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Hidden beneath the grand Hurvah synagogue, the Ramban synagogue is the oldest Rabbinical synagogue in Jerusalem. Although humble in size, it attracts many locals, and being open to all, it offers a peek at the unique lifestyle of ultra-orthodox Jews.

History and Archaeology of the Ramban Synagogue

The Ramban synagogue is said to have been founded by the Rabbi Moshe bar Nachman Girondi in 1267. Known by his acronym “Ramban,” in his visit, he found much neglect in Jerusalem and only a few Jews. He formed a synagogue, apparently on Mount Zion, but it was moved to its current location in the 14th Century, when Jews settled in today’s Jewish Quarter. In the 15th century, Rabbi Ovadia of Bartenura described it as “built upon columns, and it is long and narrow..” Indeed, the structure is narrow and long and has a single row of columns. Its capitals are possibly column bases from Roman times, but its vaults are typical of the time of the Crusaders.

Abandonment and Renewal

In the 16th century CE, the Ottoman authorities ordered to lock the synagogue because of “noisy ceremonies” disturbing the Muslims in the adjacent mosque. During the following centuries, the synagogue became a flour mill, a cheese factory, and even a mosque. Only in 1967, after the Six-Day War, the building was reverted to a synagogue, precisely 700 years since its foundation.

Did the Ramban synagogue have a Quran?

The Ramban synagogue’s degisn is unusual for having “two arks” to hold Torah scrolls. By local tradition the second one was added as the Muslim authorities in the past forced the Jewish community to keep a Quran in the synagogue as well.

Visiting the Ramban Synagogue

Today, the Ramban Synagogue serves the local Ashkenazi community but is open to all to visit free of charge.

A visit to the Ramban synagogue can be integrated into a day tour of Jerusalem.

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