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Destroying Synagogues – Again

Destroying Synagogues – Again

Israel respects and protects the holy places of other religions. Why can't the same be said of the Arabs?


The Synagogue of Rabbi Yehuda HaHasid – familiarly known as the Hurva – was the central Ashkenazi synagogue of Jerusalem. The largest and most magnificent synagogue in the Middle East, it took eight years to build. Its grandiose dome, standing some eight stories high, dwarfed all the other structures of the Old City's Jewish Quarter.

Baron Alphonse de Rothschild laid the foundation stone in 1858, after decades of various Jews' trying to obtain permission to build from the Ottoman (Turkish) Muslim authorities. When Sultan Abdul Mejid finally conceded, the firman [royal decree] he issued stated: "It is self-evident that justice and generosity alike enjoin that complete peace be assured to members of all faiths and religions dwelling in my sublime kingdom."

The synagogue's splendor dazzled everyone who entered. The Holy Ark, commissioned from a Polish artisan, stood two stories high. Its Baroque wood carvings of birds and flowers were set against four Corinthian columns. The ark contained dozens of Torah scrolls.

The 12 stained-glass windows in the dome represented the 12 tribes of Israel. The dome itself was painted sky-blue and strewn with golden stars. Frescos with religious motifs adorned every wall. Numerous crystal chandeliers hung from the dome.*

The Hurva provided the setting for all the grand occasions of the Jewish community. Here the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbis were inaugurated. Here the representatives of the Ottoman, and later the British, government paid their respects to the Jewish community. Here the banners of the Jewish Battalions of World War I were kept. And here Lord Herbert Samuel, the first Lord High Commissioner of the British Mandate and himself a Jew, was called to the Torah on Shabbat Nachamu in 1920, a historic event that, for many Jews, heralded the beginning of a more benign rule after centuries of low-level persecution under the Ottomans.

Puah Shteiner's childhood reminiscences of the Hurva give us a glimpse of how it dominated not only the Jewish Quarter's skyline, but also the hearts of its Jews:

From all directions people flocked to the Hurva Synagogue... As soon as we took our places on the carved wooden benches, I tried to count the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, but without much success. How big and beautiful they were, the pieces of crystal glass glittering amidst the great light!

[I once asked my father,] "Abba, tell me, when the Temple is rebuilt, will it be as beautiful as the Hurva?"


During the first weeks of the War of Independence, on May 27, 1948, the Arab Legion [Jordanian army] captured the Hurva. They flew the flag of the Arab Legion from the Hurva's 24-meter-high dome and then proceeded to place a bomb at the top of the dome and blow it up.

The Arab Legion and the local Arabs proceeded to destroy or desecrate all of the Jewish Quarter's 58 synagogues.

The remnant of the Old City's Jewish residents and fighters, who had held out valiantly under siege for two weeks, wired a final telegram: "THE BREAD IS USED UP. THE HURVA IS BLOWN UP." The next day, vanquished emotionally as much as militarily, the Jews surrendered.

The Arab Legion and the local Arabs proceeded to destroy or desecrate all of the Jewish Quarter's 58 synagogues. Those that remained standing were used as garbage dumps, donkey stables, and public toilets. The victorious Jordanian government also vandalized the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, ripping out three-quarters of its tombstones and using them to pave roads and for the floors of latrines.


Today, the ruins of the Hurva, some two blocks from my house, stand as a constant reminder of our history. After the Old City was liberated in 1967, the Israeli government constructed a stone arch between two stunted corners of the once-majestic structure to give tourists some idea of the mammoth size of the synagogue.

Of course, like all Jewish Quarter residents, I knew that the Hurva, which had never been used as a base of military operations by the Jews, had been destroyed for no military or strategic purpose, but simply out of hatred. I was quite surprised, however, when my husband gave me the gift of a photographic history of the Old City, For the Sake of Jerusalem.

On page 72, I spied a photograph that horrified me: a picture of the Hurva from 1948, with a uniformed Arab standing on a pile of rubble. The dome and one wall had been destroyed, but the rest of the synagogue is standing! Intact, high walls with three levels of beautiful arched windows are clearly visible.

This means that the Hurva was not blown up in a single act of fury and passion while the battle still raged. It was dynamited after every single Jew had been expelled from the Old City. It was destroyed methodically, with planning, precision, and great difficulty, piece by giant piece.

The Hurva was not destroyed because it was "a symbol of the occupation," the excuse the Arabs are giving for the destruction of the synagogues of Gush Katif.

The Hurva was not destroyed because, as P.A. Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said, justifying the current destruction, "They left empty buildings that used to be temples, but they removed all the religious symbols, and they are no longer religious places."

The Hurva was not destroyed because of the pent-up anger and desperation of people living "under occupation."

The Hurva was destroyed because the minds and hearts of the Arabs grant no place for any other people or any other religion in what they consider their domain. This is as true today as it was in 1948.


