Oldest synagogues in the world
The designation oldest synagogue in the world requires careful definition. Many very old synagogues have been discovered in archaeological digs. Some synagogues have been destroyed and rebuilt several times on the same site, so, while the site or congregation may be ancient, the building may be modern. Still other very old synagogue buildings exist, but have been used for many centuries as churches, mosques, or for other purposes. And some very old synagogues have been in continuous use as synagogues for many centuries.
- 1 Worldwide
- 2 By country
- 2.1 Africa
- 2.2 Asia
- 2.3 Australia
- 2.4 Europe
- 2.4.1 Albania
- 2.4.2 Austria
- 2.4.3 Belarus
- 2.4.4 Bosnia
- 2.4.5 Croatia
- 2.4.6 Czech Republic
- 2.4.7 France
- 2.4.8 Germany
- 2.4.9 Greece
- 2.4.10 Hungary
- 2.4.11 Italy
- 2.4.12 Macedonia
- 2.4.13 Netherlands
- 2.4.14 Poland
- 2.4.15 Portugal
- 2.4.16 Romania
- 2.4.17 Russia
- 2.4.18 Spain
- 2.4.19 Slovenia
- 2.4.20 Ukraine
- 2.4.21 United Kingdom
- 2.5 North America
- 2.6 South America and Caribbean
- 3 References
- Stobi archaeological site in the Republic of Macedonia. An ancient Jewish synagogue has been discovered dating from the 4th or 3rd century BCE.
- The oldest synagogue fragments are stone synagogue dedication inscriptions stones found in middle and lower Egypt and dating from the 3rd century BCE.
- The oldest synagogue building yet uncovered by archaeologists is the Delos Synagogue, a possibly Samaritan synagogue that dates from at 150 to 128 BCE, or earlier, and is located on the island of Delos, Greece.
- The excavated Jericho Synagogue may be the oldest, securely dated, mainstream Jewish synagogue in the world, although the identification of the remains as a synagogue is not certain. It was built between 70 and 50 BCE as part of a royal winter palace complex near Jericho.
- Dura-Europos synagogue, Dura-Europos, Syria.
Two of the claimants to be the oldest structures still standing which were built as synagogues are the Erfurt Synagogue in Erfurt, Germany, which was built c. 1100 (see below), and Santa María la Blanca, built in Toledo, Spain in 1190. However neither has been used as a synagogue for centuries.
- Synagogue of Tlemcen was built around 1392 when Rabbi Ephraim Alnaqua, a Spanish refugee who was the son of the author of Menorah, settled in Agadir, he obtained permission for Jews to settle in the city of Tlemcen, where he built a synagogue.
- Stone synagogue dedication inscriptions stones found in middle and lower Egypt (see above), and dating from the 3rd century BCE, are the oldest synagogue fragments found anywhere in the World.
- Slat Abn Shaif Synagogue, in Zliten, Libya, was built around 1060 and destroyed in the 1980s.
- The Gardens Shul, established 1841, is the oldest congregation in South Africa. Its 1863 building, which is still standing, may be the oldest synagogue building in the country. Rabbi Osher Feldman is the Rabbi of the Gardens Shul.
- In Kochi, the South Indian State of Kerala, Paradesi Synagogue is believed to be built in 1568. It is the oldest Jewish synagogue in India.
The oldest of India's synagogue buildings can be found in the state of Kerala, where synagogue construction began during the medieval period. Whereas Kerala’s first Jewish houses of prayer said to be from the eleventh through the 13th centuries perished long ago as a consequence of natural disasters, enemy attacks, or the abandonment of buildings when congregations shifted, as did the earliest confirmed synagogue in Kochandagi authenticated to 1344 by a surviving building inscription now found in the courtyard of the Paradesi synagogue in Kochi's Jew Town, those originating from the 16th and 17th centuries subsist. These extant synagogues, though altered over time, include not only the oldest found on the Indian subcontinent but in the British Commonwealth.
