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Restoration of the Jewish Quarter After 1967

Prof. Doron Bar
| 29/05/2022

In honor of Yom Yerushalayim – Jerusalem Day, Prof. Doron Bar, President of The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, takes us on a virtual trip to the Hurva Synagogue. He shares with us history and insight about the prominent building, as well as dilemmas that the Israeli government faced after the 1967 War when Jerusalem was reclaimed. We gain perspective on the Old City we know today.

Watch the video and read the article:

In 1967, after the Six Day War, the Israeli government faced a major dilemma. Should they renovate the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem, where Jews had lived for many generations, or leave it in its misery and destruction? Should they emphasize the renewal of Jewish life in the Old City of Jerusalem, after 19 years of disconnection and longing? Or should they show the world what the Jordanians did during the War of Independence in 1948, when the Jewish Quarter fell to Jordanian hands and the Jordanians decided to blow up many of the Jewish synagogues that stood here?  

The Israeli government’s dilemma regarding the Jewish Quarter was reflected in the question of whether the ruined Beit Yaakov Synagogue, otherwise known as the Hurva Synagogue, should be restored. This synagogue was built in 1864 by the Ashkenazi community in Jerusalem. It was a huge synagogue, whose prominent dome loomed high above the houses of the Jewish Quarter.  

The synagogue had become the clear symbol of the Jewish Quarter. This was the reason why the Jordanians chose to blow up the synagogue in 1948, and erase this Jewish symbol from the skyline of the Old City. 

Following the Six Day War, and the unification of Jerusalem, the question arose as to what should be done with the remains of the ruined synagogue, and what the emphasis should be? Was it better to leave the synagogue in ruins and show what the Jordanians had done? Or should the synagogue be rebuilt, to emphasize the renewal of Jewish life in the Jewish Quarter? The latter was indeed the decision.  

The Israeli government, under the Levi Eshkol administration, decided to rebuild the synagogue, and Louis Kahn, a Jewish architect from Philadelphia, was summoned for the task. He designed a modern synagogue to be built here, but this synagogue was in fact never built. Only a few decades later, in the early 2000s, the decision was made to rebuild the synagogue and restore its original appearance. It was opened to the public in 2010 and its dome now rises again above the Old City. 

Like the synagogue, the Jewish Quarter also underwent a long process of restoration and was rebuilt through repopulation with Jewish families.  At first, both secular and religious lived here together; but over the years, the population has changed and today, the residents here are mostly Orthodox Jews. 

Doron Bar is the president of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. He earned his PhD from The Hebrew University in Historical Geography. Professor Bar is researching the development of popular and national holy places. He is a seventh generation descendant of an Old Yishuv Jerusalem family.

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