Jerusalem is now dotted with synagogues, synagogues ranging from tiny alcoves to mighty edifices, each testifying to the vibrancy of Judaism in its capital city - but it was not always so. Much of the history of Jerusalem's Jewish community has been characterized by a Muslim-enforced religious humility, and until the 1800s, Jewish worship in Jerusalem was centered on a small, below-street-level complex of Sephardic synagogues in the Old City. The most venerable of these is the Ramban Synagogue, established by the famed Jewish philosopher Nachmanides in 1267 after his flight from Spain, a synagogue which revitalized Crusader-ravaged communal life.
The synagogue and community flourished until 1589, when it was shuttered by decree of the Ottoman sultan. About a decade later, a new synagogue, the Yochanan Ben Zakkai synagogue, was constructed in the Old City, and as Sephardic immigrants continued to pour into Jerusalem, new synagogues were added to Ben Zakkai, creating a complex of four: Ben Zakkai, the Istanbuli Synagogue, the Elijah the Prophet Synagogue and the Middle Synagogue. The Sephardic community of the Old City continued to patronize the Four Synagogues until the 1948 war, when the Jewish Quarter was seized by the Jordanians, the synagogues converted into stables.
In the wake of Israel's capture of the Old City in 1967, the Four Synagogues and the Ramban Synagogue, which had been a mosque and a mill, were painstakingly restored and have resumed their centrality to the Old City Jewish community. Visitors are welcome, although the caretaker of the Four Synagogues demands a small donation.
Sunday to Thursday, during daylight hours; worshipers only on Fridays and Saturdays
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