The consensus among historians based on a compilation of limited recorded history and a mélange of oral narratives is that first synagogues in Kerala were not built until the medieval period. Various Kerala Jews and the scholars who have studied the community believe that the earliest synagogues in the region date to the early 11th century. According to a narrative, a Kerala Jew by the name of Joseph Rabban who accepted on behalf of his community copper plates granting the local Jews a set of privileges by the Hindu leader Bhaskara Ravi Varman was also given wood by his Highness for the erection of a synagogue around 1000. While no physical evidence of this and any other similar period building survives, study of the literature, Jewish folksongs, and narratives supports the notion that synagogues likely stood in Malabar Coast towns, places now within the modern-day State of Kerala, from this epoch. A portion of these medieval-period buildings perished when the Kerala Jews had to leave them behind under the threat of persecution by the Moors and the Portuguese or as a result of natural disasters. The balance was rebuilt as a consequence of naturally occurring or intentionally set fires, modernization efforts, or assorted other variables.
- A rabbi in the American army found an abandoned, dilapidated synagogue in Mosul dating back to the 13th century. It is located two miles northeast of Mosul, across the Tigris River, in a city called Nineveh, the city to which the prophet Jonah was sent to preach repentance. The Nineveh Synagogue was constructed by Daud Ibn Hodaya al-Daudi, Exilarch of Mosul. There is record of a second Synagogue, in Mosul, as early as 990. when the Gaon of Sura, Semah ibn Yitzhak, mentions "Sahl Aluf ibn Aluf our representative in Mosul", in 1170 Benjamin of Tudela notes that there are about 7,000 Jews in Mosul. In later years, when Petachiah of Regensburg visited Mosul, Nineveh was in ruins.
- In Israel, archaeologists have uncovered many ruins of synagogues from 2000 or more years ago, including several that were in use before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The ruins of the small synagogue at the top of Masada is one of the most well-documented; it dates from the time of the Second Temple. One dating to the second century BCE was discovered between Modi'in and Latrun.
- One of the oldest synagogues currently in use is the Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue in Safed, which dates from the 16th century.
- There are synagogues in Jerusalem located on the sites of far older synagogue buildings but, because the older buildings were destroyed by non-Jewish rulers of the city, the present buildings are reconstructions. The Karaite Synagogue in Jerusalem is the oldest of Jerusalem's active synagogues, having been built in the 8th century. It was destroyed by the Crusaders in 1099 and Jews were not allowed to live in the city for 50 years. In 1187 Saladin restored the site to the Karaite Jews who promptly rebuilt the synagogue. It has been active continuously since its foundation, except during the Crusades and Jordanian occupation of the city from 1948. In 1967, the Israeli government returned the synagogue to the Karaite community, who finished renovating it in 1982.
- It is believed that the Sidon Synagogue (Saida) was built in 833 on an older synagogue which is thought to have been built during the destruction of the Second Temple, i.e., in 66 CE. Jesus is said to have preached in it and in its vicinity as attested in Matthew (15:21) and Mark (7:24).
- The excavated Shalom Al Yisrael Synagogue in Jericho dates to the late 6th or early 7th century, and is frequented on the beginning of every Hebrew calendar month for prayers and services.
- A large 6th century synagogue with a mosaic tile floor depicting King David was discovered in Gaza. An inscription states that the floor was donated in 508–509 CE by two merchant brothers.
- The 2nd and 3rd century Dura-Europos synagogue is better preserved than other, older synagogues that have emerged from archaeological digs. It is often called the world's oldest preserved Jewish synagogue.
- Jobar Synagogue, described as "2,000 years old."
- Sardis Synagogue was built by Babylonian Jews who were invited to Sardis by Seleucid King Antiochus III (223–187 BCE). The Jews of Sardis are mentioned by Josephus Flavius in the 1st century CE, who refers to a decree of the Roman proquestor Lucius Antonius from the previous century (50–49 BCE): "Lucius Antonius, the son of Marcus, vice-quaestor, and vice-praetor, to the magistrates, senate, and people of the Sardians, sends greetings. Those Jews that are our fellow citizens of Rome came to me, and demonstrated that they had an assembly of their own, according to the laws of their forefathers, and this from the beginning, as also a place of their own, wherein they determined their suits and controversies with one another. Upon their petition therefore to me, that these might be lawful for them, I gave order that their privileges be preserved, and they be permitted to do accordingly." (Ant., XIV:10, 17) It is generally understood that "a place of their own" refers to the synagogue serving the local Jewish community of Sardis. Josephus Flavius also mentions the decree of Caius Norbanus Flaccus, a Roman proconsul during the reign of Augustus at the end of the 1st century BCE, who confirms the religious rights of the Jews of Sardis, including the right to send money to the Temple of Jerusalem. (Ant., XVI:6,6)
- Priene Synagogue, was found in the ancient city of Priene in Ionia.
