Zoharei Chama Synagogue

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Zoharei Chama Synagogue
בית המדרש זהרי חמה
A narrow, four-story-high building with a large sundial on the fourth floor
Zoharei Chama Synagogue
Alternative names Mahane Yehuda Clock Tower
Sundial Building
General information
Location Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem
Address 92 Jaffa Road
Town or city Jerusalem
Country Israel
Construction started 1906
Completed 1908-1917
Renovated 1980
Other dimensions 5 metres (16 ft) sundial

Zoharei Chama Synagogue (Hebrew: בית המדרש זהרי חמה‎, literally, "Sunrise Synagogue"[1]), also spelled Zohorei Chama, colloquially known as the Sundial Building or the Mahane Yehuda Clock Tower, is a four-story building on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem, Israel,[1] which features a huge, 5 metres (16 ft) diameter sundial on its façade. The building, constructed in stages by Rabbi Shmuel Levy from 1908–1917,[2] was built to house a hostel for immigrants and a synagogue.[3] It was damaged by fire in 1941 and partly restored by the Jerusalem municipality in 1980. Today it still houses the Zoharei Chama Orthodox synagogue, which has prayer services throughout the day for local businessmen, residents and tourists.[4] The sundial is still accurate to within 15 minutes.[5]


The tall, narrow building, which towers over the neighboring structures, was constructed by Rabbi Shmuel Levy, an American tailor[6] who immigrated to Israel from the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1906 he purchased a one-story house on Jaffa Road opposite the Mahane Yehuda Market, with the intention of adding to it in stages and providing rooms for immigrants as a public service.[1] He raised money for the construction in America[3] by selling lottery tickets for 20 francs apiece, awarding two grand prizes of 2,000 francs each and other prizes of 1,000, 500, 100, 50, and 20 francs. The tickets depicted the planned four-story building with a fifth-story gallery, together with pictures of the Four Holy Cities in Jewish tradition—Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias and Safed—and a written description of Levy's goals to build a synagogue, study hall and hostel.[1]

Completed in stages from 1908–1917,[2] Levy's four-story building with a fifth-story wooden gallery[7] was the tallest in Jerusalem in its time.[4] After construction was complete, Levy consecrated the bottom floor as the Zoharei Chama (Sunrise) Synagogue for worshippers who prayed at sunrise (vasikin)[1] and also provided a beth midrash called Shoneh Halakhos (literally, "Review of Jewish Laws").[8] The Tiferet Zion V'yerushalayim (Glory of Zion and Jerusalem) Hostel on the upper floors accommodated 50 guests.[6] The large sundial was added later to the fourth-story façade.[1]

In 1927 the fifth-floor gallery collapsed during an earthquake.[4] In 1941, an electrical short circuit ignited a fire that spread throughout the building, destroying the gallery and damaging the rest of the building[4][9] together with the sundial and clocks.[10]

In 1980 the Jerusalem municipality[3] restored the façade and reconstructed the sundial.[4] The Zoharei Chama Synagogue is now the only tenant, with afternoon prayer services held one after another on the first floor and continuous evening prayer services conducted on the second floor. Women are not allowed in the synagogue. The building also has a "Shabbat siren" posted on its roof, which alerts residents to the time of lighting Shabbat candles.[4]


The aerial[5] sundial on the fourth floor of the building was designed by Rabbi Moshe Shapiro, a watchmaker in Mea Shearim[4] and a self-taught astronomer who had learned the science by studying the pertinent writings of Maimonides and the Vilna Gaon.[3] Shapiro had built sundials for the outside walls of other synagogues, such as the Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem's Old City,[1] and would go on to build sundials for at least 15 other synagogues in Israel, including Petah Tikva's Great Synagogue.[2]

Sundials were of crucial use for Haredi synagogue-goers who needed to know the exact time of sunrise to begin their morning prayers (vasikin), the exact time of sunset to complete their afternoon prayers, and the time for lighting Shabbat candles,[11] since these times vary day by day and season by season.[12] Before the Zoharei Chama sundial was erected, Haredi Jews would climb to the top of the Mount of Olives or the hills of the Bayit Vegan neighborhood[4] each morning and evening to observe the times of sunrise and sunset. The third floor of Levy's building originally included an eastern-facing wooden porch which allowed worshippers to easily see the sunrise.[3]

The Zoharei Chama sundial measures 5 metres (16 ft) in diameter.[2][3] A long wire sticks out to measure the sun's progress along a half-circle marked at each hour, with sub-markings at 15, 30, and 45 minutes.[2] For cloudy days, Levy installed two mechanical clocks on either side of the sundial, one set for European time and one for local time.[1][4][13] Shapiro also designed three sundials for the third floor of the building.[3] Only the large sundial on the fourth floor remains today. It is still accurate to within 15 minutes.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Rossoff, Dovid (1998). Where Heaven Touches Earth: Jewish life in Jerusalem from medieval times to the present. Guardian Press. pp. 392–393. ISBN 0-87306-879-3. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Adam, Shaul (2007). "The Israel Sundial Trail". sundials.co.uk. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Eylon, Lili (1 April 1999). "Jerusalem: Architecture in the late Ottoman Period". Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bar-Am, Aviva (7 September 2009). "Yemin Moshe, Bukharan Quarter, Nahlaot and Jaffa Road". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c Gordon, Buzzy (September 2010). Frommer's Jerusalem Day to Day: 20 smart ways to see the city. John Wiley & Sons. p. 46. ISBN 978-0-470-67636-3. 
  6. ^ a b Veeder, Nechama (12 December 2003). "Time to Pray". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  7. ^ Metal dedication plaque above sundial.
  8. ^ Be'er, Haim (2004). Feathers. Brandeis University Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-1-58465-371-4. 
  9. ^ Noy, Dov; Frankel, Ellen (2006). Folktales of the Jews, Volume 1: Tales from the Sephardic dispersion. The Jewish Publication Society. p. 28 (footnote). ISBN 978-0-8276-0829-0. 
  10. ^ Rossoff, Dovid (1998). Where Heaven Touches Earth: Jewish life in Jerusalem from medieval times to the present. Guardian Press. p. 411. ISBN 0-87306-879-3. 
  11. ^ Fischer, David. "Hebrew 51 – Lesson 39". University of Vermont. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  12. ^ "Nahlaot". Israel Ministry of Tourism. 2005. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 

Coordinates: 31°47′09″N 35°12′47″E / 31.78583°N 35.21306°E / 31.78583; 35.21306