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Old Synagogues Tiberias *

The old synagogues Tiberias (Tverya) are a group of synagogues situated in the old city of Tiberias, Israel, that date from the 18th and 19th centuries. Not all of the old synagogues are active. The Court of the Jews is beside the parking lot and adjacent to both the mosques (Al Bakhri and al Omari) and the church (Saint Peter’s). The community, founded in 1740 during the era of the Bedouin ruler Daher al-Omar, became the first modern Jewish community in Tiberias. By the 19th century the Jewish community already reached half of the population of Tiberias. Surrounding this cobblestone square are a handful of synagogues and yeshivas of various antiquity.

Visitors Center – Old Synagogues Tiberias

The visitor center is actually housed inside old ruins of an ancient synagogue – one of the city’s thirteen mentioned in the Talmud.

Etz Chaim Synagogue or Abulafia Synagogue – Old Synagogues Tiberias

Rabbi Chaim Abulafia of Smyrna established the Etz Chaim Synagogue or Abulafia Synagogue in 1742 on the site of earlier synagogues. Etz Chaim is the oldest synagogue in the Court of the Jews in the Old City. The synagogue he built still stands, although it underwent major reconstruction due to natural disasters. The disasters were the Near East earthquake of 1759, the Galilee earthquake of 1837 and the great flood of 1934 which ravaged Tiberias, permanently reshaping its coastline. In the synagogue’s basement a unique Riutal Bath  (“Mikveh”) operates by water filling it from the Sea of Galilee. Being so it is usually dry in the recent years. The last time it was filled up was in 2003.

Rabbi Chaim Abulafiah

Rabbi Chaim Abulafiah, a Kabbalist, immigrated to Tiberias from Istanbul in 1740 at the invitation of Daher al-Omar. He restored the Jewish community of Tiberias. Rabbi Chaim collected money from the Diaspora to sustain the straggling community, built yeshivas and synagogues, and renovated homes.

Karlin-Stolin Synagogue

Karlin-Stolin Hasidim arrived in the Holy Land in the mid-19th century. They founded the Karlin-Stolin Synagogue. The Karlin Hasidim settled in Tiberias, Hebron and Safed. In 1869 they redeemed the site of a former synagogue in Tiberias. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk and Rabbi Abraham Kalisker built this synagogue in 1786 but the Galilee earthquake of 1837 destroyed it. Construction of a new synagogue started in 1870. Rabbi Yochanan Stolin-Karlin was the only member of the dynasty to survive the Holocaust. His grave is in Tiberias. A Kolel, Metivta De Rabbi Yochanan, was exsisted Karlin-Stolin synagogue for many years.

The Carlin Hasidik synagogue is the ancient synagogue at the center of the court; behind the Fallen Soldiers’ Memorial. The synagogue has a notable, Eastern European style Torah Ark.

Karlin Synagogue Tiberias
Karlin Synagogue Tiberias – Old Synagogues Tiberias

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitbesk, one of the leaders of the Chassidic movement, emigrated in 1765 from Eastern Europe together with a group of several hundred followers. During this period, Tiberias graduated to be known as one of the four “Holy Cities,” along with Jerusalem, Hebron, and Safed. The house of Rabbi Menachem Medel of Vitebsk, next to the Etz Chaim Synagogue is now part of the Karlin – Stolin Synagogue.

 

Chabad-Lubavitch Synagogue

The Boyan Chasidim built this synagogue after the earthquake of 1837. The building remained deserted after the War of Independence and the Chabad-Lubavitch Movement restored it.

Chabad Synagogue Tiberias - Old Synagogues Tiberias
Chabad Synagogue Tiberias – Old Synagogues Tiberias
[Sorry this clip is in Hebrew, but it gives you a good view of old Tiberias in the 1890’s, the Court of the Jews, the Boyan Synagogue, the flood of 1934, and its restoration as the Chabad Synagogue.]

El Senor Sephardic Synagogue

The El Senor Sephardic synagogue is still a standing ruin with an intact roof on the north side of the Court of the Jews. This synagogue is one of the last remnants of Jewish life in the Old City. Rabbi Chaim Shmuel HaCohen Konverti, a wealthy and learned Jew, came to Israel in 1827. After the earthquake of 1837, he built this synagogue, a Judaica library and a new home in the Court of the Jews (Hatzer Ha Yehudim). When Konverty passed away, his daughter and son-in-law, Rabbi Yaakov Sha’altiel Ninio, moved into the house. This family lived in the El Ninio House until 1981. Located in a small alleyway between hotels and fast-food restaurants, it’s in poor condition. The “Senor” (pronounced Senior as in Spanish) refers to Konverti.

Domes of the Shalah

The Greek Orthodox built the Greek Orthodox Church and monastery in 1837 the southern end of the promenade, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. According to Jewish tradition, the Greek Orthodox built the church on top of the ruins of a 16th century synagogue called the Domes of the Shalah. Shalah is an acronym for the two tablets upon which the 10 Commandments were writen. The holy Shalah who headed this synagogue is Rabbi Yeshayahu Halevi Horovitz, the Rabbi of Tiberias for 2 years. Rabbi Yeshayahu was buried in the city at the burial ground of the tomb of Maimonides (Rambam). The “Leaning Tower” which is part of the monastery, has become one of the symbols of Tiberias. Daher al-Omar erected the leaning tower on the foundations of the Crusader wall.

The Leaning Tower Tiberias - Photo:Mattes - Old Synagogues of Tiberias
The Leaning Tower Tiberias – Photo:Mattes

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