Jerusalem Synagogue

| July 18, 2012 | 0 Comments
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Jerusalem Synagogue: Interior of Yochanan ben Zakai

Interior of Yochanan ben Zakai (Photo: Olevy, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Looking for a Jerusalem Synagogue?

While most visitors are drawn to the Western Wall for prayer and contemplation, there are several other fascinating synagogues scattered throughout the Old City of Jerusalem worth visiting, both for their historic and spiritual significance. Below we set out seven synagogues, including four Sephardic synagogues.

1. Sephardic Synagogues In Jerusalem

The compound at the edge of the parking lot of the Jewish Quarter is home to four beautiful interconnected Sephardic synagogues:

  1. the Yochanan ben Zakai,
  2. the Kahal Kadosh Talmud Torah or Eliyahu Ha-Navi,
  3. the Istanbuli and
  4. the Kahal Tziyon –Ha-Emtsai.

All are still functioning today, some built 300 years ago by the descendants of Jews who arrived in Jerusalem after the Spanish Inquisition.

Djampa  CC BY-SA 3.0Outer Gate of the Istanbuli Synagogue

Djampa  CC BY-SA 3.0
Outer Gate of the Istanbuli Synagogue

Each of these Jerusalem synagogues has a distinctive design and includes historial artifacts. According to some authorities, the complex sits on the site where Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai had his Beit Midrash (house of study) after the destruction of the Second Temple.

In the smallest of the synagogues, there’s a fascinating photo exhibit depicting the Four Synagogues before and after the 1948 War of Independence.  During the siege of Jerusalem in 1948, the beleaguered Jews of the Old City sought refuge in the complex. Between 1948-1967, the synagogues were desecrated by the Jordanians and rebuilt and lovingly restored in the 1970s.

  • QUICK TIP: The compound is often closed on Monday or Thursday mornings when private bar mitzvah celebrations are underway.

2. Hurva Synagogue

Not too far away is the Hurva Synagogue—the most recently restored synagogue in the Jewish Quarter. The majestic white dome of this magnificent synagogue can be seen throughout the city. The original synagogue at this site was built by Ashkenazic Jews in 1700, but destroyed 21 years later.  In 1864 it was reopened and became the central synagogue of Jerusalem, but like the other 57 synagogues in the Old City, the Hurva was destroyed by the Jordanians after 1948 and reopened only in 2010. On March 15, 2010, in an emotional ceremony, the Hurva Synagogue was rededicated and has once again become a house of prayer and study.

  • Djampa  CC BY-SA 3.0Hurva Synagogue Ark

    Djampa  CC BY-SA 3.0
    Hurva Synagogue Ark

    QUICK TIP: Visits should be coordinated in advance—be sure to save strength for the climb to the roof for glorious views of the Old City. Call 626-5900 ext106/102 for information on English tours.

3. Jerusalem Temple:  Ohel Yitzhak Synagogue

As the closest synagogue in Israel to the Temple Mount, the Ohel Yitzhak Synagogue is situated on significant archaeological material dating from the Second Temple through Byzantine times. Today, visitors will find a thriving kollel, a beautifully restored synagogue with stunning chandeliers, a wooden ark, and elements of a yet-to-be completed museum.

Ohel Yitzhak was established in the late 19th century as part of the Shomrei Ha-Chomot Kollel founded by followers of the Hungarian Chatam Sofer. Today it is a beatifully restored Jerusalem synagogue, only a 5-minute walk from the Kotel in the direction of the Moslem Quarter, and a thriving presence in the Old City after decades of obsolescence.

QUICK TIP: To find the synagogue on HaGai Street, walk through the tunnel at the northern side of the Kotel Plaza and look for the signs immediately after the security booth.

Djampa  CC BY-SA 3.0Hurva Synagogue Windows

Djampa  CC BY-SA 3.0
Hurva Synagogue Windows

Jerusalem Synagogues: Did You Know?

The oldest known Jerusalem synagogue is the “House of Menorot” dating back to to the 7th century.  Wall paintings of the seven-branched menorah and entranceway indentations for mezuzot were identified in the archaeological dig. It is located at the Temple Mount’s southwestern corner.

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Category: Historical, Jerusalem, Judaism

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