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Hebrew cemeteries from Transylvania


Although many temples, synagogues, cemeteries and other buildings raised by the Jews living in Romania have a distinguished historical value (but also an artistic/architectural one) the Hebrew architectural patrimony does not have a rightful representation in materials and lists established in the last century. Therefore even the list (drawn up in 1987) with mosaic constructions declared architectural monuments contains only: Bucuresti – The Coral Temple, 9 Friday Street and the Great Synagogue 18 V Amadache Street, Arad – The Synagogue on 10 Dobre Tribune Street, Botosani – the Synagogue from Old Fair 18 Musiciants’ Street, Piatra Neamt – The Wooden Synagogue 3 Metro’s Street, Constanta – The Spanish Synagogue 8 Mircea cel Batran Street, Sibiu – The Synagogue from 19 Constitution Street, Timisoara – The Synagogue from the Fortress 6 Marasesti Street (only 8 such positions).

The fact is even more regrettable because some material evidence of the Hebrew efforts from the country are the object of tourist visitations and of some political, economical or religious personalities, others offer pilgrimages and other consist in themes of interest and studies for vernacular or foreign specialists.

The Federation of Hebrew Community from Romania has unfolded an continues to unfold a emeritus activity for the salvation, protection, study and presentation of this patrimony but it cannot overpass some boundaries, which paradoxally are not material, consecrated spaces in the Mosaic Cult Magazine, The Luah Calendars to the publications of the History Center belonging to The Federation of Hebrew Community. It does not have an adequate repercussion in materials of scientific organizations and institutions from Romania and mostly of the National Committee of Monuments, Assemblies and Historic Styles. It is true that in 1948 the Committee of Historical Monuments was annulled and in 1977 The Direction on Historical Monuments was also abolished and 100 construction sites were abandoned and also on February 5th 1990 The National Committee of Monuments Assemblies and Historic Styles was reestablished by order of Decree number 91, the Committee also containing an operative organ – The Direction of Monuments, Assemblies and Historic Styles, but shifting through these avatars the Hebrew architectural and artistic patrimony can’t have had a great representation if we take into consideration the actual proposals being aprox. 20000 positions even at the one between 1955-1956 which was 4 times smaller aprox. 5000. Maybe the effort should come from both sides because the specific legislation has not yet been frozen. The relevancy of art and architectural Hebrew patrimony is uncontestable not only in its specificity but also as illustration of convivial and mutual contribution. It is not necessary that we evidence that postmodern history has been sealed still by the modernism of the period between the two World Wars in one final act, and also that architectural builders operate with elements derived from this period. The exemplarity of the Hebrew contribution reflects from the fact that points of maximum interest from Cluj-Napoca are Diamante and Tataru houses, The Wire Industry or the cattle from the residence districts which illustrate the association between intuition and creativity. For Transilvania we could talk about a real vocation and constructive Hebrew frenzy because even though they were admitted into the cities after 1700 (at the same time as the Romanians were) and emancipated after 1848, their imprint is certain and relevant, impressive by the grandeur of constructions as well as artistic quality, openness of taste.

The Hebrew architectural patrimony is affected by a cultural prejudice at its utmost tenacity and widely spread: The Hebrew would be ‘the people of the book’ and the other manifests wouldn’t have any relevancy. From here a great preponderance of works of the ‘text’ is derived but also an incalculable prejudice: the impact for Judaism is hidden of the desert tabernacle, of successive temples (including the imaginary ones) from Jerusalem, the fact the Rabi reform the same way that is substituted the sacrifice by way of Payer, it brought for the first time the whole community inside the Synagogue, that so many monotheisms have rumored so many Hebrew elements including the architectural and artistic symbols and that nowadays, everywhere around the world, the architectural and artistic patrimony is a solid ground of legitimacy and claming; the exercising of constructive vocation was and still an inseparable feature of the human.

