“From the hills surrounding Jerusalem, the Hurva rises up, and as it rises, it is reminiscent of a moon among the stars in the sky,” quoted Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin during the rededication of the Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Old City. The newly built Hurva Synagogue is highly recognizable thanks to its beautiful, snowy-white dome, one of the newest additions to the Old City’s vista. The reopening, in March 2010, marks the synagogue’s third resurrection as a symbol of Jewish pride and presence in the Old City.
Originally built in 1700, the synagogue was the brainchild of Rabbi Yehuda HaHasid’s (Rabbi Judah the Righteous) followers. Rabbi Yehuda HaHasid went to Jerusalem from Europe with almost 1,000 followers, more than tripling the number of Ashkenazic Jews in the city at the time. Though Rabbi Yehuda HaHasid passed away a few days after his arrival in Jerusalem, his followers continued to create a community, eventually dedicating the synagogue on October 27, 1700. Exactly 21 years later, it was destroyed by local Arabs over the outstanding debts owed to them by the Ashkenzic community. Subsequently, all Ashkenazic Jews were banned from living in Jerusalem and the synagogue earned its current name, “Hurvat Rabbi Yehuda HaHasid” (The Ruin of Rabbi Judah the Righteous), the “Hurva” for short.
The Hurva’s second life began almost 150 years later. Ashkenazi Jews who immigrated to Israel with the Vilna Gaon managed to procure permission to build the synagogue from the Egyptian leader who had annexed Jerusalem. After seven years of rebuilding and construction, the Hurva synagogue was rededicated in 1864. The synagogue was built in neo-Byzantine style, with large arches and pillars adorning the building. With its completion, it became the “most striking building in the Old City,” a position it held until it was destroyed, yet again, in 1948.
During the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, the Hurva was used as a Haganah stronghold as well as a munitions storage site. On May 25th, 1948, the Arab Legion blew a hole into the wall of the synagogue and after a fierce battle succeeded in capturing it a mere 45 minutes later. After hoisting an Arab flag onto the dome, the Legionnaires blew up the Hurva with a blast that could be seen and heard for miles, leveling the Hurva to the ground. The Eitz Chaim Yeshiva that was attached to it was destroyed as well.
The Hurva spent the next 19 years in ruins until the Old City was liberated by the Israeli Defense Forces in the Six-Day War. After the war, it was decided not to restore some of the original sites in the area, as they were seen as symbolic of the Old City before its destruction. Instead, the rubble was cleared out and one of the supporting arches of the Hurva was restored, becoming an iconic landmark of the Old City.
In the early 2000s, the Company for Restoration and Development of the Jewish Quarter decided to rebuild the Hurva. Their plan was to build a replica of the destroyed synagogue, requiring the architects to do extensive research of the building. While clearing out the area, archaeologists discovered remnants from different eras of Jerusalem’s history, such as vessels and mikvahs (ritual baths) from the Second Temple period and a Byzantine street. These finds were preserved and today can be visited in the basement of the Hurva.
The Hurva was finally reopened on March 15th, 2010, despite controversy. The nature of the synagogue was a hot debate topic—would the Hurva be a museum or a used as a synagogue? There was also external controversy from different Arab factions, such as Hamas, Syria and Jordan, all of whom denounced the rededication and claimed it was the beginning of the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple. Amid all this controversy, the Hurva was rededicated in a celebratory ceremony attended by many important individuals, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Yonah Metzger and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin among them.
Eventually, Rabbi Nebentzal, Chief Rabbi of the Old City, decided that the Hurva synagogue, as it name suggests, would serve primarily as a synagogue and house of learning for residents of the Old City but would also provide tours.
Visitors on the Hurva tour are taken through the beautiful synagogue and all the way up to the top gallery in the dome, which provides a panoramic view both of the inside of the building and, from the balcony, of the Jerusalem landscape. Visitors can also join one of the minyanim (prayer groups) throughout the day.
What to Check Out:
– The beautiful artwork on the walls
– The Holy Ark, which can hold up to 50 Torah Scrolls (only between 6 am and 9 am or 6 pm and 8:40 pm)
– The Top Gallery
– The Women’s Section
Tours are by reservation only. They cost 25 NIS for adults and 15 NIS for children, senior citizens, soldiers and students. Access to the top gallery is through a guided tour from Western Wall Heritage Fund tour guides only. Tours are from 9 am-6 pm. Visitors must comply with the rules of the place (such as appropriate dress). For reservations, contact 02 626-5900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.