THE WORLD AND IMAGE OF SHTETL ('Stetl' pasaule un tels)
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The Jewish town shtetl is organised in a special way - shaped, on the one hand, by the necessity to bring about the Jewish religious law (halakha), on the other, regardless of the many Sabbath prohibitions, to facilitate and enrich communication, the true nerve of the town and Jewish community life. The whole territory of the shtetl was divided into complex zones, each having its name, status and function. Architectural and natural components defined the structure of this complex system. First of all shtetl was arranged according to certain principles of orientation in regard to four cardinal points. If no Jewish specificity is found in the types of buildings, the 'Jewish minimum' shows in the consistent observing of cardinal points in the orientation of sacred buildings and objects. The 'East' points towards Jerusalem and Messiah was believed to arrive from the East. Synagogues were constructed with aron kodesh (the sacred closet) containing the scroll of the Torah built in the Eastern wall. The Torah was taken out during the common prayer; Jews faced the East during prayer as well. The 'East' marked the gate of the Supreme Being, but the 'West' meant the human world and human course. In regard to an already built church the synagogue was often located eastwards (often towards South-East); natural obstacles could modify such a choice, leaving the church in the 'West'. The cemetery could be situated westwards in respect to the centre of shtetl but its location/construction still abided by the cardinal points (East-West extension). Arrival of Jews in towns on the Latvian territory from the late 18th century to the mid-19th century makes one to conclude that marketplace had a decisive role in the development of shtetl. Marginalised castle forms in their turn could be reflected in the forms of local tombstones. So the basic elements of shtetl were the synagogue (meeting house, beit-ha-kneset) and cemetery (the house of eternity, beit-ha-olam) that had a special place in the metaphysical view of the world as well. In Latvia sometimes new dwelling houses or outbuildings (in Riebini, Madona, Vilaka, Viesite) are constructed on the ruins/foundations of synagogues burnt down during World War II, sometimes the places were left vacant (for instance, in Kaunata, Aglona, Bauska).
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