The synagogue named after Rabbi Judah HaChassid, most commonly known as the “The Churva” (ruin), is above all a symbol of Jewish life in the Old City of Jerusalem during the recent centuries.
There is no absolute clarity regarding the early history of the synagogue. What is certain is that the synagogue was founded by a group of Lithuanian Jews, led by Rabbi Judah HaChassid, and was probably the first Ashkenazi synagogue in Jerusalem.
The very construction of the synagogue needed quite a bit of siyata deshma’ya, since according to the Ottoman law it was forbidden for Jews to buy land in Jerusalem, let alone to build new synagogues.
Rabbi Judah HaChassid died unexpectedly shortly after his arrival in the Holy Land, and the construction left heavy debts on the small Ashkenazi community, which ultimately led to their expulsion from the city and the destruction of the synagogue. Ashkenazim thereafter had to “dress up” as Sephardic Jews so that they could enter the city. Only some 150 years later the Vilna Gaon’s disciples who had come to settle in Jerusalem payed the debts and completed the construction of the synagogue. The construction was completed in 1864. The synagogue, which was designed by a Muslim architect and has many similarities to a mosque, was then considered one of the most prestigious of the country.
Rav Kook served as president of the synagogue before he was named Chief Rabbi.
The Aron Kodesh seen in the previous bulletin is an accurate restoration of the original Aron which arrived from Ukraine and was built by Jewish soldiers in the Czar’s army. The Aron has two floors, the top tier being designated for unusable Torah scrolls.
During the War of Independence, even before the fall of the Jewish Quarter, the Jordanian Legion blew-up the synagogue completely, something which they believed would symbolize the end of Jewish history in the Old City. After the Six-Day War conquest the synagogue was not rebuilt and only only at the beginning of the 21st century the government decided on an exact reconstruction of the original synagogue. Today the synagogue is again a central point in the city, with hundreds of worshipers, learners and visitors.