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The Great Synagogue

The Great Maharsha Synagogue in Ostroh is a monument of Jewish sacred architecture in the former Jewish neighbourhood in Ostrog. It has been a historical centre for the religious life of the Jewish community of Ostroh, dating back to the fifteenth century, was one of the oldest and most affluent communities in Volhynia.
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The Great Synagogue

The Great Maharsha Synagogue in Ostroh is a monument of Jewish sacred architecture in the former Jewish neighbourhood in Ostrog. It has been a historical centre for the religious life of the Jewish community of Ostroh, dating back to the fifteenth century, was one of the oldest and most affluent communities in Volhynia.

This is an original monument of Renaissance and Baroque architecture in Western Ukraine. It was a cultural and educational centre of the Jewish community and was used for various purposes. The thickness of the walls of the building is 2.5 m, i.e. approximately the same as the defensive walls that used to surround the city of Ostroh.


There is no exact information regarding the fact when the Synagogue in Ostroh started functioning. Yakim Perlstein, the researcher of Ostroh and Volhynia, believes it was in 1400. Other well-known researchers of Ostroh, like Stanislav Kardashevych, Mykhailo Tuchemsky, Anatolii Khvedas and others, agreed with this opinion regarding the creation of a Jewish shrine. The Synagogue and the school of rabbis had already been mentioned in the "Deed of Partition of Possessions of Prince Konstanty Wasyl Ostrogski between His Sons Janusz and Alexander in 1603". The existing Synagogue was built in the eastern plains of Ostroh, near the banks of Viliia River.

A printing house has been operating at the Synagogue since 1608. In 1610, rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Ha-Levi Edels (Maharsha), at his own expense, repaired the Synagogue and built a special women's section on the north side. Since then, the Synagogue was named after Maharsha. There is a certain probability that the Synagogue was rebuilt according to the project of architect Jakub Madlein.

In 1726, the roof of the Synagogue was covered with galvanised iron, the interior was completely restored and a large bronze candlestick was bought. The walls were lined with ceramic tiles.

During the Polish-Russian War of 1792 (also, War of the Second Partition, and in Polish sources, War in Defence of the Constitution), the Russian army under the command of general Mikhail Kakhovsky (according to Alexander Suvorov, however this fact is not true) approached Ostroh. Frightened Jews, in order to save their lives, locked themselves in the Synagogue. Meanwhile, the Polish army left the city, unwilling to resist, because of its small numbers. The Russians believed that the Synagogue was a castle and, consequently, have fired cannons at the building for two days. However, cannonballs flying into the Synagogue through the windows remained hanging in the air. Only one cannonball damaged the south wall. Eventually, there appeared to be a brave young man Eliezer among the Jews, who left the Synagogue and went to negotiate with the Russians. He explained to them that the Poles had left the city a long time ago and showed them a fording point across the Viliia River (the bridge was burned by the Poles during the retreat). Later, in order to commemorate such amazing salvation, the community didn't plaster the place on the south wall where the cannonball hit, moreover, they hang another cannonball under the vault in the prayer hall.

The printing house was closed in 1832 due to the fact that manifestos of Polish insurgents were printed here.

In the 18th century, there were several additions made along the northern and eastern sides of the building. At the end of the 19th century, there appeared a balcony on the western facade.

In 1912, the church was overhauled. The western facade was decorated with rustic. The attic of the northern addition was redesigned. The interior was painted.

As a result of hostilities during World War II, the building was severely damaged. In 1941, it was destroyed and looted by Hitler's occupiers. The loopholes on the main facade, as well as the buttresses between the windows, were completely destroyed.

In the 1960s, the building suffered significant losses and was converted into a warehouse. The eastern part was destroyed, as well as most of the northern part and attic of the western facade. Only the prayer hall, redesigned for three floors, has survived (floor slabs were liquidated in 2002).

In 2016, the restoration of the building began.


This rectangular building is topped by a high baroque attic and two pediments. The Synagogue was a high prayer hall, covered with vaults, which are supported by four octagonal pillars. The hall was illuminated through twelve windows - three on each wall. Three windows of the west wall faced the women's section, which was located on the second floor above the lobby.

Four internal octagonal pillars of hewn stone divided its internal space into five equal parts. The axes of the vaults are oriented in the south-north direction. The columns were connected with the walls and among themselves in the opposite direction by semicircular arches which had smaller height, than arches. The width of the arches and columns is 1.3 m. Four central pillars corresponded to flat pilasters on the walls with similar composite capitals and abacus. The width of the pilasters is the same as the pillars. Before World War II, the capitals of the pilasters were brightly polychrome, and the ceiling was covered with plant ornaments. In the middle of the Synagogue, between the pillars, there was a raised area, a podium, which the Jews called a bimah (other spellings: bema, bima) or almemor. This part in the interior was intended for Torah reading during services. Bimah was surrounded by wrought iron balustrades. Stairs with an openwork metal balustrade led from the south and north.

Near the east wall was a Torah ark (or Aron Kodesh), also known as the ark of law, or in Hebrew the Aron Kodesh or aron ha-Kodesh ("holy ark"). This is the largest shrine of the Synagogue, because it is an ornamental closet in the synagogue that houses the Torah scrolls written by hand. According to the photos, this ark was distinguished by exceptionally masterful execution in the late Baroque style of the 18th century. Its composition was two-tiered, four-column and very creped. Externally the Synagogue was deprived of any decoration.

Smooth walls are completed with an underdeveloped cornice. In each wall (except the northern one) there are three large arched windows. The floor level of the Synagogue is much lower than the area around it. This is due to the fact that the Catholic Church, the royal and local authorities forbade the construction of synagogues higher than the churches and even equal to them. Therefore, in order to create a high, spacious room, the temple was sunk into the ground.

One of the best decorations of the Synagogue was a magnificent Renaissance attic with loopholes on the main facade, as well as buttresses between the windows.


Architect: Jacob Madline

Style: Baroque

Affiliation: Judaism

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Rivne Region, vul. Chaikovskoho, 8, Ostroh

50.327701 | 26.528953


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