Houses Of Prayer In The Holy City
Some have been desecrated, some have been destroyed, and some have been lovingly restored, but the stories of Jerusalem’s synagogues live on
Israel’s War of Independence ended with Jerusalem divided in two — and the Old City in Jordanian hands. Unfortunately, during the course of the war, two of the Old City’s magnificent and historic synagogues were razed to the ground by the Jordanian Legion. When the Six Day War of 1967 reunited the Holy City, the Jewish Quarter returned to Israel. Restorations began on a number of important sites, including several sanctuaries that had been demolished, desecrated or taken away by the Muslim authorities over the centuries. Here are a few of their stories:
Four Sephardic Synagogues
Rabbi Yochanan Ben-Zakkai was a first century sage and a member of the Sanhedrin (the highest Jewish court and council in ancient times) who kept Jewish learning alive after the fall of the Second Temple. In the 16th century, a sanctuary in Jerusalem was named after the famous rabbi, which was joined, over the next 200 years, by three adjoining houses of worship. Called the Four Sephardic Synagogues, that complex is located on the edge of the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City and serves as a major spiritual, educational, and financial center for Sephardic Jews. Indeed, it is here that the Chief Rabbi of the Sephardic community has been anointed since 1893 (except during the years of Jerusalem’s division). The largest of the four chambers is the Ben-Zakkai Synagogue on which site, according to tradition, the revered rabbi taught Bible. A smaller sanctuary next door, named for Elijah the prophet, has been the subject of numerous stories. My favorite is the tale about the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) when only nine Jews showed up for prayers (services can’t start without ten). Suddenly a stranger appeared and the worshipers happily began to pray. Immediately after the service, the stranger vanished. It was obvious to the others that the tenth addition had been Elijah — who saves the day on all kinds of different occasions.