Pinsteps. Four Sephardic Synagogues in the Jewish Quarter of Old Jerusalem
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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.

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Evgeny Praisman
Jewish Quarter and The Davidson Archaeological Park, Jerusalem

The Jewish Quarter and The Davidson Archaeological Park in Jerusalem offer a remarkable and profoundly engaging journey into the city's past and vibrant present.

As soon as you enter the Jewish Quarter, located in the southeastern sector of the walled city, you are immediately met with a fusion of ancient history and living culture. The area is teeming with synagogues, schools, and archaeological treasures that attract scholars, tourists, and religious pilgrims worldwide.

The narrow, winding, stone-paved streets are filled with shops selling religious artefacts, artwork, jewellery, and traditional Jewish foods. Historic sites like the Hurva Synagogue, an architectural marvel restored to its former grandeur, and the Four Sephardic Synagogues, each with its unique history and style, are crucial stops.

Just a short walk away, The Davidson Archaeological Park, also known as the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, reveals the city's history layer by layer. Overlooking the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, the park displays remnants from the First and Second Temple periods.

One of the standout features of the park is the Southern Wall excavation site. Here, you can see the steps pilgrims used to climb to reach the Temple Mount and the Hulda Gates, once the main entrance to the Temple compound.

Robinson's Arch, the ruins of an impressive ancient staircase that once led to the Temple Mount, is another must-see in the park. You can also explore the Umayyad palaces, evidence of the rich Islamic history of Jerusalem.

The Davidson Center, located within the park, houses a museum where you can learn more about the Temple Mount's history through interactive exhibits and 3D virtual reconstruction models. A film shown at regular intervals helps visitors understand the significance of the Temple Mount in both Jewish and Muslim traditions.

In addition to its historical and archaeological significance, the park also offers breathtaking views of the Old City and the Mount of Olives, making it a popular spot for contemplation and reflection.

This unique combination of rich history, spiritual significance, and vibrant, ongoing culture makes visiting the Jewish Quarter and The Davidson Archaeological Park a genuinely immersive and unforgettable experience.

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Evgeny Praisman (author)
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