Hurva Synagogue holds a prominent position in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City. Today the synagogue may appear quite modern but its name "hurva" means "ruin" and this synagogue has been destroyed and rebuilt several times over the past 300 years. Its long and eventful history symbolizes the eternal determination of the Jewish people to preserve their heritage. The synagogue is an emblem of the city and its name is an acknowledgment of what can survive even after being a "ruin." The synagogue holds several surprises for visitors including a rooftop balcony and a basement of archaeological findings.
The Synagogue of Rabbi Judah HaHasid
In 1700 a group of Ashkenazi followers of Judah HaHasid arrived in Jerusalem and managed to purchase land and build about 40 houses around a courtyard known as the Ashkenazi Compound in the Jewish Quarter. They ran out of funds to build their synagogue and ended up taking loans and donations. The synagogue was completed in 1700 on the remains of an earlier 15th century synagogue. However, the group failed to pay back their loans and angry Arab creditors burnt the synagogue to the ground. The Ashkenazim were imprisoned or banished from the city. The site was left in ruins for 140 years and was referred to simply as "Hurva" or "ruin."
Beit Ya'acov Synagogue
In the early 19th century a group of Lithuanian Jews, students of the Vilna Ga'on, known as Perushim arrived in Jerusalem and set out to reclaim the Ashkenazi Compound. This was not an easy feat and involved many petitions to the Ottomans and the involvement of several European countries. The Perushim had to contend with the historical debts of Judah HeHasid followers 140 previously but they eventually managed to raise funds for reconstruction and pay off the Ottoman rulers. The synagogue was dedicated in 1864 and named Beit Ya'acov in memory of Baron James Jacob de Rothschild. The beautiful synagogue was designed by the Ottoman Sultan's architect and built in the Byzantine Revival style.
In the 1948 War of Independence Jordanians bombed the synagogue as a sign that Jews would never again have a presence in Jerusalem. For 19 years the Jordanians occupied Jerusalem and the synagogue remained in ruins. Then in 1967, during the Six-Day War Israel took East Jerusalem. Various ambitious designs were submitted for rebuilding the synagogue but authorities couldn't agree on a plan. Architect Louis Kahn proposed a controversial modern, monumental design which was rejected. So in the light of indecision, a temporary memorial arch was established on the site of the ruined synagogue in 1977. The arch stood where one of the original four stone arches had stood supporting the synagogue's dome.
The Rebuilding of Hurva Synagogue
Finally, in 2000 plans were approved for the reconstruction of the synagogue. It was built to resemble the 19th-century Ottoman synagogue with four huge pilasters on each corner and four dramatic stone arches on each face of the building supporting a large dome. Jerusalem architect Nahum Meltzer designed the new synagogue which was inaugurated on March 15th, 2010. It stands on the west side of Hurva Square, one of the tallest buildings in the Old City, crowned by the magnificent white dome. Beneath the dome is a railing encircling the balcony where you can get 360º views. The synagogue has elongated arched windows, many with stained glass. Inside the synagogue's high ceiling reaches up to an inner balcony and the underside of the dome. The many windows flood the space with light that reflects off the white walls. Delicate, pastel-shaded murals highlight the architectural features and depict Biblical scenes. On one wall is the synagogue's Torah cabinet (Holy Ark) which is the tallest in the world. Beneath ground level, the synagogue basement contains archaeological remnants of the many incarnations this synagogue has gone through.