- The Hobart Synagogue (1845) is the oldest surviving synagogue building in Australia.
- The Sydney Jewish Community (Great Synagogue) is the oldest congregation. Its first synagogue was built in 1844 and at its current location was built in 1878.
- Ballarat Synagogue 1861 is the oldest surviving synagogue on Australia's mainland.
- The oldest synagogue in Western Europe uncovered in an archaeological dig to date is the Ostia Synagogue in the ancient Roman port of Ostia, in Italy. The present building, of which partial walls and pillars set upright by archaeologists remain, dates from the 4th century. However, excavation revealed that it is on the site of an earlier synagogue dating from the middle of the 1st century CE, that is, from before the destruction of the Temple.
- The Ancient Synagogue of Barcelona, is a building from the 3rd or 4th century, when its function is unknown, and extended in the 13th, perhaps marking the start of its use as a synagogue. It has been described as the oldest synagogue in Europe. It was used as a synagogue until the massacre of the Jews in Barcelona in 1391, then used for other purposes until it was rediscovered and restored in the 1990s.
- The Köln Synagogue in Cologne, Germany has been excavated 2007/2012 and dates clearly pre Carolingian (bef. 780/90). There is at the moment some strong evidence that it dates back to the early 4th century when emperor Constantine in 321 issued a privilege for the Cologne Jews. This has been confirmed recently by the find of a rainwater mikveh of the 4th century inside the building complex).
- The Erfurt Synagogue in Erfurt, Germany, which was partly built c. 1100, and is recently opened as a museum, is thought by some experts to be one of the oldest synagogue building still standing in Europe (most of it is 13th/14th century).
- Santa María la Blanca, built in Toledo, Spain in 1190, has long been regarded as the oldest synagogue building in Europe still standing. It was consecrated as a church upon the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in the 15th century, but no major renovations were done. While still a consecrated church, it is no longer used for worship and is open as a museum.
- The oldest active synagogue building in Europe is the Alteneu Shul (Old-New Synagogue) in Prague, Czech Republic, which dates from the 13th century (probably 1270). The Altneu Shul was the pulpit of the great Rabbi Yehuda Loew, (the Maharal), and his creation, the golem of Prague, is rumored to be hidden within the synagogue.
- The Plymouth Synagogue of 1762, in Plymouth, England, is the oldest synagogue built by Ashkenazi Jews in the English speaking world.
- Vlora Synagogue was Albania's only Synagogue – a Sephardic Synagogue. It was built around 1500 by a community of 609 Jewish Families fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. Shabbatai Tzvi was exiled to a nearby town where there were no Jews, Ulcinj, he died in 1675.
- The "Synagogue of St Stephens Parish" was built in Vienna around 1204; The first Jews lived in the area near the Seitenstettengasse; from around 1280, they also lived around the modern-day Judenplatz where they built another Synagogue around the same time. The center of Jewish cultural and religious life was located in this area of Vienna from the 13th to the 15th century, until the Vienna Gesera of 1420/21, when Albert V ordered the annihilation of the city's Jews. Proof exists of a Jewish presence in Vienna since 1194. The first named individual was Schlom, Duke Frederick I's Münzmeister (master of the mint).
- The Rossmeuhl Synagogue was built in the early 1300s for the Jewish community of Korneuburg, a market town some 15 kilometers upriver from Vienna. Local Church authorities destroyed the previous synagogue after the Host Desecration of 1298 (the resulting pogrom saw 10 Jews burned alive). A clerical investigation revealed the Desecration accusation lacked evidence and was the result of an unlawful conspiracy. Moreover, local church authorities benefitted from the seizure of the murdered Jews property; notably the St. Augustine Monastery was built on the site of the former synagogue, where it stands to this day.
