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Photos of the Last Remaining Synagogues in the Muslim World

Photos of the Last Remaining Synagogues in the Muslim World

11 beautiful photos of shuls that were once home to thriving Jewish communities.

by

Faith has long inspired some of the most remarkable architecture around the world.

In Judaism, the synagogue is seen as more than just a physical building: It is a central address and institution for the expression of Jewish identity and traditions, embedded in the social fabric of Jewish communities.

These synagogues were once scattered across the Middle East and North Africa and were home to thriving and flourishing Jewish populations, some dating back to ancient times. Since the creation of Israel in 1948 and the 1967 Six-Day War, however, these numbers have dwindled due to persecution and subsequent emigration, leaving behind only a few thousand Jews in the Arab world. Small clusters of Jews can still be found in Muslim-majority countries, including Egypt, Lebanon, Iran and Tunisia.

Along with this diaspora, the few remaining synagogues stand as reminders of the once-thriving Jewish populations in Muslim-majority countries and offer us a glimpse into the unique Arab-Jewish identity in the Middle East.

We've compiled a list of some of the most gorgeous synagogues and temples in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East, spanning from Iran to Morocco:

1. Eliyahu Hanavi Sephardic, Egypt

Eliyahu Hanavi Sephardic, Egypt

The 150-year-old Eliyahu Hanavi Sephardic synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt, is one of the largest synagogues in the Middle East and boasts towering Italian marble columns and seating for more than 700 people, offering us a unique glimpse into what the once-vibrant Jewish community was like in its prime.

2. Ashkenazi Synagogue, Turkey

Ashkenazi Synagogue, TurkeyVia: Wikimedia

Designed by Italian architect Gabriel Tedeschi, Ashkenazi Synagogue is located in Istanbul, Turkey, and was opened in 1900 for Jewish immigrants from Poland and Macedonia. The wooden black ark is carved with letters of the Hebrew alphabet and was brought from Kiev. It is also the country's only Ashkenazi synagogue.

3. Slat Alfassiyine, Morocco

Slat Alfassiyine, MoroccoVia: Francois Munier

Located in Fez, Morocco, one of the world's oldest medieval cities, this 17th-century synagogue was reopened early last year following a two-year restoration project. It is an "eloquent testimony to the spiritual wealth and diversity of the Kingdom of Morocco and its heritage," according to Moroccan King Mohammed VI.

Islamist Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane represented King Mohammed VI in an inauguration ceremony marking the completion of a 17th century synagogue restoration project in Fez yesterday.

In 2011, when a new constitution was adapted, the king said that Jewish places of worship throughout Morocco should be restored, even as the Arab spring roared across North Africa.The newly renovated Slat Alfassiyine synagogue in the heart of one of the world’s oldest medieval cities, the country’s cultural and spiritual nucleus, symbolizes how seriously he took that mandate.

4. Shaar Hashomayim, Egypt

Shaar Hashomayim, Egypt

One of the largest Jewish temples in Egypt, the Shaar Hashomayim synagogue, which means "Gates of Heaven," was built in 1905. Also known as Adly Street Temple and Ismailiya Temple, the architecture of this synagogue resembles ancient Egyptian temples, and is engraved with lotus flowers and plants on its outer walls.

5. Temple Beth-El, Morocco

Temple Beth-El, MoroccoVia: Brian

Located in Casablanca, Morocco, Temple Beth-El is one of the largest synagogues in the country, and is the religious and social center of the city's Jewish community.

6. Neve Shalom, Turkey

Neve Shalom, TurkeyVia: Anita Gould

Dating back to the 1930s, Neve Shalom, which means "Oasis of Peace," is Istanbul's largest synagogue. Tragically, it has also been the target of numerous brutal attacks by anti-Jewish extremists in recent decades.

7. Magen Abraham, Lebanon

Magen Abraham, LebanonVia: Ted Swedenburg

This building is the last remaining synagogue in Beirut, Lebanon. After the last rabbi departed in 1975, the synagogue suffered severe structural damage during Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war. However, repairs began in 2009 and the interior has now been restored to its original state, with sky-blue walls and arched windows.

8. El Ghriba, Tunisia

El Ghriba, TunisiaVia: Pietro Izzo

Believed to date back almost 1,900 years, the El Ghriba synagogue in Tunisia, 500 kilometers south of Tunis, is Africa's oldest synagogue. Last year the synagogue hosted hundreds of Jews from Europe, Israel and Africa in a three-day pilgrimage guarded by armed Tunisian police.

9. Zarzis Synagogue, Tunisia

Zarzis Synagogue, TunisiaVia: Wikimedia

Home to a small Jewish community of around 100 people, this synagogue is located in Zarzis, Tunisia. Built in the early 20th century, the building was once host to a community of about 1,000 people. In 1982 the synagogue was torched shortly after the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, and the community's Torah scrolls were destroyed before the building was restored.

Zarzis is home to a Jewish community of around 100 people, all living in the Jewish quarter of the city near the central market.

Many have jewelry shops and run other businesses such as carpentry and the Shimon Haddad and sons general store, the shop sells natural remedies and other miscellaneous products.

