The exact date of the Jews’ settlement in Sopron is uncertain, but it is a fact that about 10-16 Jewish families lived in Új street as early as the 13th century. Although the Jews of the town dealt primarily with commerce and finance, they were not really rich. Still, their Gothic synagogue built at the beginning of the 14th century is a unique piece of architecture in Eastern Europe.
The synagogue served as a house of prayer, a place for congregations and education. Near the synagogue there used to be a hospital providing accommodation for wanderers, and a ritual bath, which is open to visitors today. A corridor from the entrance leads to the main hall, the main entrance of which dates from 1300. The two focal points of the synagogue are the ark (Aron kodesh) and the pulpit. The ark is decorated with a richly-ornamented stone frame and a tympanum, with motifs of grapes and leaves fashioned in the colours of nature. Only the foundation of the hexagonal pulpit is original, but its layout, stairs, high railings and the reader’s table (bimah) oriented to the East follow the original design. Women had their own house of prayers, which had its own exit. They could follow the events in the main hall only through narrow window slots. Another interesting part of the museum is the ritual bath. The Jewish religion has always differentiated between clean and dirty things, so baths have always played an outstanding role in the spiritual life of the Jews. The laws of Moses originally ordained submergence in clear running water, but here the natural water of the fountain was used for this purpose. After the expulsion of the Jews from Sopron in 1526, the synagogue gradually perished; later it was converted into private homes. The building regained its original beauty as result of research and restoration in 1967.
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