The Saar Synagogue Community - Jewish Life in Saarland

1700 years of Jewish life in Germany - 700 years in Saarland. We get to know the synagogue in Saarbrücken in 360° and learn about its history and symbolism.

By State Chancellery Saarland

The Synagogue of Saarbrücken in 360°

View from the gallery into the interior

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On June 2, 1946, today's Saar Synagogue Community was founded in the small meeting room of the Saarbrücken City Hall. On this historic day, the founders decided to revive Jewish life in the Saar and to build it up for future generations, despite the persecutions committed by the Third Reich. With this thought in their hearts, they also achieved that five years later - on January 14, 1951 - the present synagogue of Saarbrücken could open its doors to the faithful. The Saarbrücken synagogue is thus the earliest post-war synagogue on the territory of present-day Germany.

After returning to their old homeland, the first Jewish citizens founded the "Saar Synagogue Community" on June 2, 1946 in the small meeting room of the Saarbrücken City Hall. It is thanks to them that we have today's congregation and the new building of the present synagogue, which took the place of 23 Saarland synagogues in Saarbrücken. Since that day, the Jewish community on the Saar has flourished, offering religious care, support and cultural diversity to its members, friends and visitors. Today, the synagogue community has about 800 members and is one of the medium-sized communities in Germany.

Welcome to our synagogue (2021) by Wolfgang BoglerState Chancellery Saarland

Welcome to the Synagogue Saarbrücken

Cantor Benjamin Chait welcomes us to the synagogue and briefly tells its history.

Above the entrance portal of the building, a quotation from Psalm 113:2 is carved in Hebrew letters: "The name of the Eternal be praised from now until forever". The saying above the entrance portal to the synagogue inside the building is also a quotation from Psalms: "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Eternal" (Ps. 118:26).  

Entrance portal to the synagogue inside the building.

The saying above the entrance portal to the synagogue inside the building is also a quotation from the Psalms: "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Eternal" (Ps. 118:26). 

Although the question of the religious orientation of the new congregation had never been explicitly and openly addressed by the founders, the interior layout of the synagogue room, as in the Saarbrücken pre-war synagogue, corresponds to that of a Reform synagogue: the bima is located in the front area and not in the center of the room. To the right and left of it, a group of organ pipes is arranged in each case in a prominent position and as a clearly visible architectural design element; the lectern on the pre-prayer table is equipped with a ball bearing system that allows it to be turned by hand 180 degrees on Shabbat and holidays for the reading from the Torah and for the sermon, so that the reader then turns his face to the congregation. The east wall with the Torah shrine is covered with gray marble, as is the entire front area. The Torah shrine is decorated with a surrounding bronze frieze of myrtle leaves and fruit.

The Hanukkiah (nine-branched candelabrum)

 

Unlike the menorah, the nine-branched hanukkiah is used during the eight-day holiday of Hanukkah. This post-biblical holiday dates back to a rebellion of the Jews against the rule of the Seleucids, who dominated in the 2nd century BCE. 

In the first book of the Maccabees, a miracle is reported in this regard. When the holy temple was liberated and they started to put the menorah back into operation, they found consecrated oil (that is, not contaminated by the Seleucids) in the area of the temple, which would have lasted only for one day. It would take eight days to make new oil, but miraculously the jug found was enough for eight days. The eight lights of the Hanukkah candlestick commemorate this miracle, but even more so the victory of the Maccabees. 

On the eve of the first day of the eight-day celebration, the first candle is lit. On each of the following evenings, an additional candle is lit, so that on the eighth day, eight lights are lit. The Hanukkah candlestick has 8 candlesticks and an additional ninth, which is used to light the other lights each day.

Synagogengemeinde Saar - im Altarraum, Bima (2021) by Wolfgang BoglerState Chancellery Saarland

In the chancel, bima

The term bima comes from the Hebrew and means pedestal or pulpit. In Germany, it is mixed: Some synagogues, including the synagogue in Saarbrücken, have their bima, where people also read from the Torah scroll, in front of the Aron Hakodesh, the Torah shrine. Accordingly, the congregation members look toward the bima during the entire prayer. Then there are synagogues where the lectern is in the center, somewhat elevated, and so one then literally ascends to the Torah reading, which is read in the center of the community. 

The lectern on the bima is equipped with a ball bearing system that allows it to be rotated by hand 180 degrees on Shabbat and holidays for the reading from the Torah and for the sermon, so that the cantor then turns his face to the congregation.

