The Maisel Synagogue is a part of the Jewish Museum of Prague, and is named for the man who financed its building, Mordechai Maisel. Maisel donated a huge amount of money to the Jewish community, both in order to pay its taxes, and in order to rebuild and refurbish the Jewish quarter, Josefov. At the age of 62, Maisel decided to indulge himself.
The Emperor had decreed that private synagogues could not be built, and that the only officially sanctioned synagogues would be those maintained by the Jewish community of Prague. Because Maisel was held in such high esteem, however, Maisel was allowed to build his own private synagogue for him, his family and his invited guests.
The Synagogue was originally consecrated as an Orthodox Synagogue, although not necessarily as a very traditional one, as, contrary to Jewish law, an organ made an appearance at the Synagogue in the 1750, a full 100 years before the advent of the Reform movement. The Synagogue eventually became a Reform Synagogue, as evidenced by the lack of Bimah, the writing of the Tetragrammaton on a stained glass window, and the use of Latin numerals on a depiction of the Ten Commandments, all of which were frowned on by traditional Synagogues.
When the Nazi’s conquered the area in the 1940’s, the whole Jewish quarter of Prague was due to become The Museum of the Extinct Jewish Race, and therefore much of the Judaica of the surrounding region poured into Prague and specifically into each of the Synagogues, as these were due to be the buildings of the museum. After the war, the museum was opened by the survivors, albeit with a different curation policy. The Synagogue today houses many rare and famous items of Judaica, including the Kiddush (ritual) cup used by Maharal, and the gravestone of Rabbi Avigdor Kara.
On an interesting side note, up until a few years ago, Maharal’s Kiddush cup was by far the most popular item in the Maisel Synagogue for tourists, and therefore large crowds gathered around it, which lead to difficulty in navigating the museum. It is therefore no longer labeled as ‘Maharal’s Kiddush cup’, but if you want to see it, have a look for ‘Ceremonial cup, hammered, chased and gilt silver, second half of the 17th century’!