The community is served by the Zarzis Synagogue, built in the early 20th century to host the local Jewish community that numbered approximately1000 people at the time.

The synagogue was subject to an arson attack in 1982 that followed the Israeli incursion into Lebanon before it was restored to its original status. Prayers are read in the synagogue every Saturday morning and the synagogue hosts a Yeshiva, a Jewish Torah learning school during the week. The synagogue has a distinctive Andalusian architectural style.

10. Pol-e-Choubi Synagogue, Iran

Pol-e-Choubi Synagogue, Iran

Iran's population of 75 million includes about 20,000 Jews, the largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside Israel. The Pol-e-Choubi synagogue in located in Tehran, Iran.

11. Ben Ezra, Egypt

Ben Ezra, EgyptVia: girlenchanted

Located in Old Cairo, the Ben Ezra was not only an important center of prayer and celebration for Jews in Egypt since the 10th century. Often referred to as El-Geniza Synagogue, it was also site of the 19th-century discovery of the Cairo Geniza, considered to be "the most important source for understanding daily religious, communal and intellectual life around the Mediterranean during the medieval period."

According to local legend, the synagogue is said to be built on the exact place where Moses was found near the river shore.

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Visitor Comments: 18

(11) Mike Piha, December 10, 2014 9:41 AM

Been to ben Ezra and Alexandra synagogue my family lived there names carved on wall and next to Sharon ha kodesh

(10) Bapush Morgan, December 9, 2014 11:47 AM

Beautiful architecture

I am impressed by the inside architecture of these olden synagogues ! Also i did not know that Jews are still living in Iran!!

(9) eugene mazzilli, December 8, 2014 4:23 PM

Nothing New, Time to Leave.

I wrote the above article "Nothing New, Time to Leave". I want to respond to Sharon who responded to my e-mail....
I am an old man and have seen much in the last century. I can tell you that what Sharon says is true, " They all sit tight, enjoy life, and wait for Messiah". In Nazi Germany, most Jews, especially the learned & wealthy said "It will NEVER happen here in Germany.. We have the rule of law which will protect us". So they sat back and enjoyed life, and waited for Messiah. No one ever realized that their Constitution and so call Rights of the People were going to be torn up, disregarded and replaced by Nazi rule. After all, everyone wanted freedom from repression, of speech, usury, and wanted work. So did the German Jews. Everyone voted Hitler in. Not unlike the mess we're in today here in the United States especially with parties that are paralyzed with nothing getting done. Only a matter of time for the Supreme Court to step in to make decisions. Hitler also promised emancipation to the poor and disenfranchised. Overnight, the role of Law will change in these Mid-East countries and they will round up the Jews (and anyone else who objects or criticizes their government of new laws). You will be killed ! I know it is a difficult decision to make, but start doing it now. Send your family to Israel (or the U.S.) now and you stay to wrap up your affairs (whether you are a man or woman), in the country you're in. It must be done quietly and planned well, because when they find out what is happening, they will close the borders and stop anyone from leaving. Please, leave now while you can still get out. And don't believe anything that you are promised. It means absolutely NOTHING ! I know, I've seen it before.!!! May God be with you. Remember, your words, "NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM . Make 2015 be that year, or sooner.

Tracey, December 10, 2014 3:15 AM

Very wise words eugene mazzilli.

I would have to say sadly that we are looking at a repeat of the past right before our eye's mean while the world doesn't care yet again.

eugene Mazzilli, December 18, 2014 6:17 PM

Very Wise Words (from Tracey)

Hello Again, You are absolutely correct, "a repeat of the past (happening) right before your eyes, and the world does not care". This happens every day. Every time Israel tries to explain her side of the story, No one will listen. What do they say, "Expect the best but prepare for the worst". My family is half Jewish and they tell me that I should speak at temple. I tell them, "When you go to temple, Thank God first for everything and pray for your family, then the plight of Jews around the world who suffer terribly on a daily basis. Also, speak up at temple and tell everyone who has ears to listen, to get their families, friends or any Jew out of those tyrannical countries and to set up any fund or join in with a regional or national fund to sponsor people to get out of oppression to move them to Israel or the U.S. Even if you can sponsor just one family, you will save those lives and the future generations of one family. It's time for action. You and I are not stupid, and the handwriting is on the wall. We see it every day that we live. I can quote what the Lord told Joseph and Miriam (in the New Testament) ," Get up, arise from thy sleep and flee to Egypt where you will stay until I call you. Herod has designs on the newborn child and will kill all of the children in Bethlehem seeking this King of the Jews". The old Testament reads, "Rachel (was) crying for her children who were no more". This is what awaits all Jews in those tyrannical countries. Nothing but pain, disbelief, distrust, utter madness, great sadness and grief. Those of you who stay in tyrannical oppression and subject your spouses and children to such hatred, are selfish, greedy, self centered, and just plain ignorant. Please, "get up and flee", before "Rachel weeps for her children who are no more". Lastly, you have eyes to see what people do to their own, what do you think they will do to a Jew ! Don't wait around to find out.

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