Making the old city young again


The Ohel Yitzchak Synagogue


The  Ohel Yitzchak Synagogue
of the Kollel Shomrei HaChomot building

One of the most important synagogues established in the Moslem Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem during the 19th century was Ohel Yitzhak within the Shomrei Ha-Chomot Kollel.
An exciting development connected to Ateret Cohanim has been the recent restoration of the Ohel Yitzchak Synagogue in the Kollel Shomrei HaChomot building.
This historic building was purchased in 1867 by the Hungarian "Kollel" (communal organization), founded 5 years earlier by followers of the Chatam Sofer. "We have been blessed and have purchased a large courtyard for the Kollel near the Temple,… less than 80 meters from the walls of the Temple Mount…"  wrote the men of the Kollel to their supporters abroad. Large or comfortable spaces were not a consideration to those coming to Jerusalem in those days. The most valuable properties were those overlooking the Temple Mount.


Shomrei Ha-Chomot (Guardians of the walls) was also referred to as the Ungarn synagogue after its Hungarian founders. It was established by the disciples of the Hatam Sofer, Rabbi Nathan Goldberger and Rabbi Yitzchak Parag in 1862. The kollel was constructed in a courtyard purchased by the Hungarian yeshiva students from the Kiladi family in 1867. The Kiladi family was an Arab family with a great deal of property in the area, most of which was sold to Jews.
The location of the property was near the Second Temple, between two southern  gates to the Temple Mount, the Shops Gate and the Chain Gate,
(the Hulda gates) less than 18 meters from the Temple Mount wall.

The Shomrei Ha-Chomot kollel established a yeshiva known as Or Ha-Meir. (no year available) A deed of purchase for the courtyard, dated 1875,
is signed by the Qadi (Islamic judge) constituting official approval of the purchase.
After a visit by Rabbi Yitzhak Ratsdorfer of the Belz Hassidim to Jerusalem and the kollel in 1891, two synagogues were established and named for him: the Hassidic synagogue known as Beit Yitzhak and non-Hassidic synagogue known as Ohel Yitzhak.

Ohel Yitzhak was located on the first floor of the courtyard and its construction was completed in 1904. The ground floor also included a beit midrash (house of study) known as Mishmorim, a mikveh(ritual bath) and a small number of residential apartments. Due to the proximity to the Temple Mount, a decision was made to learn Torah - 24 hrs a day, with 3 eight hour shifts - mishmarot.

During the 1880’s the Jews lived peacefully in the Old City. Although most led a life of poverty, their Jewish lives were rich as there were more than 10 synagogues and houses of study in the Moslem Quarter.

Periods of Arab riots in the Old City between 1921-1938 culminated in the abandonment of the Kollel and synagogue in 1938. Kollel members relocated to Batei Ungarn in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem. The owners of the courtyard rented the building to Arabs who paid them rent until the War of Independence in 1948.

Following the Six-Day War, when the Old City was liberated from the Jordanians, the building was returned to the Jews. On the ground floor a Jew named Ben Arza opened a bookstore originally called “First in Ancient Zion” and then known as “Ben Arza”. It was the first Jewish store to open inside the walls of the Old City since 1948. Ben Arza continued his store until his widow sold his rights to Friends of Everest in the 1990's.
Ohel Yitzchak was 'acquired' from the Kolel Shomrei HaChomot, with a written proviso –that when the Mashiach comes, the building will revert to the Hungarian Kolel. The Moskowitz family was quite happy to comply.
Ohel Yitzhak was purchased by the Friends of Everest (a US non profit organization), under the direction of Irving and Cherna Moskowitz. A comprehensive archeological dig beneath Ohel Yitzhak down to bedrock that uncovered traces of previous civilizations on the site, was also funded by the organization.  In 2008 the new Ohel Yitzhak’s restoration was completed and the synagogue opened. At that time of the dig, Ohel Yitzchak was turned over to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation to be used as a functioning synagogue, house of study and eventually a museum will also be opened showing the archeological finds.
The excavation at Ohel Yitzhak unearthed remains from the time of the Second Temple thru the rule of the Mamluks. Some of the highlights of the dig include a monumental staircase descending to the Tyropoeon Valley (Valley of the Cheesemakers) and leading to the so-called Warren’s Gate, the closest entrance to the Holy of Holies. Pottery from the end of the Second Temple and 97 coins dating to the beginning of the first century were also found.
The Roman Period yielded pottery dating to the second and third centuries and fragments of roof tiles and coins.

The Byzantine period is mainly represented by a section of the secondary cardo, the presence of a drain and 16 coins (that are not yet dated).
The early Islamic period is only represented by a plaster floor and a small wall.

The Crusader Period exposed a small pool and a building serving as a shop or workshop producing or selling leather and fur.
The Mamluk Period is represented by a public bath (hammam) and a changing room.
On your next trip to Israel visit the Ohel Yitzchok Synagogue  -   click here