I was visiting with a friend in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, on a Shabbat (Sabbath, Saturday), after Morning prayers in a venerable Synagogue in the Moslem Quarter (the quarters' names are actually misnomers - before 1900, there were Jewish majorities in the 'Christian and 'Moslem' quarters, as well as the 'Jewish' quarter; and there were Moslems and Christians living in the 'Jewish' quarter, alongside the Jews there!).
We had entered the then destroyed (now rebuilt, thankfully) Hurva Synagogue, and I found some hole, slid through (I was 16 at the time), and found myself in a strange long narrow building with 3 big old simple pillars. In the back, was a little room with a tiny window, looking for all the world like the projection room in a cinema! In an obviously Crusader period building (because of the style of the arches, vaults, etc.). We explored it for a short while (it was a relatively small building,
after all), and climbed out the way we'd come.
At Shabbat lunch at home, a little more than 2 hours later, I told of my 'adventure'. A luncheon guest, Eliahu Dobkin of blessed memory, who later donated his 1200 piece collection of ancient glass to the Israel Museum, and who'd been one of the signers of Israel's Declaration of Independence, in 1948, said,"Oh, that is the Ramban Synagogue; it was built thanks to Nahmanides (RA.bbi M.oses B.en N.ahman) in 1267, when he inspired the return of a Jewish community to Jerusalem, after the Crusaders had murdered all the Jews in 1099, and denied Jews access to Jerusalem till Salah edDin (Saladin) freed Jerusalem in 1187. Jews had returned, but not formed a community.
The Ramban brought Jews from the then flourishing Jewish communities in Shechem (Nablus!) and Gaza (!), and the wealthy Jews from Gaza even sent a Torah Scroll!
The Synagogue was damaged in an earthquake in the 15th C., and abandoned; till being rediscovered in 1972, during the restoration, after 1967, of the Jewish Quarter, destroyed by the Jordanians during their occupation, 1948-1967. Mr. Dobkin had heard about it, and was amazed when I described it (he'd not yet visited the structure).
I was last there a month ago, for Mincha (afternoon prayers) during Passover. It is a functioning Synagogue again, with a community which is mainly resident in the Quarter. Next to it, is the newly restored Hurva (Ruin) Synagogue, and due north of the Hurva, the Menachem Zion (Consoler of Zion) Synagogue. I'm a life member at both Menachem Zion and the Ramban, but the Ramban is a bit too strict for my tastes; incidentally, the 'projection room' at the back turned out to be the women's gallery; they could barely hear through that opening, much less see. The walls were removed and a curtain and grille put up, so they can now hear and see, but not be seen.
For those who disapprove, you should know Jews did NOT separate men from women during prayer, till the MOSLEMs enforced it after the 7th C. Since 80% of us were under their control at the time, it became universal, the 20% at the time NOT under their control (in Europe) adopting the custom in imitation. Only in the 19th C., did Jews start to return to mixed seating, and only non-Orthodox.
But gueststo the Ramban arepolitely received, except during the prayers; and please, modest dress (no tank tops, revealing clothing or shorts on either sex; covered heads for men; no photography or cellulars on Shabbat (sunset Friday to Sat. night full darkness)).
There is no charge to enter (unlike St. Steven's Basilica in Budapest!).
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