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Capital of the Czech Republic and home of one of the oldest and most important Jewish communities in Europe. Jews settled in Prague at the beginning of the 10th century. In 1096, at the time of the first Crusade, Jews suffered grievously. In the following centuries, Kings Sobeslav II and Ottokar issued laws which regulated relations between Christians and Jews. Early in the 13th century, Jews settled in the Altstadt, or Old City, where they built the famous Altneuschul synagogue, one of Prague’s ancient and most celebrated landmarks. According to legend, this synagogue was partially built with stones from the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem. Despite protection from the Bohemian king, they were constantly persecuted. The worst attack on the ghetto took place in 1389, when 3,000 Jews were killed. The ghetto was again plundered in 1421, when Jews sided with the Hussites who were rebelling against the Catholic Church. The situation for Prague Jews improved slightly in the 15th century. In 1527, they were permitted to display the “Jew’s flag” in processions. At the same time, however, restrictions and expulsions from the city continued, but did not deter Jewish economic and intellectual advancement. The community of Prague produced some outstanding rabbis and scholars, the most prominent being Judah Loew, known as the Maharal, and Yom Tov Lipman Heller (1579-1654), author of a commentary on the Mishnah, astronomer, and liturgical poet. David ben Solomon Gans (1541-1613) was a famous historian and astronomer who was a friend of the great astronomers Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe. David Oppenheim (1664-1736) was a famous collector of Hebrew books and manuscripts now a part of the Bodleian Library of Oxford, England.

At the end of the 17th century, two misfortunes befell the Jewish community: an epidemic and a raging fire which destroyed eleven synagogues and much property. As late as 1744, Empress Maria Theresa ordered the expulsion of 10,000 Jews from Prague. They were allowed to return a few years later only after paying a heavy tax. The Haskalah, or Enlightenment, movement at the end of the 18th century, made a deep impression on Prague’s Jewry. Many Jews began to play an important role in the intellectual life of the city and the country. The Orthodox element was centered around Rabbi Ezekiel ben Judah Landau (1713-1783).

In 1848-1849, Prague’s Jews were granted equality, and in the next century the community grew rapidly. Conditions improved further after the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1919. A number of Jewish writers in Prague achieved fame in German literature, among them Max Brod, Franz Werfel, and Franz Kafka.

Nazi occupation of Prague in 1939 spelled the doom of the thriving Jewish community of 35,000. In 1948, the Communist government of Czechoslovakia came to the support of the newly established state of Israel when it was attacked by its Arab neighbors. This cooperation was soon replaced by a violent antisemitic and anti-Zionist campaign, culminating in the infamous Slansky trial in Prague in 1953. The estimated Jewish population in 1998 was about 2,000.

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