Synagogue Officers, 1925
This picture is a collage of photos of the officers of the Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem. The photos include the founding rabbi of the synagogue, Rabbi Shmuel Salant, the president, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, as well as the president, warden (gabbai), and cantor (chazzan). At the top of the picture is the title “Pictures of the Great Synagogue – Beth Ya'akov – Presidents and Officers.” Below are the words Jerusalem, the year 5685, the location and date the collage was printed. Below this is a picture of the synagogue and the words “established in 5624.”
The synagogue officers are dressed in the customary clothes of the time, complete with the ties that were fashionable in the 1920s. It is immediately apparent that the officers were of European origin and had brought popular European fashions with them to Israel. In fact, it is possible to imagine a similar display of portraits in any European synagogue at the time.
The history of the Hurva Synagogue before the fourteenth century as an the synagogue of the Ashkenazi community (some historians state that a synagogue was on the site from the second century). In 1692 the old synagogue collapsed, and the Jewish community took loans in order to rebuild it. The Ashkenazi community was unable to pay back their large debts, and as a result the incomplete building was destroyed and the community expelled from Jerusalem. The courtyard remained ruined and was known as the “Hurva,” meaning the ruins.
During the nineteenth century Ashkenazi Jews began to return to Jerusalem and plans were made for a new synagogue. A permit was received from the Ottoman rulers, and money was raised largely with financial backing of the Rothschilds and Sir Moses Montefiore. In 1864 the synagogue was inaugurated and was called Beit Ya’akov in honour of Baron James Jacob de Rothschild. The synagogue was a very prominent building and became a symbol of the Jewish Quarter with many important historical events taking place under its roof. In 1948, after the declaration of the State of Israel, Jordanian soldiers blew up the synagogue in a symbolic gesture to show the end of Jewish presence in the Old City.
Following the Six Day War of 1967, the Jews returned and rebuilt the Jewish Quarter. For many years, only one of the original arches was rebuilt, until 2010, when the synagogue was finally reopened with its original nineteenth-century design.
The people in the photo collage were well-known personalities at the time. Rabbi Shmuel Salant was the founder of the synagogue and the leader of the Ashkenazi community in Jerusalem from the end of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century. Rabbi Kook, marked as the synagogue president, was the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Mandatory Israel and one of the most influential rabbis of the twentieth century. Yerachmiel Amdorsky, the gabbai, was a famous figure in Jerusalem, who established Israel’s first hotels and founded Jerusalem neighbourhoods such as Bayit Vegan and Geula. Yehoshua Bardaki, the chazzan (cantor), served in the synagogue for over forty years and was one of the first and only people from the old Yishuv who could read notes and play the violin.
Jewish History teachers can use this resource to examine the story of the Hurva Synagogue, the early Jewish population of Jerusalem, and the Ashkenazi immigrants arriving from the beginning of the eighteenth century.
Which building appears in this collage?
Who are the people who are depicted in this collage?
How are the people dressed?
What are their official positions?
What type of synagogue is this? How do you know?
Reading Between the Lines
Why was this collage created?
When was the synagogue established?
Was there an earlier synagogue at this location?
What happened to the building after the establishment of the State of Israel?
What is at this location today?
What was the role of the people depicted in the collage in Jewish life in pre-State Israel during the British Mandate?
What does the Hurva Synagogue look like today?
Have you visited it?
The picture shows the leaders of the Hurva Synagogue.
Do you attend synagogue? What are the different roles in a synagogue?
Explain the roles of a rabbi, gabbai, and chazzan.
Create a short imaginary video advert to attract people from Europe to join the initial synagogue founders in moving to Israel.