Perhaps no single location embodies the turbulent history of the Old City's Jewish Quarter as fully as the Hurva Synagogue. It was once the grandest synagogue in the Land of Israel and the quintessence of the spirit of the small Jewish community that tenaciously clung to the Holy Land during the long years of exile and dispersion. The Hurva was reduced to rubble in 1948 by the Jordanian Legion, who, fully cognizant of the symbolic import of the building to Jerusalem's Jews, wanted to demonstrate that the Jewish presence in the Old City was permanently consigned to the past.
Work began on the synagogue in 1700 at the behest of Ashkenazi Rabbi Yehuda Hachasid, after permission was gained from the Ottoman bureaucracy (who could generally be bribed into ignoring the Pact of Omar, a Moslem law which stated no new churches or synagogues could be built in lands under Moslem control). However, money ran out, and 20 years after construction began, the unfinished synagogue was torched, after which it gained its current name (meaning "ruin"). It remained a ruin until the mid-1800s, by which point the rapid growth of the Ashkenazi community had necessitated the revival of plans to build the synagogue.
With the aid of major donations from both Ashkenazi and Sephardi benefactors, including the Rothschild banking clan and Moses Montefiore, the synagogue was finally finished, its grandeur giving the Jewish Quarter its riposte to the Christians' Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Muslims' Dome of the Rock. The Hurva remained the focal point of the Old City's Ashkenazi community until its destruction. After the Old City was recaptured by the Israeli army in 1967, a temporary commemorative arch was raised over the ruins of the site, and 40 years of bureaucratic wrangling over rebuilding efforts commenced. Big-name architects were consulted and summarily ignored, ultra-modern plans were considered and rejected, until finally in 2005 it was decided that the synagogue would rebuilt according to its former plan.
In March 2010, work on the reconstruction was completed, and the Hurva was rededicated in a gala ceremony as an active synagogue and center of study, aligned with the Ashkenazi Charedi branch of Jerusalem Orthodoxy. The building remains open to visits by tourists during the hours between worship services, but visitors should keep in mind that the Hurva is now a functioning synagogue, not strictly a tourist site, and should be treated as such.
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