Rabban Yokhanan Ben Zakai Synagogues

sights / Religious

Rabban Yokhanan Ben Zakai Synagogues information

Jerusalem , Israel
+972 54 665 5487
adult/child 10/7NIS
Opening hours
9am-4pm Sun-Thu, to 1pm Fri
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Named after a renowned 1st century CE tanna (scholar-judge), the four Sephardi synagogues in this complex have very different histories and decoration. The two oldest date from the late 16th century and all four were in ruins before being restored between 1967 and 1972. With their associated study houses and charitable institutions, the synagogues were at the centre of the local Sephardi community's spiritual and cultural life until the late 19th century.

In accordance with a law of the time stating that synagogues could not be taller than neighbouring buildings, the grouping was sunk deep into the ground – a measure that certainly saved the buildings from destruction during the bombardment of the quarter in 1948. Instead, the synagogues were looted by the Jordanians and then used as sheep pens. Restored using the remains of Italian synagogues damaged during WWII, all four are physically linked and can be visited on one ticket.

The first synagogue in the grouping (closest to the ticket desk) is the Eliahu Hanavi Talmud Torah Congregation , the oldest of the four. Its arches and dome reference Byzantine buildings. Two of the other synagogues are accessed from its northern side: the Qahal Qadosh Gadol (Great Congregation), built between the late 16th and early 17th centuries and featuring distinctive Spanish-Moorish windows, and the elongated Emtza'i (Middle) Synagogue , the smallest of the four. This was created when a roof was built over a courtyard between two of the synagogues in the mid-18th century, thus creating a ‘middle’ synagogue.

Doors in the Emtza'i lead to a small exhibit about the history of the synagogues, and to the Istanbuli Synagogue , which is the largest of the four and was the last to be built. It was constructed in the 1760s by immigrants from the Turkish city of the same name.