Ramban Synagogue

The Ramban Synagogue (Hebrew: בית כנסת הרמב"ן), is the second oldest active synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was founded by the scholar and rabbi Nachmanides (also known as Ramban) in 1267,[2] to serve the local Jewish community, which expanded because of the synagogue's presence.[3][4]

Ramban Synagogue
Ramban shul.jpg
Interior, 2006
AffiliationOrthodox Judaism
RiteNusach Ashkenaz
LeadershipRabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl[1]
Locationha-Yehudim Street
Old City of Jerusalem

Today there are two Ramban Synagogues in Jerusalem. The ancient synagogue described in this article stands in the Old City. A second Ramban Synagogue was established after 1948 and rebuilt in 2005. It is located at 4 Amatsya Street in the Katamon neighbourhood of Jerusalem.[5]


The foundation of the building comprises vaults resting on Romanesque and Byzantine capitals. Along with the fact that there are no Gothic or Islamic architectural features, this suggests that the original building predates the Crusader period.

The synagogue is located three meters below street level, to comply with Muslim restrictions for Dhimmi houses of prayer not to be higher than mosques.[6]


13th centuryEdit

After the Disputation of Barcelona, Nachmanides was exiled from Aragon, and in 1267 he made aliyah to the Land of Israel. In an alleged letter[7] to his son, he described the Jewish community of Jerusalem devastated by the Khwarezmian Tatars:

Many are its forsaken places, and great is the desecration. The more sacred the place, the greater the devastation it has suffered. Jerusalem is the most desolate place of all. ... There are ten men who meet on the Sabbaths they hold services at their home. ... Even in its destruction, it is an exceedingly good land.[2]

Seventy two years old, he undertook the effort to rebuild the Jewish community and chose a ruined house on Mount Zion to reconstruct it as a synagogue. A number of Jews moved to Jerusalem after hearing of Nachmanides' arrival. The Torah scrolls that were evacuated to Shechem before the Mongol invasion were returned. In three weeks, for Rosh Hashanah, the synagogue was ready for use.

16th centuryEdit

Shown in the Casale Pilgrim (16th-century)

In 1523 it was described as "the only Jewish place of worship in Jerusalem".[8]

In 1586, the synagogue was closed under the order of the Turkish governor of Jerusalem.[6] Subsequently, the Sephardi community established their center in the adjacent place, where the academy belonging to the tanna Yochanan ben Zakai was said to have stood during the Second Temple period. Today the Yochanan ben Zakai Synagogue stands there.

The Nachmanides Synagogue shared a wall with the Sidna Umar Mosque and was described as similar in design. Ottoman authorities issued a Firman to lock the synagogue door due to local complaints of 'noisy ceremonies' and further legal disputes were prohibited after the 1598 confiscation.[9]

19th centuryEdit

In 1835, the leaders of the community managed to obtain a permission from the Ottoman authorities for the renovation of the synagogues, which were unified into a single unit.

In 1845, Joseph Schwarz, considered by the Jewish Encyclopedia as "the greatest Jewish authority on Palestinian matters since Estori Farḥi"[10] proposed the identification of the modern synagogue – then known as the "Synagogue of the Ashkenazim" and "Al Maraga" – with Ramban:[11]

Through perusal of documents and investigations made on the spot, I came upon the result, that this old building is the same Synagogue which was built in the year 5027 (1267), at the time of the celebrated Nachmanides (Ramban) ; since he says, in his letter to his son in Spain, as I shall mention hereafter in the historical part: "We found a very handsome ruinous building with marble columns and a pretty cupola, and we made collections in order to restore the same to serve as a Synagogue, and commenced to build on it." This building, with a handsome cupola and marble columns, is still existing close by the present Synagogue; it was taken away from the Synagogue, as I shall tell hereafter, and is called at present Al Maraga, and is used as a raisin mill, in which raisins are crushed and ground in order to boil them into a syrup. At the time of the founding of this Synagogue it was limited to this single building; but at a later period, when the number of the Jews increased, all the houses contiguous to it were incorporated with it, and all denominated the Synagogue of the Ashkenazim. It was for a long time the only Synagogue in Jerusalem where divine worship was held… As late as about 5346 (1586), both congregations, the Sephardim and Ashkenazim united, worshipped there together; and only at the time when it was taken by violence from the congregation, and they were compelled to choose themselves another place in the court as a Synagogue, which has been preserved up to the latest period, the Sephardim separated from the Ashkenazim, the former probably restoring their ancient and former Zion Synagogue, since which time the other remained with the Ashkenazim, whence its name to the present day.

20th centuryEdit

Over the years, the building has been the home to the Sephardi community, was converted into a mosque after being confiscated by a Mufti, and was used as a flour mill and a cheese factory.[12] Today it is used by the Ashkenazi community.

As a result of the 1967 Six-Day War, Jews regained access to the property, and 700 years after Nachmanides revived the ancient building, the synagogue was reopened.

21st centuryEdit

In 2016 Karmit Feintuch became the first woman to be hired as a communal leader at an Orthodox synagogue in Israel, namely this synagogue.[13]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Staff - Yeshivat HaKotel". Hakotel.org.il. Retrieved 2016-08-23.
  2. ^ a b The Ramban Synagogue; Hope Amidst Despair by Larry Domnitch (The Jewish Magazine)
  3. ^ "Ramban Synagogue – Oldest in-use synagogue in Jerusalem". Attractions-in-israel.com. 2011-10-18. Retrieved 2016-08-23.
  4. ^ Domnitch, Larry (2005-06-01). "How Nachmanides Rebuilt Jerusalem". Aish.com. Retrieved 2016-08-23.
  5. ^ Jonathan Lis7 hours ago This is a primium article (2014-12-09). "Why Jerusalem Has Two 'Ramban Synagogues' - Religion & Holy Land". Haaretz. Retrieved 2016-08-23.
  6. ^ a b Sephardic Synagogues of Old Jerusalem
  7. ^ Norman Roth (8 April 2014). "Synagogues". Medieval Jewish Civilization: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 622. ISBN 978-1-136-77155-2.
  8. ^ Burgoyne, Mamluk Jerusalem: An Architectural Study, 1984, p.513: A description of the rebuilt synagogue in 1523 refers to it as the only Jewish place of worship in Jerusalem. Burgoyne quotes S. Ben-Eliezer, Destruction and Renewal: the Synagogues of the Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem, 1973,11-13.
  9. ^ Stillman, Norman A. (5739-1979) The Jews of Arab Lands: a history and source book. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America. p. 92 and pp. 301-302. ISBN 0-8276-0116-6.
  10. ^ Joseph Schwarz
  11. ^ A Descriptive and Historical Sketch of Palestine, 1850, p.273, originally published in Hebrew in 1845 as Tebu'ot ha-Areẓ
  12. ^ "Ramban Synagogue". Haatika - The Old City of Jerusalem. Retrieved 2021-06-20.
  13. ^ Julie Wiener (2016-01-13). "Orthodox Synagogue Hires Female Spiritual Leader in First for Israel – Sisterhood –". Forward.com. Retrieved 2016-08-23.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 31°46′30.0″N 35°13′52.5″E / 31.775000°N 35.231250°E / 31.775000; 35.231250