Some 100 meters NE of the town square, the Rossmeuhl Synagogue served Korneuburg's Jewish community until the Expulsion of 1420. The property was converted to storage and various plans have been put forth to renovate the structure. Unfortunately, the Austrian Jewish Community (IKG) has shown no interest in assisting local groups and government agencies in the preservation of the structure, which is one of the oldest synagogues in Europe.
- The Great Synagogue of Hrodna was built from 1576 to 1580 by Santi Gucci, who designed a Wooden synagogue at Rabbi Mordechai Yaffe's invitation.
- "Il Cal Grande Esnoga," a Sephardic synagogue in the Jewish Quarter known as "el Cortijo," was built in 1587. The first Sephardim to arrive in Sarajevo arrived in 1565 during the Spanish Inquisition.
- The Dubrovnik Synagogue in Dubrovnik, Croatia is the oldest Sephardic Synagogue still in use today in the world and the second oldest synagogue in Europe. It is said to have been established in 1352, but gained legal status in the city in 1408. Owned by the local Jewish community, the main floor still functions as a place of worship for Holy days and special occasions, but is now mainly a city museum which hosts numerous Jewish ritual items and centuries-old artifacts.
- The Split Synagogue was built in roughly 1500. Located on Zidovski Prolaz, or the Jewish Passage, is the second oldest continuously operational Sephardic Synagogue in the world. It was built into the western wall of Diocletian’s palace by Jews escaping the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal. In 1573, a Jewish Cemetery was approved and built on Marjan Hill, which overlooks the city of Split. Jews arrived in Dalmatia, during the early centuries of the Christian era, with the conquering Roman armies. Romans established the city of Salona just behind Split, in the 1st Century, where Jewish traders and craftsmen settled. Archaeological excavations have discovered artifacts of Jewish origin dating from this period and clues to the existence of a Synagogue dating back to the time of Diocletian who was Roman Emperor from 284 to 305.
- The Alteneu Shul (Old-New Synagogue) (see above), in Prague, in the Czech Republic, which dates from the 13th century (probably 1270), is the oldest active synagogue building in Europe.
- Synagogue d'Avignon was built in 1221. In 1221, the Jewish community was transferred to an enclosed quarter in the parish of Saint-Pierre, around the Place Jerusalem. The Jewish ghetto was closed off by three doors (the only one of which remaining is the portal of the Calandre) and the inhabitants were under the protection of the pope. The Synagogue was built just after the move in 1221. The Jewish Quarter was originally northwest of the Place du Palais but was moved due to burnings and harassment.
- The Synagogue of Carpentras has been built in 1367. Today, only the underground parts (mikveh, bakery, butcher's) remain, as the synagogue was rebuilt in the 18th century.
- The Synagogue of Lunel is attested by Benjamin of Tudela in 1170.
- The Köln Synagogue (see above), in Cologne, Germany, excavated in 2007/2012, dates from pre-Carolingian times (before 780/90) most likely first half 4th century.
- The Erfurt Synagogue (see above), in Erfurt, Germany, which was partly built c. 1100, mostly 13th and 14th century, is thought by some experts to be one of the oldest synagogue building still standing in Europe.
- The Delos Synagogue (see above), a Samaritan synagogue on the island of Delos, Greece, is the oldest synagogue building yet uncovered by archaeologists anywhere in the World and dates from at 150 to 128 BCE, or earlier.
- The Kahal Shalom Synagogue on Rhodes (1577) is the oldest surviving synagogue building in Greece.
- In Sopron two medieval synagogues can be visited dating back to the 14th century.
- In the Buda Castle remnants of two synagogues were discovered from the 14th and the 15th century.
- The Óbuda Synagogue in Budapest, built in 1820, is the oldest synagogue in Hungary still in use.
- The Ostia Synagogue, in the ancient Roman port of Ostia, is one of the oldest synagogue sites in Europe dating from the 1st Century.
- The Bova Marina Synagogue site in Bova Marina, Calabria. This site was discovered 1983. The remains of this ancient synagogue has been dated to the 4th Century.
