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Ades Synagogue *

ades synagogogue in nahlaot neighbourhood, jerusalem. Public Domain

The Ades Synagogue, (בית הכנסת עדס‎), also known as the Great Synagogue Ades of the Glorious Aleppo Community, located in Jerusalem’s Nachlaot neighborhood, was established by Syrian immigrants in 1901. It is considered to be the center of Syrian Hazzanut in Israel.

A’des synagogue, Jerusalem – the Hebrew initials כ ת stand for כתר תורה “Crown of Torah” (based on Mishnah, Avot 4:13). Photo: DMY
Inside Ades Synagogue Photo: Ori lubin

Origins

At turn of the 20th century, many of Syria’s Jewish community had emigrated to escape the economic downturn which arrived with the decline of the Ottoman Empire. While many settled in England, the United States or Latin America, some families moved to the Holy Land. Most community members were laborers, shopkeepers or merchants.

A’des synagogue, Jerusalem Photo: DMY

After some time, the synagogue was officially established in 1901 (on Beer Sheva 1, Jerusalem) by a community of Jews from Aleppo (“Halabi Jews”, Aleppo is Halab in Arabic), Syria. It is named after two cousins who financed the building: Ovadiah Josiah Ades and Yosef Isaac Ades. The new synagogue was designed as a neighborhood institution, and at the time, was considered one of the most beautiful synagogues in Jerusalem. Although solidly constructed, the synagogue suffered damage in World War I and the 1947–1949 Israeli War of Independence. Today the synagogue is attended not only by Aleppian Jews, but by many different types of Sephardic Jews (e.g. Kurdish); nevertheless, the liturgy of the congregation remains Aleppian in its purest form.

Architecture

The traditional Middle Eastern-style interior is elaborate and well-kept, with a high ceiling, chandeliers, wooden benches facing a central dais, a small balcony for the women’s section and a Holy Ark covering the entire eastern wall. The large ark is made of walnut and covered with intricate geometric designs inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

A stunning mural depicting stylized representations of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, visible along the upper part of the walls, was painted around 1911-12 by Ya’acov Stark, a teacher at newly formed Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. The painter created a long trim of delicate Middle Eastern-inspired designs that highlighted symbols representing the 12 Tribes of Israel. Unfortunately even these monumental murals eventually fell victim to a bit of artistic carelessness. Over time, the mural was partially overpainted and the paint has discolored.

Center for Syrian Hazzanut

Ades attracts many visitors from Israel and abroad because of its unique liturgical style.

Renowned as a center for Syrian hazzanut (Middle Eastern-style Jewish liturgical singing), Ades is one of only two synagogues in Jerusalem (and perhaps the world) that maintains the ancient tradition of baqashot, a set cycle of kabbalistic poetry sung in the early hours of Shabbat morning during the winter months. Baqashot sessions typically begin at 3 a.m. and are usually densely packed.

The Syrian tradition was introduced to Jerusalem by Raphael Altaras, who came to that city from Aleppo in 1845 and founded a Baqashot circle at the Kehal Tsiyon synagogue. In this way the custom of Baqashot became part of the mainstream Jerusalem Sephardic tradition. Another important influence was Jacob Ades (1857–1925), who immigrated to Jerusalem in 1895 and introduced the Syrian tradition to the Persian and Bukharan communities. The main centre of the tradition today is the Ades Synagogue in Nachlaot, where the leading spirit was Rabbi Chaim Shaul Abud.

In the prayer services at the Ades synagogue the congregation conducts services using a different ‘maqam’. A maqam (مقام), which in Arabic literally means ‘place’, is a standard melody type and set of related tunes. The melodies used in a given maqam aims effectively to express the emotional state of the reader throughout the set liturgy (without changing the text).

Baqashot

The Baqashot (or “bakashot“,  שירת הבקשות‎) are a collection of supplications, songs, and prayers that have been sung by the Sephardic Syrian, Moroccan, and Turkish Jewish communities for centuries each week on Shabbat mornings from the early hours of the morning until dawn. They are usually recited during the weeks of winter, from the Jewish festival of Sukkot through Purim, when the nights are much longer. 

Piyutim

A complementary tradition that was introduced to the synagogue by the main Gabai Yehezkel Nawama is Oneg Shabbat, the same practice of communal singing of piyutim, but performed in the afternoon during summer Shabbats. The Piyu is a Jewish liturgical poem, usually designated to be sung, chanted, or recited during religious services. 

The piyutim style of the Aleppine Jews as practiced in the Ades synagogue was a big influence on the development of the hazzanut style known today as Jerusalem-Sephardic.

Bibliography

World Center for Aleppo (Halab) Jews Traditional Culture

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