Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Ancient Synagogues of Jerusalem, Destroyed in 1948
The pictures from the University of California - Riverside Archives

"The Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem with its two synagogues. Palestine."
The Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue (left) and  the Hurva Synagogue (1900)
(Credit: Keystone-Mast Collection, California Museum of Photography at UCR ARTSblock,
University of California, Riverside)   See also Two domes (Library of Congress)

This picture of the two domes of the Hurva and Tiferet Yisrael Synagogues in Jerusalem's Old City has been featured in our postings before after we found them in various collections.

But we never came across a photo with such clarity, suggesting that the archives at UC-Riverside contains the original photos taken by the Underwood & Underwood Co. in 1900.  UC-R's files also allow huge and detailed on-screen enlargements of the photos.  We thank the heads of the library for permission to republish their photos, and we abide by their request to limit the photos' sizes on these pages.

The Keystone-Mast collection at UC-R also contains other photos of the exterior and interior of the Tiferet Yisrael and the Hurva Synagogues in the Old City in the middle of the 19th century.

The UC-R photo bears no caption or date on this picture of the
Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue (Credit: Keystone-Mast Collection, California 
 Museum of Photography at UCR ARTSblock, University of California, Riverside)
William H. Seward, who served as President Abraham Lincoln's secretary of state, visited Jerusalem in 1859 and 1870.  He wrote a travelogue after his second trip, and he described attending Friday night services at the "Wailing Wall" and in one of the two impressive synagogues.  Seward's description appears below.

Avraham Shlomo Zalman Hatzoref arrived in Eretz Yisrael 200 years ago and was responsible for building the Hurva synagogue. Ashkenazic Jews had been banned from the Old City in the early 19th century after defaulting on a loan. Hatzoref, a student of the Gaon of Vilna and a builder in Jerusalem, arranged for the cancellation of the Ashkenazi community's large debt to local Arabs. In anger, local Arabs killed him in 1851. (Hatzoref is recognized by the State of Israel as the first victim of modern Arab terrorism.)

The two prominent synagogue domes shared the panoramic view of Jerusalem with the domes of the Dome of the Rock and al Aqsa Mosque for almost 80 years.  In the course of the 1948 war, the Jordanian army blew up both buildings and destroyed the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.

We present below interior pictures of the two synagogues from the UC-R and Library of Congress collections. 

The interior of the Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue
(circa 1900) (Credit: Keystone-Mast Collection, California Museum
of Photography at UCR ARTSblock, University of California, Riverside)
Interior of the Hurva Synagogue (circa
1900) (Credit: Keystone-Mast Collection, California Museum  of
Photography at UCR ARTSblock, University of California, Riverside)

Note the curtains covering the Ark containing the Torah scrolls. When the German Emperor arrived in Jerusalem in 1898, the Jewish community constructed a welcome arch, photographed by the American Colony photographic department.  The curtains from the synagogues and the Torah crowns were taken down to decorate the arch. 

Interior of the Hurva Synagogue (circa 1898, American Colony Photograph Department, Library of Congress).
Note the curtain, enlarged below
The inscription on the Hurva curtain reads: [In
memory of] "The woman Raiza daughter of sir
Mordechai from Bucharest, [who died in] the
Hebrew  year ת"ר [which corresponds to 1839-40]"
The last line cannot be deciphered, and suggestions
 are welcome.
The Hurva interior in the 1930s. The curtain is
dedicated in memory of Hanna Feiga Greerman, the
daughter of Mordechai.  The bima inscription reads
"Generous gift of Yisrael Aharon son of Nachman
known as Mr. Harry Fischel and his wife Sheina
daughter of Shimon [?] of New York." Fischel
died in January 1948.

Click on photos to enlarge.  Click on captions
to view the original pictures.

Secretary of State William Seward's Friday Prayer
Was it in the Hurva or the Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue?

Excerpt from Travels around the World

... [After leaving the Wailing Wall] a meek, gentle Jew, in a long, plain brown dress, his light, glossy hair falling in ringlets on either side of his face, came to us, and, respectfully accosting Mr. Seward, expressed a desire that he would visit the new synagogue, where the Sabbath service was about to open at sunset. Mr. Seward assented.

William H. Seward, Lincoln's Secretary of State
A crowd of "the peculiar people" attended and showed us the way to the new house of prayer, which we are informed was recently built by a rich countryman of our own whose name we did not learn. It is called the American Synagogue. It is a very lofty edifice, surmounted by a circular dome. Just underneath it a circular gallery is devoted exclusively to the women. Aisles run between the rows of columns which support the gallery and dome. On the plain stone pavement, rows of movable, wooden benches with backs are free to all who come.

At the side of the synagogue, opposite the door, is an elevated desk on a platform accessible only by movable steps, and resembling more a pulpit than a chancel. It was adorned with red-damask curtains, and behind them a Hebrew inscription. Directly in the centre of the room, between the door and this platform, is a dais six feet high and ten feet square, surrounded by a brass railing, carpeted; and containing cushioned seats. We assume that this dais, high above the heads of the worshippers, and on the same elevation with the platform appropriated to prayer, is assigned to the rabbis.

We took seats on one of the benches against the wall; presently an elderly person, speaking English imperfectly, invited Mr. Seward to change his seat; he hesitated, but, on being informed by [Deputy U.S. Consul General] Mr. Finkelstein that the person who gave the invitation was the president of the synagogue, Mr. Seward rose, and the whole party, accompanying him, were conducted up the steps and were comfortably seated on the dais, in the "chief seat in the synagogue." On this dais was a tall, branching, silver candlestick with seven arms.

The congregation now gathered in, the women filling the gallery, and the men, in varied costumes, and wearing hats of all shapes and colors, sitting or standing as they pleased. The lighting of many silver lamps, judiciously arranged, gave notice that the sixth day's sun had set, and that the holy day had begun. Instantly, the worshippers, all standing, and as many as could turning to the wall, began the utterance of prayer, bending backward and forward, repeating the words in a chanting tone, which each read from a book, in a low voice like the reciting of prayers after the clergyman in the Episcopal service. It seemed to us a service without prescribed form or order. When it had continued some time, thinking that Mr. Seward might be impatient to leave, the chief men requested that he would remain a few moments, until a prayer should be offered for the President of the United States, and another for himself. Now a remarkable rabbi, clad in a long, rich, flowing sacerdotal dress, walked up the aisle; a table was lifted from the floor to the platform, and, by a steep ladder which was held by two assistant priests, the rabbi ascended the platform. A large folio Hebrew manuscript was laid on the table before him....


  1. to answer your question about the last line, the second word appears to be לפ״ק which means "leprat koton" which is usually placed after the hebrew year to indicate that the year was not including the thousands. Thus the previous word is a continuation of the year and as such the year is תרכ״ה לפ״ק

  2. Charles is right and the year is 1865

  3. Charles is right and the year is 1865

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