The Jobar Synagogue was an ancient synagogue complex destroyed in May 2014. Also known as the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue it was situated in the village of Jobar now encompassed by the metropolitan area of the City of Damascus. It was once adjoined to a complex with rooms for the rabbi and other functionaries of the community. The synagogue was built atop a cave traditionally thought to have served the prophet Elijah in hiding. The hall center was said to be the place where Elijah anointed Elisa. During the Syrian civil war it was hit by mortar bombs, looted, and later 2/3 of the Synagogue were totally destroyed at the end of May 2014.
History and traditions
The synagogue had a plaque stating it was from 720 b.c. and was frequently but incorrectly perceived to be a 2,000-year-old synagogue located in the suburb of Jobar, Damascus The earliest verifiable literary sources indicate that it is at least medieval in origin. It was built in commemoration of the biblical prophet Elijah, and has been a place of Jewish pilgrimage for many centuries. It also is the burial-place of a wonder-working sage of the sixteenth century.
According to tradition, the synagogue was built atop a cave where the prophet Elijah concealed himself during persecution. The synagogue was said to have been built by Elisha and repaired during the first century by Eleazar ben Arach. Another tradition states that the biblical anointing by Elisha of King Hazael of Syria took place at the synagogue.
Though much cited as one of the earliest sources mentioning the existence of a synagogue at Jobar is from the Talmud, there is no incontrovertible evidence to support the reading that states that Rabbi Rafram bar Pappa prayed there. The challenge to this interpretation has also led to discord and controversy (although according to the anthropologist and researcher Dr. Adam Blitz, from the content and comparison with the traditional explanations it is clear that the town of Abi Gobar was in Babylonia and not near Damascus.)
During the medieval period, Jobar was home to a significant Jewish community. Shams Ibn Tulun Al Dimashki (d. 1546) mentions that "Jobar is a Jewish village with a Muslim presence." In 1210 a French Jew, Samuel ben Samson, while visiting Damascus, recounted the "beautiful synagogue situated outside the city", (in Jobar). An anonymous Jewish traveller who arrived a few years after the Spanish immigration found 60 Jewish families living in the village of Jobar, who had a very beautiful synagogue. "I have never seen anything like it," says the author; "it is supported by thirteen columns." The Chronicle of Joseph Sambari (1672) says that the Jewish community of Damascus lived chiefly in Jobar, and he knows of the synagogue of Elisha and the cave of Elijah the Tishbite. Benjamin II (d. 1864) described the synagogue as reminding him of "the Mosque Moawiah". "The interior is supported by 13 marble pillars, six on the right and seven on the left side, and is everywhere inlaid with marble. There is only one portal by which to enter. Under the holy shrine ... is a grotto ... the descent to which is by a flight of about 20 steps. According to the Jews, the Prophet Elisha is said to have found in this grotto a place of refuge.... At the entrance of the synagogue, toward the middle of the wall to the right, is an irregularly formed stone, on which can be observed the traces of several steps. Tradition asserts that upon this step sat King Hazael when the Prophet Elisha anointed him king."
|“||Last week the wicked entered the synagogue at Djobar and pillaged the whole edifice. The holy scrolls they have torn into pieces; they even took some of these holy coverings of the scrolls and other sacred writings and used them most contemptuously.||”|
|— "A private letter from Damascus", June 4, 1840.
The New Yorker.
Documents from the early 19th century reveal properties in the village that belonged to Jewish wakf (religious endowment), which were leased to members of other communities. During the rioting following accusation of ritual murder against the Jews of Damascus in 1840, the mob fell upon the synagogue, pillaged it and destroyed the scrolls of the Law. In 1847, only one Jewish family was left in the village, and they took care of the synagogue. On festival days, many of Jews from Damascus assembled at the synagogue to worship and during the year, the synagogue was often visited by Jews. A few rooms in the court adjoining the synagogue were used as a retreat by some Damascus Jews for a few days during the spring and summer.
After the establishment of the State of Israel, Jews in Syria faced greater discrimination as the Syrian government enforced tighter restrictions on them. Jewish property could not be sold and those that had been abandoned were confiscated. Part of the land associated with the synagogue was taken over and converted into a school for displaced Palestinian Arabs.
The synagogue is venerated as one of Syria's holiest pilgrimage site for Jews. In the past, sick people were brought into the caveren below the synagogue and left there alone at night in the hope that Elisha's spirit would exercise a healing influence over them. According to an extract from the Syrian cadastre of the Djobar district, its east side is 17–3 m long, itst side 15.7m and the building 12.13m wide.[full citation needed]
Syrian civil war
According to opposition activists, in 2013 the synagogue was damaged by the government's forces. Syrian forces, however, blame the rebels for causing the damage. However, Dr. Adam Blitz wrote in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the damage was probably much less than reported.
On March 31, 2013, it was reported to have been burned to the ground during the Syrian civil war, with both government and rebel forces trading blame over which party looted and destroyed the building. However, In June 2013 al Aan broadcasting corporation published a video showing that the synagogue had not been destroyed. It had nonetheless suffered from the effects of mortar fire with damage to the ceiling and the bimah. In December 2013 photographs of the synagogue also surfaced that disproved the claim that it had been destroyed.
In May 2014, images on The Daily Beast established that only the right side wing remained, either recently demolished by a Syrian shell or by the rebels themselves. According to Blitz, the controversy surrounding the significance of the synagogue has inflated the price of items ascribed to the site and may well steer the price of looted items for future sales. On Jerusalem Day, May 29, 2014, a news report in the Daily Beast published photographs that the majority of the structure was totally demolished. The world media said it was probably the Syrian army, non-deliberately hitting the synagogue while targeting a nearby rebel enclave although there is evidence to the contrary such that rebels were also in the synagogue complex, contrary to 1954 Geneva Convention.
- Adam Blitz (June 15, 2014). "Jobar synagogue". The Jerusalem Post.
Over two-thirds of the synagogue has been destroyed.... All that exists is part of a wing to the right of center and the antechamber to the Cave of Elijah, ostensibly an Early Christian catacomb in form, way below.
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- The Jewish quarterly review, Volume 50., Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning, 1959, p. 62. (According to Lurya, p. 245, it would be 18.4 m long and 11.6 m wide.)
- "WATCH: Assad Forces Destroy Oldest Synagogue in Syria, Rebels Claim". Haaretz. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
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- قصة كنيس جوبر وبشار الأسد !؟. June 23, 2013. Retrieved May 16, 2016 – via YouTube.
- Issacharoff, Avi (December 22, 2013). "Syria's 'destroyed' ancient synagogue is still intact". The Times of Israel. Retrieved December 23, 2013.
- "The case for Jobar: Syria, synagogues and subterfuge (17 January 2014)". The Times of Israel. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
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- "Assad forces destroy Syria's oldest synagogue". The Jerusalem Post. JTA. May 29, 2014.