• Issue: November 1999
  • Designer: Haviv Khoury
  • Stamps Size: 25.7 mm x 40 mm
  • Plate nos.: 386, 387
  • Sheet of 15 stamps, Tabs: 5
  • Printers: E. Lewin Epstein ltd.
  • Method of printing: Offset

Archeological findings show that Jews were on Slovakian territory as early as the 2nd century. Excavations at an ancient Roman site in South Slovakia revealed a round ceramic menorah eight branched, similar to menorahs used by Jews in Egypt and other places. The menorah was probably brought by Jews who accompanied the Roman legions on their invasion of this region. The menorah is considered as dating from the 2nd century CE.

Jewish presence in the region ended as the Roman empire began to fall. (A photograph of the menorah appears on the first day cover envelope).

There is evidence Jews were part of the great Moravian empire during the 9th and 10th centuries, which covered areas of Slovakia. Jewish refugees who fled the western countries during the time of the crusades, began arriving in Slovakian territory at the beginning of the 12th century. The first community appears to have been established in the city of Nitra. The Nitra community is mentioned in documents dating from 1113, and Rabbi Isaac Ben Moshe of Vienna, who lived in the 13th century, mentions the Jews of Nitra. During the Middle Ages there were relatively large communities in Pressburg (Bratislava of today) and other cities. Blood libels, restrictive laws and exiles were the fate of Slovakian Jews during the late Middle Ages. In some places Jews were burned at the stake and they were exiled from most cities. Jewish communities, as preserved until the holocaust, began forming at the end of the 17th century. They were founded by refugees from Moravia, Viennese exiles and Jewish refugees from Poland who fled the 1648-1649 slaughter. An interesting meeting between two trends of Judaism occurred in Slovakia - the Eskenazi Jews, who lived in the west, and the Hassidic Jews who were concentrated in eastern Slovakia. During the first generations each stream maintained its unique way of life and customs.

At the beginning of the 19th century Slovakian Jewry experienced a spiritual flourishing, centered in the city of Pressburg. With its rabbis and large Yeshiva, Pressburg became an important center of Torah learning in the Austro-Hungarian empire. The community achieved its height of success during the reign of Rabbi Moshe Sofer (1762-1839) who was known as Hatam Sofer - after his most renowned essay. Slovakia boasted 38 yeshivas in addition to that of Pressburg, All of which trained thousands of rabbis and scholars who became part of the spiritual leadership in many countries.

The Second World War destroyed the Slovakian communities. Over one hundred thousand Slovakian Jews were killed in the holocaust. After liberation there were thirty six thousand Jews living in Slovakia and in many towns, community life resumed. There are still several active communities in Slovakia today, united under a national organization centered in Bratislava. Ties between Israel and Slovakia have recently become closer and there is increasing cooperation, especially in the fields of culture, economy, tourism and sports. The Senica community was one of the most important communities of western Slovakian Jews, refugees from Moravia, came to Senica at the beginning of the 17th century, and before long a community was formed.

During the mid 18th century the community included over three hundred and fifty members, keeping all the community institutions. The ancient cemetery of Senica is unique, and there is no other like it in Slovakia. The graves were set in a 150 meter diameter circle surrounding a hill on which were set the graves of the rabbis. The ancient tombstones found on the site of the cemetery date from 1690.

The burial society was the autonomous institution of the highest social standing amongst the benevolent societies in the communities of central Europe from the 16th century. Its members voluntarily handled all arrangements pertaining to funerals and burial and tended to the cemeteries and relief institutions. The great importance attached by the communities to these matters awarded the members of the burial societies with high social standing.

The burial societies were managed for generations according to the 16th century regulations passed by the Maharal (Rabbi Judah Loew) of Prague. The burial societies owned extensive properties and vast sums of money, which originated in the fees paid by its members and in the assets of the deceased transferred by weaved families. The Senica burial society was amongst the lost senior and renowned in Slovakia. In addition to the regular duties, it dealt in a variety of widespread social activities. Two rge and ornate 18th century ceramic urns used for purifying the dead before burial, were preserved by the burial society. Illustrations id writings in Hebrew, show that one urn was contributed in 734 by community leader Rabbi Moshe Katz Ben Zelig. The second urn belonged to the burial society of the Senica community id states the date 1776. The urns are decorated in the 18th century Slovakian-Haban style, and they are of immense historical id ethnographic importance.

During the holocaust, when the Senica Jews were sent to the concentration camps, the urns were preserved loyally by a resident Senica, Dr. Pavel Braxatoris. After the war the urns were handed the National Slovakian Museum, and are currently on display the Museum for Jewish Culture andHeritage in Bratislava.

Yehoshua R. Buchler

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Jewish Culture in Slovakia (Joint issue Israel-Slovakia)