This is a sign announcing the times of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayers at a synagogue in Prague in 1888. The sign is written in Hebrew (Rashi script) and German (Gothic script). Times are given for the start of Rosh Hashanah prayers on September 5–6, 1888 and Yom Kippur on September 14–15, 1888. The times are stated in a very precise manner together with explanations of the way that services will be carried out: for example, the cantors will not draw out or add extra melodies, they will be precise, and they will say the prayers pleasantly and with meaning. The sign also indicates when services will end and assures congregants that they will return home by a certain time. The emphasis on the times of different parts of the service shows a concern for doing things according to both Jewish Law and the needs of the community.
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The High Holy Days – The High Holy Days (Yamim Noraim), Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, take place in the month of Tishrei and are a time of introspection and repentance. Synagogue attendance is at its highest on these days; for many people this is the only time that they attend the services. On Rosh Hashanah, the liturgy includes special prayers recognising God as King and Judge. The prayers evoke memories of God as the creator of the world and of God’s close relationship with our forefathers. The peak of the Rosh Hashanah services is the blowing of the shofar, a ritual horn whose sound is a symbol of repentance. Yom Kippur is the Day of Judgment, and it is traditional to fast and engage in prayer for most of the day. Yom Kippur begins with the Kol Nidrei service, which is said in the evening, after dark, when three stars can be seen in the sky. Yom Kippur services continue throughout the day with many additional prayers including the vidui (confession prayers) and selichot (forgiveness prayers). The service ends with the blowing of the shofar.
The Jewish Community of Prague – Jews have lived in Prague since 970 CE. As in many European countries, the Middle Ages were often times of persecution. The sixteenth century is considered to be the age of the Prague Renaissance, and the Jewish population grew, with artisans and intellectuals arriving from all over Europe. One of the famous figures from this time was Rabbi Judah Loew, the Maharal of Prague. Rabbi Loew wrote many religious and philosophical books and was the mystical rabbi featured in the legend of the Golem. In the eighteenth century, more Jews lived in Prague than in anywhere else in the world. In 1708, Jews accounted for one quarter of the population of Prague, however, from 1745 to 1748, the Jews of Prague were expelled by Empress Maria Theresa. During the reign of Emperor Joseph II (1780–1790), Jews began to return to Prague and life for the Jewish community improved including the building of many institutions such as synagogues and schools. During the nineteenth century, the Prague ghetto was abolished and the Jews were granted civil equality. At the start of World War II, over 92,000 Jews were living in Prague, which was almost twenty percent of the total population. On 15 March 1939, Germany occupied Prague, and in the following years, at least two-thirds of the Jewish population of Prague were killed; 15,000 Czech Jews survived the Holocaust. Following the war, Prague came under Soviet rule. At first, Jews were allowed to move to Israel, as about half the survivors did. After 1949, emigration was not allowed, and the Soviet regime began a campaign against religion and most of the synagogues were closed. In 1989, after a decade of protests and calls for reform, the communist leadership resigned and Vaclav Havel became the president. In 1993, Czechoslovakia was divided into two countries: Slovakia and the Czech Republic with Prague as its capital. After the Czech Republic’s independence, study of Jewish subjects became very popular, diplomatic relations with Israel were restored, and seized Jewish property was returned. Today, Jewish life is returning to Prague, where there are currently three functioning historic synagogues.