The Great Maharsha Synagogue in Ostroh Ukraine

Introduction

Jews settled in Ostroh at the beginning of the 15th century and, in the 16th and 17th centuries, Ostroh was one of the most important centres of Talmudic study in Poland-Lithuania.

The baroque Great Maharsha Synagogue was built around 1627 and was named after Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Ha-Levi Edels (the Maharsha), the author of one of the most authoritative Talmudic commentaries.  The Synagogue’s nine bay layout which symbolized the Twelve Tribes of Israel surrounding the sanctuary was a seminal design for synagogues that emerged in Eastern and Central Europe in the 17th Century, and the building is recognised as one of the most famous sacred buildings of Jewish Eastern Europe.

During the 19th century the Ostroh community remained one of the largest and most important in Volhynia.  However, the community came to its tragic end in the events of the Holocaust and today only a small number of Jewish residents remain.

The Challenge

After World War 2, the building was used as a pharmaceutical warehouse.   When the Soviet era came to an end, the building was abandoned and quickly became a ruin.  A local Jewish engineer Grigorii Arshinov single-handedly took on the task of saving the structure and he has been working with heritage experts to develop a restoration plan which he has been implementing.  However, it is a massive undertaking and, in using largely his own resources to fund the project, he can only make limited progress at this time.

The Plan

The building is currently being transferred back to the Jewish community.  The vision is that the preservation work will be fully completed and the site will become a Museum and educational centre on the Jewish way of life, Jewish History and the Holocaust, a major tourist destination and a place for religious services serving the Jewish population in the area and visiting pilgrims.