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.
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.
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.
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 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.