We find ourselves in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, steeped in deep history. In front of us, the Hurva Synagogue stands as a symbol of the quarter's revival after its massive destruction by Jordanian forces during the Six-Day War. The meticulous restoration of Beit El Street and its buildings has breathed new life into them since 1967, carefully preserving and reinstating historical institutions like the Beit El Yeshiva, which have been integral to the Old City for centuries.
The Beit El Synagogue, also known as "Beit El Yeshiva - The Kabbalists' Nest" or "Congregation of the Pious", was established in 1737 in the Old City of Jerusalem by Rabbi Gedaliah Hayon, who immigrated from Turkey. Originally named "Midrash Hasidim", it quickly became a renowned centre for studying Kabbalah. The yeshiva served not only the locals of Jerusalem but also attracted students from Jewish communities worldwide, including Rabbi Abraham Gershon of Kitov, the brother-in-law of the Baal Shem Tov.
After Rabbi Gedaliah Hayon's death, Rabbi Shalom Sharabi, also known as the Rashash, one of the early Yemenite immigrants, took over as the head of the yeshiva. Initially serving as a sexton, his humility masked his profound Torah knowledge until his true scholarly prowess was recognized. Following his tenure, the leadership of the yeshiva was assumed by his student, Rabbi Yom Tov Algazi, and later by two of his sons.
Despite the restrictions on private entities sending emissaries, this institution was granted permission to send its representatives to Jewish communities in the Diaspora. After the War of Independence, the yeshiva was reestablished by Rabbi Ovadia Hadaya in the Yefe Nof neighbourhood of Jerusalem. Following the Six-Day War, Rabbi Meir Yehuda Getz reestablished an independent branch in the Old City. Today, the yeshiva is located on Rashi Street in Jerusalem, continuing its long-standing tradition of deep Kabbalistic study and influence.
The scholar Gershom Scholem wrote in 1941 about Beit El and its prayers: "Beit El... even today, as I write these lines, completely 'modern' people in their thinking can derive inspiration from observing Jewish prayer in its most sublime form."
Also, the writer S.Y. Agnon wrote about the synagogue in his story "Before the Wall": "About one house of prayer, I will set my words and say something. I will not tell great wonders but what I have seen there. Beit El is the name of the synagogue of the Congregation of the Pious, the Concentrated Sect. On the tenth of Av, before noon... I came there for the first time. The house was empty, and household items were covered with sheets, prepared to honour the 'Comforting Sabbath' after the ninth of Av.
One year, on Yom Kippur, I prayed there from evening to evening. I see you, Leah, amazed at that man who came to pray with the saints of the Supreme God. I will tell you, and not hide from you, this wonder was also wondrous above, when they heard the prayer of the last one in Israel amidst the blessing of the righteous and the pious, the Holy Community of Beit El."