At the end of 1987 in the property of mosaic cult in Romania there were 675 cemeteries, from which approximately 459 in counties from Transylvania. A great number of these counties were closed, in those certain localities no more mosaic believers were to be found. The fact that these counties where the number of closed cemeteries is great such as the ones in the north of the country (Bihor-59, Bistrita-Nasaud-52, Cluj-40, Maramures-over 80, Satu Mare over 100, Salaj-28) it is corroborated with the origins of this project during the Second World War and with the localization of the occupied area in which the Holocaust has operated and not in the period after the war in which the Alia has gained proportions.

After 1989a reevaluation of the Hebrew patrimony is done and new localizations appear, including cemeteries. Without being as notorious as other Hebrew cemeteries from Europe, cemeteries from Transylvania have a great historic, artistic and human value. Up until now the study has been concentrated on tomb stones but a great relevancy could have the study of cemetery chapels. The destroying of archives could be partially compensated by researches that could include Arts’ History methodology. For the urgency of such an enterprise, in competition with time, it’s useless to plead being of vulnerable notoriety of a patrimony left without a community.

Te old Hebrew Cemetery is associated to a certain equality faced with death: until almost a hundred years ago the features and decorations of tomb stones were similar, the prescriptions foretold the burying in a certain order of death so that the rich and the poor were neighbors. The only difference was to be applies to the Rabi Chiefs of the communities, ‘the knowledge beholders’ the tomb stones of whom were personalized and the tombs of whom were grouped in separate rows. All the precepts of the Judaic religion were respected. That is why Hevra Hadisa is established usually from the beginning of Transylvanian communities and at the same time the cemetery is older that the synagogue.

A Transylvanian particularity is that in general, the Jews didn’t live in the ghettos, even though they were grouped in certain streets or in some areas of the locality. The assurance of a certain distance of minimum 6 hands was recommended between rows, the avoiding of stacking the dead, the separation of the suicides from the sinners. The tomb stones had well determined heights, the other dimension being differenced by social status and fortune. At first the stones were short but they started too grow in the XVIII century and especially in the XIX century to 2-2,5 m from which 1/3 under the ground and 2/3 carved. If at first a unique kind of stone was used , the decorative element derived from the writing itself, in time (especially at the end of the XIXth century) there was used a different way to define the style by using precious materials (granite, marble, bronze) and there was discovered a preoccupation for decoration using a predominant baroque in Transylvania and Banat. The openness for European styles is manifested (Romanic, gothic, renascence, baroque, rococo, and new styles of the mentioned, including eclectic). Paradoxally, but only apparently but because it expresses the internal, cultural context, the neologists tried draw a line between Islamic civilization and the so-called neo-maur . Diachronic the evolution from old stones, without ornaments, can be observed to which expressivity comes from local graphic marks, to the stylish writing, the equilibrate combination of text with the decoration favored by the diversity of different carving techniques so that in the end ( XIX century after the second half) the institution of the domination of the ornament and differencing of the dead.. The Rabies kept a more sober style, the differencing occurring from the greater thickness of the stone and the forwarding of a Cornish that would protect the writing from natural phenomena.

The symbolic of the tomb stones derives from the interpretation of the interdiction in the fifth book of Moses. Here are frequent motives and studied by Erdely Lajos: stag and lion meaning family peace, lion relaxing on books – greatness or the name of Judas, Ihuda, Löw, Leb; clenched arms having both thumbs stuck together-family or clerics; decanter and trey for washing of the hands- levy family; other animals associated to the name of the deceased such as stag-Hirsch, dove-Taub/Vogel (wife, good, gentle), rooster-Hahn, fox-Fuchs, fish-Karpeles; old Hebrew motives or antiques like the vulture, the crown, Menora, David’s star, deer, the snake, the palm tree, the grapes etc. The openness of Jews that they’ve always manifested for the civilizations that have established contact is transparent even from the use of European architectural styles and of the decorative elements from the traditional arts: Romanian, Turkish influences, Slavic, German etc.

