The House of Lifeby K-Dean
Toppled, over-crowded, and crumbling are the wildly scattered tombstones in one of Europe’s oldest Jewish cemeteries.
The Old Jewish Cemetery, in the Jewish Quarter, Prague, was established in the 15th century. The cemetery is called “Beth Chaim” or House of Life and is the second oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe (the oldest is in Worms, Germany). Along with the Old-New Synagogue, it is considered one of the most historic sites in Prague’s Jewish Town. The oldest tombstone in the cemetery belongs to the poet and scholar Avigdor Karo. The tombstone dates from the year 1439. The cemetery is believed to have been in use up until 1787.
You might be asking yourself what makes this cemetery so special aside from its history. Well the fact is, this cemetery contains approximately 12,000 tombstones, while also containing more than 100,000 bodies. As history tells us, the cemetery was enlarged a number of times in the past and layers of earth were added to the cemetery. The clusters of tombstones that can be seen today are the result of old tombstones emerging from the ground and standing alongside those on the upper layer.
According to halakhah, Jewish people are not allowed to destroy a Jewish grave or remove the tombstone. When the cemetery ran out of free space, and purchasing land was impossible, the only option was to add additional layers of soil. It is believed the cemetery has 12 layers of graves.