‘Dritt Shul’, was opened. The last of the four synagogues, the New Synagogue, ‘Neie Shul’ was inaugurated in 1752.
Former separate entrance to the 1752 New Synagogue
with Hebrew inscription.
Although the four synagogues formed one complex, they were operated separately by communities that differed in derivation and status. The Ashkenazi chief rabbi was associated with the majestic Grosse Shul, whereas the Neie Shul was less prestigious. The Obene Shul and Dritt Shul were ‘shtiebels’, typical popular synagogues. Each congregation had its own rabbi, cantor and specific traditions. In each of these places, over the course of the centuries, congregants gathered to pray, study, celebrate Jewish holidays and mark their life cycle events.
View of the New Synagogue (with dome)
and the Great Synagogue to its right in 1900.
Yom Kipur, Day of Atonement, in the Great Synagogue in 1725.
Chuppa, Jewish wedding ceremony, in the open air,
behind the Great Synagogue in 1722.
During WWII more than three quarters of the Dutch Jews were shipped off to the Nazi extermination camps and never returned. The synagogues that once so magnificently towered over Amsterdam’s lively Jewish quarter, now, severely damaged, overlooked an abandoned, looted ghost town.
The Great Synagogue in ruined state in the aftermath of WWII.
Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam abandoned and ruined
in the aftermath of WWII.
Relocation Jewish Museum Amsterdam
When in 1987 the Amsterdam Jewish Museum moved from its first location ‘De Waag’, the historic Weigh House, where it had been opened in 1932, to the location of the refurbished 17th century synagogue complex, the latter returned to have a dignified destination.
De Waag, historic weigh house,
first location of Amsterdam Jewish Museum.
Jewish Museum Amsterdam:
a modern structure bridges the former separate synagogues.
Within the museum’s walls, presently some 300.000 yearly visitors increase their understanding of Jewish history, culture and religion.
Section of Jewish Museum Amsterdam,
an impressive simulation of the Great Synagogue’s interior.
Similar synagogues complexes
On her Jewish Amsterdam Tour, while conducting clients through the Amsterdam Jewish Museum, which so impressively simulates the former synagogues compound, tourguide historian Naomi Koopmans is always reminded of a similar combination of synagogues that existed in Rome and is recorded in the name of its former location ‘Piazza delle Cinque Scole’, the Square of the Five Synagogues.
Piazza delle Cinque Scole, Rome.
Former location of five adjoining synagogues.
Naomi noticed that the four Sephardic synagogues in Jerusalem, still upright and operational today, are also grouped in a similar way.
Four adjoining Sephardic synagogues in Jerusalem.
Both in Rome and Jerusalem Naomi Koopmans worked as a licensed tourguide for many years.
Diversity versus commonality
“On my Jewish Amsterdam Tour, in relation to this former compound of separate synagogues, I often tell the joke about the three Jews needing four synagogues, to denote this Jewish subcultural diversity. On a more serious note though, I invite people to marvel at the communities’ commonalities, that exist despite of the Diaspora Jews’ millennial dispersion”,
says Naomi Koopmans.