The cemetery and the funeral program are representative for Hebrew art and architecture. This transpires from the multitude of meanings with which it is invested: Bet Hachaim – the house of life, the house of the living but also the house of eternity. For always the Hebrew cemetery has had a great impact on the surroundings, talking about community activities or the impression left to the other ethnics (Hortus Judaeorum, Mons Judaicus, present in Transylvanian cities). The ritual load of the Hebrew cemetery is seen through its unifying role of the aquatic element with other religious programs: the ritual washing-localized in Cidukk hadim. In 1987 8 ritual baths for cemeteries still functioned in Romania from which two in Transylvania in Cluj County: in Cluj-Napoca Nr.16 David Francisc Street and in Dej Nr.6 Brother Union Street (other baths could be found in Olt, Dolj, Botosani, Iasi and Braila). The scientific prescription and that at the exit of the cemetery everyone that had participated at the burials would wash their hands.

To appreciate better the problematic of the Hebrew cemetery studies from Transylvania we will exemplify with some statistics from the ones in Cluj-Napoca. There are 35 cemeteries in Cluj from which 4 in the city, 31 in Cluj County, Salaj and Mures. The Hebrew community federation is taking care of them.

Based on this information we can emit an opinion. From the 675 Hebrew cemeteries in Transylvania, 50 can be found in Cluj but 40 of them stopped functioning. From these ones The Cluj-Napoca community takes care of 28 plus other 7 from county limits. To visit these 31 cemeteries situated on the outside of the city (ignoring the 4 ones from the city) you would need 6 days, and take 6 routes summing up 1.173 km. as followed:

  1. Turda, Luncani, Viisoara, Ceanu Mare and Iara in Cluj County: 5 cemeteries ans 195 km.
  2. Suatu, Mociu, Frata, Camarasu, Deal in Cluj County and Samasel-village in Mures County: 5 cemeteries and 169 km.
  3. Aghires, Borsa, Alunis and Panticeu in Cluj: 4 cemeteries and 243km.
  4. Apahida, Bontida, Sic and Catina in Cluj: 4 cemeteries and 221km.
  5. Zimbor, Hida I, HIda II, Racas and Sanpetrul Almasului in Salaj: 5 cemeteries and 161km.
  6. Gilau, Huedin I, Huedin II, Fildu de Jos, Poieni, Ciucea, Sancraiu, Calatele in Cluj: 8 cemeteries and 224km.

Visiting the 4 big cemeteries from Cluj-Napoca similar to the ones in the capitals of counties from Transylvania require considerable lengths of time. All this reflects from Transylvanian particularities: up to emancipation, Jews (as Romanians) weren’t numbered between the privileged nations and their access in towns was prohibited-this determined a rural character of the settlement, great despair in the territory, inaccessible roads, a large number of placements, cemeteries from which many very small. Historically, the fact that many cemeteries were outside cities and villages and frequently on feudal domains has generated their loss and afterwards the movement of the tombs into cities. A considerable number of stones are fallen which generates inevitably, in time, the loss of the inscriptions. If for 31 cemeteries (6,75%) from the 459 situated in Transylvania you need to travel 1 173 km than only one program of visitation needs o be thought over and exposed. If from 35 cemeteries (7,62%) part of the ones over 459 situated in Transylvania you can find 7925 tomb stones other consequences for their registration on a visual support may derive. On the other hand as the case of Fildu de Jos cemetery, but also as many others, Transylvania holds other resources for discoveries and rediscoveries since 1989. Let us not forget that this patrimony, additional to the value of research concerning Jews, communities and other data concluded from inscriptions, represent a great interest for art’s history: formal morphology, symbolism, evolvement in time and that the great amount of work doesn’t have to hide the fragility of these testimonies found under the sky and in a proportion of approximately 21, 84% (1730:7925) in contact with the ground, from where we get a certain urgency.