It is believed that the Gaon of Vilnius lived on Žydų Street 8. He was one of the last great Talmudic connoisseurs, or Ga-goen Rabbi Elijah (the holy teacher Elijah, or Elijah Ben Solomon (1720 - 1797).
In 1784, the Gaon's family lived in one of Kahal's houses on Žydų Street. Formerly, the Gaon lived in Antakalnis and at the age of seven had preached a sermon at the Great Synagogue of Vilnius, explaining complicated Talmud question. Rumours subsequently spread throughout the Grand Duchy of Lithuania about him.
The Goan had memorised the entire Hebrew Bible by age nine, and then almost the entire Talmud when he was ten years old. At the age of twelve he participated in debates regarding the accuracy of the Jewish calendar and settled this dispute based on astronomical knowledge.
The Gaon was the first Jewish thinker to realise the need to cleanse the centuries-old errors of ancient texts.
The Gaon strongly condemned Chassidism, a mystical 18th-century Jewish movement with pantheistic tendencies in western Ukraine. According to legend, the Gaon patronised Ger Cedek, or Graf Valentinas Potockis, who converted from Catholicism to Judaism.
On the site of the house where the Gaon lived near Žydų Street 3, now stands Išminčius – a small monument with a long history.
In 1959, Lithuanian sculptor Teodoras Kazimieras Valaitis decided to make a plaster model of the Gaon monument. During Soviet times, the exhibition did not feature it, so Išminčius ended up in the attic. Upon discovering it, the fire commission demanded that it be disposed of, and its creator died shortly afterwards in 1974. But in 1997, friends of the sculptor who recalled his work approached the Municipality of Vilnius to propose erecting a monument to the Gaon to commemorate the upcoming 200th anniversary of his death.
The sculptor Mindaugas Šnipas restored the sculpture in a very short period of time, referring to old photos. The bronze monument was opened on 12 September 1997.
The exact date of construction of the Vilnius Great Synagogue is unknown. Historians believe it was built after 1633, when Vladislov IV Vasa granted the Jews the privilege of establishing a quarter in Vilnius. The synagogue’s architect is also unknown.
The unique archaeological findings of the Great Synagogue Complex prove the former magnificence of the building and its historical and architectural significance.
The Great Synagogue of Vilnius was 25 metres by 22.3 metres, and 12.1 metres tall. This Jewish house of prayer was bigger and more beautiful than all the synagogues built in the Republic of Both Nations.
Some authors claim that it could hold up to 5,000 people. It was installed according to all the ritual requirements of that time. The stone synagogue is believed to have been of Renaissance architectural style.
It is now the site of a former kindergarten building. A project to commemorate the synagogue is planned.