- The Scolanova Synagogue, Trani, Italy, built around 1200 and seized by the Roman Catholic Church and converted into a church in 1380. In 2006 it was once more rededicated as a synagogue.
- The Ferrara Synagogue built in 1421. The last surviving synagogue in the Ferrara region of Italy.
- The Spanish Synagogue (Venice) located in the Venetian Ghetto of Venice. Founded in the 1490s by Spanish Jews.
- The Italian Synagogue (Venice) located in the Venetian Ghetto of Venice. Founded in 1575.
- The Padua Synagogue located in Padua and built in 1584.
- The Synagogue of Casale Monferrato built in 1595 in Piedmont.
- The Polycharmos Synagogue, of Stobi, Macedonia, was discovered in 1974; it was adjacent to a Christian church. The Synagogue site, itself, has an archaeological record of two (2) older Synagogues under the foundation of the Polycharmos Synagogue dating to the 4th century BCE
- The Bet Aharon Synagogue was built in 1366 then later renamed to "Kahal Kadosh D’Abasho" with the arrival of Sephardic Jews who displaced indigenous Romaniote Jews of the area. The Jewish community of Skopje outnumbered the non-Jewish Community by 1566
- The Sephardi Bet Yaʿaqov Synagogue was built in early 1900's then renamed "Qahal Qadosh de Ariba" (congregation on the mountaintop).
- The Portuguese Synagogue (Amsterdam) – on December 12, 1670, the Sephardic Jewish community of Amsterdam acquired the site to build a synagogue and construction work began on April 17, 1671, under architect Elias Bouwman. On August 2, 1675, the Esnoga was finished.
- Old Synagogue in Kraków is from the 15th century and the oldest surviving synagogue building in Poland. The Synagogue was built in 1407 or 1492; the date of building varies with several sources
- High Synagogue in Kraków was built in 1556−1563
- Remuh Synagogue was completed in 1557
- Wolf Popper Synagogue was founded in 1620
- Kupa Synagogue was founded in 1643
- Izaak Synagogue was built in 1644
- Tempel Synagogue is the youngest in Kraków and was completed in 1862
- The Synagogue of Óbidos is located in the old Jewish Quarter and dates to the 7th century where a Jewish community was re-established after the Visigoths seized the village in 5th Century. Obidos was liberated in 1148, by the Jewish vizier, Yaish ibn Yahya; in return for its liberation King Afonso I Henriques rewarded Yaish ibn Yahya with a nearby town and anointed him "Lord of Unhos, Frielas and Aldeia dos Negros".
- Synagogue of Tomar is located in the historic centre of the city of Tomar, and houses a small Jewish Museum. The synagogue of Tomar was built in 1438 by the thriving Jewish community of the town. Today, the museum holds Judaica, fine art, several medieval Jewish gravestones, important architectural fragments from other buildings, including an inscribed stone from 1307 believed to have come from the Lisbon Great Synagogue (destroyed in the earthquake of 1755) and a 13th-century inscribed stone from the medieval synagogue in Belmonte.
- Grand Choral Synagogue in St. Petersburg was begun in 1880 and completed in 1888.
- Volgograd Synagogue was built in 1898.
- Moscow Choral Synagogue, completed in 1906, is the oldest synagogue in Moscow.
- The Main Synagogue of Barcelona (see above), built in the 3rd or 4th century, has been described as the oldest synagogue in Europe.
- Santa María la Blanca (see above), built in Toledo in 1190, has long been regarded as the oldest synagogue building in Europe still standing.
- Synagogue of Córdoba, built in 1305, located in the Jewish Quarter of Córdoba
- The Maribor Synagogue (a/k/a Marburg Synagogue), first mentioned in 1429, was built in the 14th century. Located at Zidovska ulica 4 in the Jewish Square Zidovski trg, it is among some of the oldest still standing Synagogues in Europe. The first documented evidence of a Jewish presence in Slovenia dates to the 13th century when Yiddish and Italian-speaking Jews migrated south from Austria.
- Golden Rose Synagogue (Lviv), 1582, a standing ruin as of 2009.
