The Four Sepharadic Synagogues evolved by Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal. In 1492 all the Jews of Spain were forced to convert to Christianity or leave. Many migrated to North Africa and the Middle East. Some settled in the old city of Jerusalem and gradually formed the Jewish Quarter. Under Ottoman rule they enjoyed relative freedom, including permits to build synagogues.
History of the Synagogues
The first synagogue to be constructed was named after Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai, although the exact dates of its completion are not known. A space next to it, devoted to Jewish religious studies (a Yeshiva), gradually became a synagogue as well. This synagogue was named after Prophet Elijah, and was used by Ashkenazi Jews for a while. In 1733 a third hall was converted into a synagogue (the “middle” synagogue), and finally, in 1735 a fourth hall was to become a synagogue, labeled “The Istanbul Synagogue”.
Like the rest of the Jewish Quarter, the Sepharadic synagogues were destroyed and plundered in 1948 by the Jordanians and local Arab population. They were later used for storage and as a stable. As a result of the Six Days War in 1967 Jerusalem was unified under Israeli sovereignty. The synagogues were restored and re-activated, as they are to this day.
Visiting the Sepharadic Synagogues
The Sepharadic synagogues are located near the main parking lot of the Jewish Quarter. They are open every day, but in the morning hours they are used for prayers. Visiting the synagogues can be combined in a day tour of Jerusalem.
Bar-Mitzvah in the Sepharadic Synagogues
It is possible to arrange an Orthodox Bar-Mitzvah ceremony in any of the Sepharadic synagogues and combine it with a day tour of the Old City. A festive meal following the event could be set in the “Quarter Café” restaurant, followed by a tour of the Jewish Quarter and the a visit to the Western Wall.