It is 38 years since Israel regained sovereignty over the Old City. Next door to my house on the border of the Jewish and Armenian-Christian Quarters is a functioning mosque. Next to that is an ancient church belonging to the Assyrian Orthodox Church, Arab Christians who were persecuted and driven out of Iraq. The muezzin's call to prayer and the church bells wake us up at dawn, but there's no use complaining, because their rights are guaranteed by Israel's religious tolerance.

In the middle of the Jewish Quarter, a few meters from the ruins of the Hurva, stands a 15th century mosque. By the 18th century, the mosque had ceased functioning and fallen into disrepair since no Muslims lived in the vicinity. After Israel captured the Old City in 1967, rather than destroying the mosque (using Abu Mazen's justification that it was an empty building no longer in use), the government of Israel paid to renovate the mosque.

The government of Israel's official response to the burning of the Gaza synagogues was to send police forces to protect Israel's mosques from possible revenge attacks by extremist Jews.

While they are destroying our synagogues, we are protecting their mosques.

*This description is from For the Sake of Jerusalem by Aharon Bier, translated and expanded upon by Bracha Slae. Thanks to tour guide Rebbetzin Bracha Slae (9722-628-0755) for additional details about the Hurva.

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September 12, 2005

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Visitor Comments: 30

(30) Samir S. Halabi, October 25, 2010 4:57 PM

The Al-Aqsa mosque should have been blown up in 1967

Muslims will never learn lessons from past mistakes, they are sttill fueled with anger from their defeat at the hands of the fledgling newly created 'State of Israel' in may 1948. They were so angry that they ddesecrated and destroyed on purpose 58 synagogues and around 38,000 flagstones on the mount of olive jewish Cemetry. They still don't show any respect towards judaism today, and still think that the jews must retain their 'Dhimmi' staus. Therefore they can't recognize a Jewish sovereign state, especially when that means that the Jews are in control and that muslim citizens of Israel will have to obey the rules of that land.

(29) Rick Martin, October 5, 2010 10:09 AM

A Great and Timeless Article

Today, 5 Oct. 2010 a great deal is being made about an attempted arson of a mosque in Judea Samaria. The AP ( Arab Press) press said: ":A spokesman for the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din said the organization is already pursuing three mosque arson cases with the Palestinians. Despite investigations which have continued for months, there have been no indictments, said Michael Sfard, a lawyer for Yesh Din. Of the more than 700 cases of violence against Palestinians in the last 5 years, only 8 percent have resulted in indictments. Sfard said the rising number of attacks is a result of "unprofessional" and sub-par law enforcement in the West Bank. "There have always been attempts by settlers to use violence to change the course of political events," he said. "Unfortunately they are very successful at that." Well there you have it. No memory of 1948 and no memory of what happened immediately after the explusion of Jews form Gaza. But Jews looking for a way to discredit Judaism. Does any other people have this problem on the scale that Israel does? Of course, the dreaded ":settlers" - a code word for "subhumans with the right to kill them" is the problem. I do not believe there can be Peace with a people brought up on Hate and anti- Semitism from birth and every event from 1948 confirms that. Jews must Build throughout Israel. And to say that Judea Samaria is not a part is like saying the Ile de France area surrounding and including Paris is not French. Except that Jews have a much older claim and right to their ancestral land. By the way, I am not religious but I do believe in History , which in the case of Jews sometimes overlapps.

(28) Anonymous, September 23, 2006 12:59 PM

About Hurva synagogue and Judaism in general

My husband, Ben Matti, was touched by the article about the Hurva synagogue. While visiting Israel several times in the 1990ies he saw also this synagogue and was told about the history of the synagogue by their tour guide Jerry Livson.
My husband is very interested in the heritage of his ancestors (he has some German Jewish origin, but we live in Finland) and he loves Israel very much. I have not yet had the opportunity to travel to Israel, but would like to.

Here in our country the gap beteween the rich and the poor has recently increased.We hope that our legislative officials consider this thing in their future legislation.

Shalom! Greetings from Ben Matti and wife

(27) David Scop, October 2, 2005 12:00 AM

Thank you for clarifying another historical media lie

Were it not for those who harp on the truth, and historical accuracy, the repeated lies would chas v'shalom be accepted as truth. Just like the intolerant nations who destroyed all that was not of their own, these nations too shall be but a mention in the history books. Only those people, who fight, pay and die to protect the rights of others will reap the rewards of being G-d's chosen people. Shana Tovah

(26) lee, September 26, 2005 12:00 AM

should have been buried

What SHOULD have happened to all the Gaza shuls was what happened in the West Bank at Sa-Nur, where they buried the synagogue, or at Ganim, where the IDF dismantled it and took it. As it stands, the synagogues in Gaza were left alone for no good reason. It is a true shanda, because everyone knew BEFOREHAND exactly what would happen, yet did nothing (like dismantle and move or bury) to prevent it.

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