Ateret Cohanim (lit. Crown of the Priests), also Ateret Yerushalayim, is a Religious Zionist yeshiva located in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Founded in 1978, it uses the building of the historic Torath Chaim Yeshiva. Ateret Cohanim is a supporter of Jewish residency in East Jerusalem and particularly the Old City Some estimate that 1,000 Israeli Jews live in houses that Ateret Cohanim purchased in the Old City since 1978.
Torat Chaim Yeshiva
In 1886, Rabbi Yitzchak Winongrad established the Torat Chaim Yeshiva on ha-Gai Street, facing the Temple Mount. At its peak, about 300 students from all over the world, including Rabbis Tzvi Pesach Frank, Tzvi Yehuda Kook, Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog and Aryeh Levin studied there. The ground floor of the building served as a shop selling vegetables which provided funds for the yeshiva's maintenance.
In the wake of the 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, the yeshiva relocated to the new city, leaving the building and its contents entrusted to an Arab watchman who faithfully preserved it until the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. This yeshiva was the only one out of approximately 80 synagogues and study halls that was not destroyed by Jordan during the Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem. In 1967, the caretaker gave the keys to Chaim Herzog (in his function as the military governor of Judea and Samaria/the West Bank), telling him that "the holy place watched over me more than I watched over it" during those years.
On the first night of Hanukkah 1978, a new yeshiva was established on the same premises. Headed by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, it now has an enrollment of 150 students from all over Israel, all of whom serve in the Israel Defense Forces.
The yeshiva was involved in buying property from Arabs, Greeks, and Armenians in the Old City and its environs. Ateret Cohanim reportedly owns more than 70 buildings in the Muslim Quarter. The property includes their yeshiva, the building that houses Yeshiva Shuvu Banim, several dormitories, a museum, and about 50 apartment units. Some of the property belonged to Jews who lived in the Muslim Quarter before they were driven out by pogroms in 1929 and 1936. Other properties belonged to the Greek Orthodox Church, in the Christian Quarter, prior to a disputed deal which involved the Patriarch Irineos, resulting in properties tenants in the Christian Quarter being driven out.
In April 2009, members of Ateret Cohanim moved into a house in East Jerusalem over which it claimed ownership, despite a court ruling to the contrary. A spokesperson said that they had bought the property.
Rabbi Nissan Ben-Avraham is one of the notable alumni of the yeshiva.
- "PM supports Jewish right to live in East Jerusalem, as Arabs live in West Jerusalem". Jerusalem Post. 2009-07-19.
- "Israeli Citizens File Landmark Criminal Prosecution of the Muslim WAQF For Temple Mount Destruction". PRNewswire. 2007-11-01.
- "Israelis seize house in Jerusalem". AFP. 2009-04-03.
- A United Jerusalem - the story of Ateret Cohanim, Ann Johnson, Ktav pub., 1992, ISBN 0-88125-424-X