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Great German Synagogue

Great German Synagogue

Outside

Over the modest portal the inscription «Beth ha-keneset ha-ghedola keminag aschenazi» tells us this is the « Large Prayer House of German rite, the gift of Joseph and Samuel Matatia ». Beside the portal stands the Synagogue which can be distinguished from the surroundings only by the elegant motif of the five white stone arches. Under the cornice, one can read another inscription « Scuola Grande of the German Holy Community; may God protect them, Amen ».

Entrance

On the walls and stair-landings we find nume¬rous tablets commemorating the various stages in the construction of the Synagogue or dedicat¬ed to people who have operated for the good of the Community (Moravia, Pincherle, Assioli, Lonigo, Serravalle). Inside the entrance, on the left, is a Parokhet reproducing various Psalms in columns. It probably comes from a Midrash and is the work of « Hanna, daughter of Rabbi Calonimos Chefez (Gentili), moglie di Avraham son of Moshe Shemaia Levi» 5444 (1684 ).

On either side of the stairs two candelabra from the Synagogue of Vittorio Veneto. On the right a beautiful 18th century walnut bureau and a panel formerly part of the ceiling of the Scola Italiana. On the first landing is a little fountain, given by « Moshe Coen Spilimbergo, of blessed memory, who honoured God with endowments throughout his lifetime ».

Inside

The Schola Tedesca was begun by the Askhenazi Community in about 1528 and is the oldest Venetian Synagogue. The unknown architect had to overcome considerable difficulties in order to give an appearance of regularity to the asymmetric area of the hall; he achieved this effect by building an elliptical women's gallery and repeating the same motif in the banisters of the lantern- like opening in the center of the ceiling thus giving a feeling of unexpected depth; in fact the ornamental ele¬ments help to bring about a harmony of form and proportion in the hall.

This Synagogue was often restored over the centuries as can be seen from the excessive amount of gilding, while the sober and elegant wainscoting of the walls belongs to the original building as do the Renaissance style pews. Inside the entrance door, on the right, above pink marble steps, stands an impressive archi¬tectonic structure of distinctly Baroque taste, formed by a high central part, the Holy Ark ( Aron ), containing the Torah Rolls, and two lateral parts with seats for the Parnasim of the Synagogue.

On the steps one can read that the Aron is a « gift of the elder of the Zemel brothers, Rabbi Menachem Cividale, son of Rabbi Joseph (let the just man's memory be blessed) 5432 (1672) ». Above the right-hand seat is inscribed a verse from Psalm (107, 32) «Praise Him in the assembly of the elders» while above the left hand seat one can read the 8th verse from Chapter 23, Samuel II «He who sits in the assembly becomes just ».

On the doors of the Ark are inscribed the ten Commandments, inlaid in mother-of-pearl and surmounted by a crown with the words « Keter Tora» (Crown of the Law). Inside the Ark, there are three Sefarim (Tora Rolls) adorned with finely worked silver crowns, finials and breastplates. Under the women's gallery runs a band on which are inscribed the Ten Commandments according to Exodus.

The pulpit juts out considerably from the back¬wall and helps with its polygonal shape, its fine banisters and elegant, slender Corinthian up¬rights, to create the optical illusion of a regu-larly proportioned hall. The complex containing the Ark juts out on the outside, over the Rio di Ghetto Novo, with a niche which is also to be seen in the Schola Canton, the Schola Italiana and the Schola Le-vantina; it is a characteristic feature of Venetian architecture, called «Diagò» or «Tiagò» and is probably derived from Oriental art. The 19th Century-style ceiling decoration be¬longs of course to a later period.

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