After a nearly 62-year hiatus, the renowned Hurva synagogue inside the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City has been rebuilt and is again an operational house of prayer.
Hundreds of people, braving the wind and an unexpected Jerusalem chill, crowded into a courtyard opposite the outer walls of the synagogue on Monday night to take part in an official rededication ceremony for the newly-rebuilt shul – which stands in the exact spot it did before its destruction at the hands of the Jordanian Arab Legion during the War of Independence in 1948.
Meanwhile on Monday, the US State Department criticized Palestinians for stoking tensions at the rededication of the historic synagogue.
"We are deeply disturbed by statements made by several Palestinian officials mischaracterizing the event in question, which can only serve to heighten the tensions we see. And we call upon Palestinian officials to put an end to such incitement," said US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley. "We are urging all parties to act responsibly and do whatever is necessary to remain calm."
He added that the US was "not at all" objecting to the rededication itself.Related: Public Security Ministry sets up Arabic WebsiteEditorial: The Hurva's symbolism
While the ceremony was a great source of joy – both for those inside the ceremony area and for the scores of onlookers who crowded around the cordoned-off area to try and get a glimpse of the goings-on – the Hurva’s rededication has also seen a rise in tensions among Palestinians in the Old City and in east Jerusalem.
Rumors about the synagogue, along with the perceived implications its reconstruction holds for the Temple Mount, have spurred numerous calls from Palestinian leaders to defend Al-Aksa mosque from “Israeli attempts” to destroy it and begin building the Third Temple.
Based on those calls and additional intelligence information obtained by Jerusalem Police, more than 3,000 security forces have been deployed throughout the area since Friday. Additionally, Muslim men under the age of 50 have been prevented from entering the Temple Mount for prayers.
However, speaking inside the Hurva before the ceremony, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger attempted to calm these tensions with a message of peace to the Muslim world.
“Pay no attention to malicious slander,” Metzger said. “All we are doing is resurrecting the Hurva, which was destroyed more than 60 years ago. We have no intention of rebuilding the temple, not this week – unless Almighty God sends it to us from the heavens.”
Metzger added, “All the rumors that suggest we will later march on the Temple Mount are just that – rumors; a media spin by anti-Semites who wish us harm.”
Still, the overall tone of the speakers during the ceremony was one of accomplishment and pride at the synagogue’s rebirth.
After a musical rendition of the “shehiyanu” blessing – recited in instances of renewal – by members of the IDF choir, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat addressed the crowd, saying that the destruction of a Jewish holy site by foreign powers in the heart of the Jewish Quarter was something “we will never again allow to happen.”
While Barkat also sounded a conciliatory tone toward the city’s Muslim residents, he added that “only we, the sovereign power in Jerusalem, know how to guard the city’s holy sites for all three major religions.”
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who spoke after Barkat, echoed many of the mayor’s comments, though not before reading words composed by his mother’s grandfather describing the Hurva before its destruction in 1948.
“From the hills surrounding Jerusalem, [the Hurva] rises up,” Rivlin said, visibly moved by the occasion. “And as it rises, it is reminiscent of a moon among the stars in the sky.”
Rivlin went on to speak of the Hurva’s history, beginning with its first incarnation in 1701, when it was constructed by disciples of Judah Hahasid. Its first destruction came some 20 years later, when those same disciples lacked the funds to repay local creditors, who in return burned the Hurva to the ground.
It was nearly 150 years before the Hurva stood again, but in 1864, after a massive construction project was approved by the Ottoman Turks and funds were procured from Jewish communities the world over, a neo-Byzantine Hurva was soon towering over the rest of the Jewish Quarter.
However, that Hurva, which hosted the likes of Theodor Herzl and
Ze’ev Jabotinsky before the creation of the state, also met with ruin.
The Jordanian army took Jerusalem’s Old City in May of 1948, loaded the
building with explosives and set off a blast whose smoke cloud could be
seen miles away.
However, as Rivlin spoke to the crowd on Monday
night, he vowed that such acts would never again be seen – not in
Jerusalem, nor in any other part of the Jewish state.
will continue to live, and we will continue to build,” Rivlin said, his
voice trembling with emotion. “Because no power in the world can
distance us from our land.”