Synagogengemeinde Saar - der Toraschrein - Aron ha-Kodesch (2021) by Wolfgang BoglerState Chancellery Saarland

The Aron hakodesh - Torah shrine

A Torah shrine, Hebrew אֲרוֹן קֹדשׁ, Aron hakodesh, "the holy shrine", stands on the front wall of every synagogue, usually facing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, i.e. in this country facing east or southeast. The Torah shrine holds the most precious treasure of any congregation, the handwritten Torah scrolls containing the 5 books of Moses. Thus, the Aron hakodesh is often ornately furnished and magnificently decorated. 

In front of the shrine in the Saarbrücken synagogue hangs an embroidered curtain with two lions holding up a crown. Underneath are Hebrew characters that symbolize the ten commandments.

Im Altarraum der Synagoge zu Saarbrücken (2021) by Wolfgang BoglerState Chancellery Saarland

The Torah scrolls of the Saar synagogue community

Im Altarraum der Synagoge zu Saarbrücken (2021) by Wolfgang BoglerState Chancellery Saarland

The Torah scroll

The Torah scroll is wound on two wooden sticks. The sticks are called the "tree of life". A special cloth ribbon is tied around the Torah scroll. Then it is covered with an embroidered mantle that is supposed to protect and decorate it. The Torah scroll must not be touched with bare hands. Therefore, a mostly silver staff serves as a reading aid.

Die Torarolle (2021) by Wolfgang BoglerState Chancellery Saarland

The Torah consists of the five books of Moses and is part of the Hebrew Bible. The term Torah means "teaching, law". The Torah is written on parchment by means of a goose quill and special ink. The text is written in Hebrew and must not contain a single error, only then it may be read out in the service. In total, the handwriting of a single Torah scroll takes about eight months.

The Torah decoration generally refers to the Torah crown as well as a kind of breastplate, which can be very different in their artistic form and design. The Torah jewelry of the Saarbrücken synagogue was mostly made according to the designs of the goldsmith Alice Bloch. Alice Bloch (1913-2005) was the daughter of Léon Bloch, the organist who played the harmonium and directed the choir in the Saarbrücken pre-war synagogue from 1923 until his emigration in 1935.

Wir öffnen einen Torarolle (2021) by Wolfgang BoglerState Chancellery Saarland

The Torah scrolls of the synagogue community

How to open a Torah scroll?

Erläuterung der Tora - lesen/singen aus der Tora (2021) by Wolfgang BoglerState Chancellery Saarland

Explanation of the Torah - reading/singing from the Torah

A Torah scroll must not be touched with bare hands while reading it, otherwise one runs the risk of contaminating or damaging the parchment or the letters written in ink. For this reason, a reading aid in the form of a stick, at the end of which is a small hand with an outstretched index finger, is used. This reading aid is called a jad, after the Hebrew word for "hand".

Im Altarraum der Synagoge zu Saarbrücken, Wolfgang Bogler, 2021, From the collection of: State Chancellery Saarland
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The memorial plaque to the opera of the Shoah: Following the example of the memorial plaques for the members who died in the First World War in the pre-war synagogues in Saarland, a memorial plaque for the victims of the Shoah was provided in the new Saarbrücken synagogue. It was placed on the wall to the left of the stairway to the bima, just as the memorial plaque for the Jewish fallen of 1914/18 was once placed in the former Saarlouis synagogue.

Die Gedenktafel der Synagoge (2021) by Wolfgang BoglerState Chancellery Saarland

The memorial plaque to the victims of the Shoah.

But living remembrance has also never been neglected: from the very beginning and to this day, the congregation has held an annual memorial service in the synagogue on November 9, the anniversary of the pogrom night of 1938.

Im Altarraum der Synagoge zu Saarbrücken, Wolfgang Bogler, 2021, From the collection of: State Chancellery Saarland
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The Ner Tamin is a small light above the bima. In some synagogues it is electric, in others an oil lamp, also in its form it differs from synagogue to synagogue: In some prayer houses there are small red lights above the bima, in others there are lights hanging on chains from the ceiling In the Saarbrücken synagogue it is traditionally a hanging lamp that glows red. The small light is always burning - even when no one is in the synagogue. That is why it is called "Ner Tamid", in German: "immerwährendes Licht". The Ner Tamid is derived from the perpetual light in the Jerusalem Temple, and since a synagogue today is considered a "small sanctuary" (Mikdash me'at), the Ner Tamid was adopted (T

Die Synagogenorgel (2021) by Wolfgang BoglerState Chancellery Saarland

The synagogue organ

In 1950, the Saarbrücken synagogue organ was completed by the Alsatian company Edmond A. Roethinger, one of the most famous French organ manufacturers of the time; the two-manual, electro-pneumatic instrument has 19 and 22 stops respectively. The Saarbrücken synagogue organ is the last playable synagogue organ in Germany and was extensively restored in 2020. 

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State Chancellery Saarland in cooperation with the Saar Synagogue Community, Saarbrücken.

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