The orange tree growing in the rejuvenated Jewish Quarter of Old Jerusalem is not there without reason. An orange or citrus garden, known in Hebrew as 'Pardes', serves as an acronym for the four rules of studying Tanakh: Pshat, Remez, Drash, and Sod, which are fundamental principles taught in yeshivas.
This tree stands in a small square near the Four Sephardic Synagogues, a complex within the Jewish Quarter of Old Jerusalem. These synagogues, collectively referred to as RIBAZ, after Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai, are among the most intriguing attractions in the area.
For centuries, they served as the religious and social hub of Jerusalem's Sephardic Jewish community. During the War of Independence in 1948, the Old City's Jewish Quarter was devastated, and the synagogues were burnt. It wasn't until after the Six-Day War in 1967 that the Quarter and the temples were rebuilt.
The construction of these synagogues dates back to the Middle Ages. After the expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal, the Sephardic Jewish population in Old Jerusalem significantly increased, leading to a demand for new synagogues.
In 1586, the Turkish governor of Jerusalem expropriated the building of the city's main synagogue, which had served as a religious and community centre for Jerusalem's Jews for 300 years. This event led Ashkenazi Jews to build the temple, subsequently known as the Hurva, while the Sephardic Jews built the Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai synagogue complex.
It comprises the Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai Synagogue, the Elijah the Prophet Synagogue, the Istanbul Synagogue, and the Middle Synagogue. A distinctive feature of these synagogues is their striking architecture, appearing modest and small from the outside but spacious and bright within.
This contrast was achieved by constructing the synagogue floor three meters below street level, increasing the height of the interior and creating the illusion of a larger space. Gothic arches and vaulted ceilings combine Moorish-style windows and doorway decorations, creating a unique atmosphere.
It was decided to follow these buildings' original design and spirit during the restoration and reconstruction. Thus, the Torah scrolls, the bimah, and the lamps were imported from Italy, Turkey, and Portugal. The Jerusalem Foundation and the Council of Sephardic Communities supervised the reconstruction, with funding from various foundations and private philanthropists.