The Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City is one of the four quarters of the walled city. The quarter is home to around 2,000 people and covers about 0.1 square kilometers. It is also the location of many tens of synagogues and yeshivas (places of the study of Jewish texts) and has been almost continually home to Jews since the century 8 BCE. Today, the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is a fascinating place to explore with museums, synagogues, and of course, the Western Wall its main attractions. As well as these, however, just walking through the alleyways and watching the religious inhabitants go about their daily lives is just as fascinating.
The Western Wall
The Western Wall. Image courtesy
The Western Wall (in Hebrew the Kotel) is the number one attraction of the Jewish Quarter and probably the whole of the Old City of Jerusalem. The holiest site in Judaism, this iconic wall is actually the last remaining wall of the courtyard which surrounded Second Temple towards where Jews around the world face to pray. Dating from the Herodian period Jews from around the world come to the wall to pray. You don’t have to be Jewish to go up to the Western Wall – you just need to be dressed modestly and have your head covered if you’re a man (there are skullcaps available at the entrance). One traditional act which is undertaken at the Western Wall is placing a prayer written on a small note in a crack in the wall (in case you aren’t actually able to visit the Western Wall in person, there is a free service allowing you to send your prayers to Jerusalem).
The iconic image of the Western Wall with the large plaza in front is actually just a portion of the remnants of the wall – with much more continuing underground in the Western Wall tunnels (which can be visited by joining a tour) and the Small Western Wall which is above ground in the Muslim Quarter.
Inside the Hurva Synagogue. Image Avital Pinnick, on Flickr
The Hurva Synagogue is one of the crown jewels of the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem. Originally constructed in the 18th century, it was destroyed only a few years later, remaining an empty ruin for over 140 years (this was when it was given the name ‘Hurva’ which means ruin). It was re-built in 1864 and named officially the Beis Yaakov Synagogue (but informally still referred to as the Hurva) and became the main Ashkenazi synagogue for Jerusalem (Ashkenazim are Jews who descend from medieval communities in Central and Eastern Europe). The reconstructed Hurva Synagogue stood until 1948 when it was destroyed by the Arab Legion. Plans to reconstruct the Hurva Synagogue began when Israel re-gained control of the Jewish Quarter in 1967, however it wasn’t until 2000 when the construction began.
The new Hurva Synagogue was completed in 2010 and is a truly incredible gem of the Old City. It’s vast dome makes the synagogue totally unique and a truly impressive place to visit. Visiting the Hurva Synagogue must take place either as part of a tour, or by joining the group tour which leave throughout the day.
Old City Jewish Quarter Cardo. Image david55king, on Flickr
The Cardo in Jerusalem was the main thoroughfare of the city from Roman times. Starting at the Damascus Gate (in the Muslim Quarter) and running right across the city to the Zion Gate (in the Jewish Quarter). The section of Cardo in the Jewish Quarter actually dates from Byzantine times and has been beautifully excavated and restored, with the original shops now functioning as gift shops and cafes. It is a fascinating place to stroll.
Other places to visit in the Jewish Quarter
The Herodian Quarter – Wohl Museum of Archaeology
The Herodian Quarter – The Wohl Museum of Archeology is a fascinating underground museum in which visitors descend to the street level of the Herodian era. The museum features a six-house compound which would have been occupied by aristocratic families and families of Temple Priests (Cohenim). Set on the slope of the hill which descends to the Temple Mount all of these homes would have featured uninterrupted views across to the Temple, and from underneath the current street level of the Old City, you can get a great idea of what life might have been like in the era of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
The Burnt House
The Burnt House is an interesting exhibition which is also set beneath the streets of Jerusalem, in the basement of the home of the Katros family who lived here 2,000 years ago. The home tells the story of the burning of Jerusalem by the Romans in the first century, and an interesting audio-visual show brings the story to life for visitors. It provides another interesting insight into what life in Jerusalem was like 2,000 years ago.