The Knesset synagogue.
(photo credit: ITZIK HARARI/KNESSET SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
The Knesset’s synagogue will undergo its first renovation since the legislature’s building was erected, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein announced Monday.
Dozens of people – MKs, aides, visitors, Ashkenazi and Sephardic, haredi, religious- Zionist and traditional – pray in the Knesset each day.
There are three mincha (afternoon prayer) services held in the Knesset each day, as well as Torah classes.
Overflow worshipers usually spill out of the 65-meter sanctuary into the bustling hallway outside.
Following renovations, the synagogue will be expanded to 100 meters. It will be connected to the adjacent conference hall with a retractable wall, such that at times of special prayer services, the synagogue can be enlarged to 230 meters.
The Knesset’s historic ark (Aron Kodesh) will also undergo renovation by an Italian expert in preserving wooden fixtures, who will clean it, fill cracks and holes and coat it with beeswax.
The ark was donated to the Knesset by Dr. Shlomo Umberto, who worked in the 1950s to save 42 arks from unused synagogues in Italy and bring them to Israel. Out of concern that the Italian government would stop the arks from being removed from the country, they were taken apart and labeled as furniture.
The Knesset’s ark comes from Sorano, in Tuscany. It is two meters high and has carved elements that date back to the Renaissance. When it arrived in Israel, it was reconstructed by experts in preserving antiques from the Italian Jewish Art Museum in Jerusalem.
The Knesset synagogue’s cramped women’s section will also be changed. The women’s section is currently a separate, unadorned room with a window looking into the much larger men’s section. Following the renovation, the synagogue will be one large space, and the women’s section will be modular, with movable walls, to expand or shrink it to fit the amount of female worshipers present.
“Expanding the synagogue is a joyous occasion… which shows that, over the years, the number of visitors using the synagogue has increased,” Edelstein said, quoting from Isaiah: “Broaden the place of your tent and let the curtains of your dwellings stretch out.”
Edelstein said that, as someone who prays in the synagogue daily and sees who crowded it is, he knows it is necessary to enlarge the space so worshipers don’t need to stand in the hallway.
The Knesset also has a Muslim prayer room, abutting the conference room that is next to the synagogue on its other side.
The infrastructure on the floor with the prayer rooms will be overhauled, also for the first time in 50 years, and the lighting will be replaced with a more energy-efficient system.
All of the renovations are expected to be completed before the Knesset’s winter session begins at the end of October.