The Choral Temple: The Must-See Jewish Heritage of Bucharest
The most impressive synagogue in Romania – the Choral Temple – is the surviving testimony of what was once the strong Jewish community of Bucharest. Located just a few minutes from the tourist part of the Old Town, the Choral Temple is one of the most outstanding historical monuments in the capital and a must-see if you want to uncover more of hidden Bucharest.
Jewish identity in troubled times
The construction of the Choral Temple started in 1864 in a complicated political context. Inspired by the model of major European cities where Jewish communities were actively promoting their cultural identity through imposing synagogues, the Choral Temple was also destined to become the highlight of all Judaic monuments in Romania.
Finalized in just two years after the plans of two Viennese architects, the Choral Temple was, nonetheless, set on fire by an extremist protesting against the revision of the Constitution that would have granted Romanian citizenship to the Jews. While this key political issue was postponed, the authorities of the time repaired the temple, and Prince Carol himself contributed financially to the restoration of this splendid Moorish style synagogue.
The Choral Temple was finally inaugurated in 1868 by Rabi Antoine Levy, and is today the only existent replica of the Synagogue Tempelgasse from Vienna that was destroyed by the Nazi regime in 1938. The temple was renovated and enlarged in the fourth decade of the 20th century, but was damaged again by the 1940 earthquake. However, the worst destruction happened in January 1941 when the extreme right-wing militias vandalized the Jewish neighborhoods.
Escaping communist demolitions
If until the Second World War, the Jewish community was the largest minority in Bucharest, things changed radically after the communist regime came to power. Most synagogues were closed or demolished, and the members of the community migrated massively to Israel.
Even the Choral Temple was listed for demolition during Nicolae Ceausescu’s unstoppable race for building the new Bucharest. International protests and the efforts of Rabbi Moses Rosen stopped the disaster, but the Jewish neighborhood crumbled under the bulldozers of the communist regime. Few houses and monuments of this neighborhood survived, and even if finding them is an urban adventure, it’s one you shouldn’t miss.
The Choral Temple today
The Choral Temple went through extensive renovation works in the past years, and is today one of the most beautiful synagogues in Europe. It’s the best place in Bucharest to learn about cultural and religious diversity, and, above all, about tolerance and respect.
Visit also the Great Synagogue, hidden behind communist blocs, just a few minutes from the Choral Temple. Close by, you can also find the synagogue from Mamulari Street.
The synagogues are closed on Saturday.