Archaeologists Uncover Artifacts in Great Synagogue of Vilna

The yad uncovered in the Great Synagogue. (Israel Antiquities Authority)

Israeli and American archeologists have uncovered the aron of Vilnius’s Great Synagogue, more than 60 years after the shul was destroyed. They also found a silver yad a short distance away from where the sifrei Torah had been kept.

Built in the late 1600s in the ornate Renaissance-Baroque style, the 5-story Great Synagogue was at the center of Jewish life in Lithuania. The shul was at the center of a larger Jewish community complex, which contained 12 shuls and yeshivos, mikvaos, a community council building, a library, the beis medrash of the Vilna Gaon, and more.

The shul had been looted and heavily damaged by the Nazis and demolished by the Soviet authorities in the 1950s, who purposefully built a school over it to prevent it from returning to a Jewish site.

For several years now, Israeli and American archeologists, with the support of the Lithuanian Jewish community, have been excavating the site. In 2016 two mikvaos were uncovered along with colorful tile inlaid in them. In 2019 they uncovered the Hebrew inscriptions on the bimah, which noted it had been dedicated by two brothers, Eliezer and Shmuel, who donated it in their parents memory, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

Other finds include a seating plaque for the head of the Tzedakah Gedolah association, coins from the 15th-19th century, and buttons believed to have belonged to the uniforms of soldiers of Napoleon’s army.

Eli Escozido, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement, “the recent discovery of magnificent parts of the Great Synagogue hints at the potential for further excavation at the site, in preparation for the exciting possibility of displaying its remains in the future.”

A full, detailed report of the finds are expected in the near future.


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