×
FREE ASSISTANCE FOR THE INQUISITIVE PEOPLE
Tutorial Topics
X
softetechnologies
Grand Choral Synagogue, Petersburg, Russia Uzhgorod Synagogue, Ukraine
Ben Ezra Synagogue, Cairo, Egypt - Famous Synagogues
401    Dibyendu Banerjee    10/06/2023

Located deep in the narrow winding alleys of Coptic Cairo, a part of old Cairo that predated the actual founding of Cairo by the Muslim Fatimids in 969 AD, Ben Ezra Synagogue, sometimes referred to as the El-Geniza Synagogue, is the oldest Jewish temple in Cairo, dating from the 9th century AD.

softetechnologies

According to the local legendary tales, the synagogue was constructed on the spot, where the prophet Jeremiah gathered the Jews in the 6th century after Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, destroyed the Jerusalem temple and the adjacent spring is supposed to mark the place where the pharaoh’s daughter found Moses, hidden in the reeds and also where Mary drew water to wash Jesus. Nobody knows the date of the foundation of the Ben Ezra Synagogue, but the documents discovered from the Geniza, a special chamber in the synagogue in which the worn-out Hebrew-language books, papers on religious topics or documents were stored, evidence that it predates 882 AD. It is generally considered that the Ben Ezra Synagogue was originally a Coptic Orthodox church, which the Christians sold to a group of Jews for 20,000 dinars in 882 AD, as they were unable to pay the annual taxes imposed by the Muslim rulers. Some 19th century scholars have assumed that to be the origin of Ben Ezra, later named after Abraham Ibn Ezra, a prominent Jewish religious scholar and philosopher.

ben ezra synagogue cairo egypt

Little is known about the original building of the Ben Ezra Synagogue, which was torn down by the 6th Fatimid Caliph al-Ḥākim bi-Amr Allāh in around 1012, along with all the Jewish and Christian places of worship. However, it was rebuilt between 1025 and 1040, when the next Caliph, al-Ẓāhir li-Iʿzāz Dīn Allāh, permitted the reconstruction of the destroyed Christian and Jewish institutions.

softetechnologies

The newly built 11th-century building contained an unusually large Geniza, housing invaluable documents, some of which are about 150 years older than the Geniza itself, along with the others that continued to accumulate for about 850 years. The documents included rabbinical texts, historical accounts and religious and secular poems, dating from the sixth century through the nineteenth century, from which the researchers have been able to find the details of the life of the North African Jewish community prevailing from the 11th to 13th centuries. However, to prevent the city of Fustat, located adjacent to what is now known as Old Cairo, where the synagogue was then located, from falling into the hands of the invading Christian Crusaders led by Saladin, a deliberately set fire in 1168 devoured much of the city, along with the building of the synagogue.

ben ezra synagogue cairo egypt

The current building of the Ben Ezra Synagogue with its entrance on the north, was built from 1889 to 1892 in the shape of a basilica and consists of two floors. The first floor is meant for men, while the second one is reserved for ladies only. The rectangular floor, measuring 56 feet (17 m) in length and 37 feet (11.3 m) wide, is divided into three parts, divided by steel bars painted in a marble colour, of which the 15.58 feet (4.75 m) wide middle one, is the largest.

softetechnologies

The octagonal lector platform, where the rabbi stands to read the Torah, is made of marble and located in front of the sanctuary and a copper fence is situated on the 8th side of the platform, where the Torah and its rolls are kept. There is a memorial Stella located in front of the platform, in the middle of which is a top part consisting of two semi-arches, supported by three pillars, with a height of around 33 inches (85 cm) and two rooms on each side of the Holy Ark on the first floor. The side halls decorated with star patterns, pentagonal patterns and geometric patterns, date back to the Turkish period, which is also found around the Star of David in the middle of the ceiling. The synagogue also has a mixture of the Hatai and the Roman decorations, which are floral patterns and are known as Ottoman Arabesque, which includes floral patterns, palmettos and lotus flowers.

ben ezra synagogue cairo egypt

However, the glorious days of the Ben Ezra Synagogue ended following the mass exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt during the 1950s after the birth of Israel in 1848 and the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 led by the Free Officers, due to the increasingly difficult living conditions during those days. Today, like all the other synagogues of Egypt, the Ben Ezra, the oldest synagogue in the country that once served as a centre for gatherings for many celebrations and prayers for the Jewish community in Egypt, has now become simply a tourist attraction. Nevertheless, after decades of negligence and lack of maintenance, the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities undertook an overall restoring project of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in April 2022 and is keen to open the synagogue in the near future.

ben ezra synagogue cairo egypt
Grand Choral Synagogue, Petersburg, Russia Uzhgorod Synagogue, Ukraine
softetechnologies
Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
Enter New Comment
Comment History
No Comment Found Yet.
Nelson Mandela
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
Nelson Mandela
255
50.98
Today So Far
Total View (Lakh)
softetechnologies
26/05/2018     41498
01/01/2018     35829
28/06/2017     33822
25/06/2018     32943
02/08/2017     32202
06/07/2017     26637
01/08/2017     26614
15/05/2017     26253
14/07/2017     21574
21/04/2018     20549
softetechnologies