Hurva Synagogue

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Years ago one of the symbols of Jerusalem was a very large arch in the Old City of Jerusalem. Since 2010 that arch was replaced by the tallest and most recognizable synagogue in the Old City with hundreds of years of history.

 

In the year 1700 Rabbi Yehuda HaHasid (the pious) and around 500 of his followers heard the Messianic call to Israel and moved to Jerusalem. A few days after arriving in the Holy Land Rabbi Yehuda HaHasid died and the people were left without a leader. The group chose to build a synagogue, but this endeavor proved to be too expensive for the immigrants. These Ashkenazi Jews borrowed money from the Ottomans, but after many years of not repaying their loans the Arabs lost patience and destroyed the synagogue the Jews were building. Over time, shops were built in the area, but the synagogue remained a pile of rubble.

 

Because these Jews were unable to pay their debts they were banished from Jerusalem. In order to enter the city and not bear the large debt the Ashkenazi Jews incurred some people even dressed like Sephardi Jews (mostly Spanish roots). This was true even one hundred years later when another group of Ashkenazi Jews thought to rebuild the synagogue. They had to prove there was no connection between them and the previous Ashkenazi Jews in Jerusalem.

 

After years of requesting permission to rebuild the synagogue, and collecting enough funds to do so (the loan was eventually annulled), the synagogue was finally built and dedicated in 1864. The synagogue was named “Beit Yaakov” for Jacob Mayer de Rothschild whose family dedicated their lives to supporting Jews in Israel. The synagogue was seen as the most important synagogue in the Land of Israel and where British officials and royalty visited and major Rabbis were honored.

 

During the War of Independence in 1948 the synagogue was used as a stronghold for the Haganah and was conquered by the Arabs. Because they knew that the synagogue was the symbol of Jewish life in Jerusalem, the Arabs demolished the synagogue right after they won the battle. It remained a pile of rubble until 1967 when the Jews won back the city.

What would they do with the ruins of Rabbi HaHasid? One idea was to rebuild it as a synagogue again. Another idea was to build a totally different building on the site. And the third and winning idea was to leave the ruins to commemorate all that had happened in this spot. The arch was reconstructed as the symbol of Jerusalem and stood for about 40 years. What stands today is a newly rebuilt synagogue based off pictures and writings about the previous synagogue.