- Golden Rose Synagogue (Dnipropetrovsk), originally constructed in the late 1850s, restored in 1999.
- Jew's Court, Lincoln, built between 1150 and 1180, is "probably the only standing medieval synagogue in England".
- Bevis Marks Synagogue in London, built in 1701 is the oldest synagogue building in the United Kingdom still in use.
- The Plymouth Synagogue (see above), is the oldest surviving Ashkenazi synagogue in continuous use in the English speaking world.
- Garnethill Synagogue, built 1879–81, is the oldest synagogue in Scotland.
The Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, is the oldest Jewish house of worship in North America that is still standing. It was built in 1759 for the Jeshuat Israel congregation, which was established in 1658.
- The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of Montreal is the oldest congregation in Canada.
- The 1863 building of Congregation Emanu-El (Victoria, British Columbia) may be the oldest synagogue building in Canada.
- Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City, 1654, is the oldest congregation in the United States, although its present building dates from 1897.
- Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, the building of which commenced in 1759, is the United States' oldest synagogue and began services in the current building in the year 1763; the congregation was founded in 1658.
- Congregation Talmud Torah Adereth El (located on East 29th Street in Manhattan) has been operating services from that location since 1863. The congregation was founded in 1857. It has the distinction of being the oldest synagogue in New York running services from the same location.
- Congregation Mickve Israel of Savannah, Georgia was organized in 1733 by Sephardic Jews. The current 1878 Neo-Gothic building is unique in its cross-shaped floor plan.
South America and Caribbean
- The Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue in Recife, Brazil, erected in 1636, was the first synagogue erected in the Americas. Its foundations have been recently discovered, and the 20th-century buildings on the site have been altered to resemble a 17th-century Dutch synagogue.
- The first synagogue, a Sephardic Synagogue, was built in Port Royal in approximately 1646, but was destroyed during the earthquake of 1692. Another Synagogue, Neveh Shalom Synagogue, was established on Spanish Town's Monk Street in 1704, but today lies largely in ruins. The only synagogue still in current use, Shaare Shamayim in Kingston, was built in 1912.
- Nidhe Israel Synagogue in Bridgetown, Barbados: one of the oldest Synagogues in the Americas, standing since 1654, restored and used by the Jewish community in Barbados to this day.
- Sinagoga de la Congregación Israelita Argentina in Buenos Aires, Argentina: the oldest Synagogue in Argentina, standing since 1897 to this day.
- Wooden, later brick synagogue Beracha ve Shalom ("Blessings and Peace") at Jodensavanne, Suriname, built between 1665 and 1671. Destroyed in 1832, ruins still exist.
- Neveh Shalom Synagogue, erection first completed in 1723 and rebuilt in 1842 or 1843, currently the only synagogue in use in Suriname.
Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles
- The Jewish community was founded in 1659. The Curaçao synagogue, congregation Mikvé Israel-Emanuel, built in 1732. It is the oldest synagogue still in use today in the Americas. When Jews were expelled from the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe the number of Jews in Curaçao increased and by 1780 reached 2,000, more than half of the white population. The Curaçao community became the "mother community" of The Americas and assisted other communities in the area, mainly in Suriname and St. Eustatius. It also financed the construction of the first synagogues in New York and Newport.
- The Honen Dalim Synagogue, Oranjestad, Sint Eustatius, built in 1739, burned down by Admiral George Rodney after the capture of Sint Eustatius in 1781, partially restored in 2001.
St Thomas – United States Virgin Islands
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- Virtually Jewish: reinventing Jewish culture in Europe By Ruth Ellen Gruber, Publisher University of California Press, 2002, ISBN 0-520-21363-7, ISBN 978-0-520-21363-0
- "Jewish and non-Jewish creators of "Jewish" languages: with special attention to judaized Arabic, Chinese, German, Greek, Persian, Portuguese, Slavic (modern Hebrew/Yiddish), Spanish, and Karaite, and Semitic Hebrew/Ladino; a collection of reprinted articles from across four decades with a reassessment", by Paul Wexler, Publisher Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, 2006, ISBN 3-447-05404-2, ISBN 978-3-447-05404-1