The Jobar Synagogue, a Jewish synagogue in Damascus and one of the oldest synagogues in the world and the holiest Jewish site in Syria, believed to be thousands of years old has been damaged and looted as clashes have consumed the surrounding neighborhood in the Syrian Civil War. The Jobar Synagogue, in the neighborhood of the same name in northeastern Damascus, is a relic of the area’s once sizeable Jewish population. The synagogue fell out of use after the foundation of Israel in 1948 and the departure of most of Syria’s Jews during the next few decades. Before Syria’s conflict began, it was opened only occasionally for tourists and pilgrims.
The synagogue has been looted and burned, and its roof blown off. Torah scrolls and other Judaica plundered from the ancient Damascus synagogue are said to be held by an Islamist group inside Syria, which is demanding the release of prisoners captured by the Assad regime in return for the items.
Reports on the destruction and looting of the millennia-old Jobar synagogue in Damascus emerged as early as March, but those responsible for the theft have never been clearly identified, as government and opposition forces traded accusations. Also many Christian churches have been destroyed during the ongoing conflict in Syria, and Christian minorities are being forced to flee their homes.
A source involved claiming to be negotiating for the release of the Judaica and their extraction from Syria, said the stolen items include at least three or four Torah scrolls as well as ancient Jewish scrolls and silverware. The source said that Qatar may be involved in the negotiating. Members of the expatriate Syrian-Jewish community are also reportedly involved in the talks.
Only a handful of Jews remain in Syria as a remnant of the ancient community which numbered 4,000 as late as 1992. Syrian rebels accused the government in March of looting the synagogue before burning it to the ground, allegations the regime vehemently denied.
Tradition holds that the biblical prophet Elisha built the first structure on the site over a grotto in which his teacher, the prophet Elijah, had sought refuge and concealed himself from persecution and here Elijah anointed his successor, Elisha, as a prophet.
An inscription in English at the synagogue reads, “Shrine and synagogue of prophet Eliahou Hanabi since 720 B.C.,” although the actual date of founding is disputed. One of the earliest mentions of the synagogue is in the Talmud, which states that Rabbi Rafram bar Pappa prayed there. The synagogue is said to have been repaired during the first century by Eleazar ben Arach. In the past, the sick were brought to the cavern below the synagogue and left there alone at night, in hopes that Elisha’s spirit would heal them. At the entrance of the synagogue, toward the middle of the wall to the right, is an irregularly formed stone, on which can be observed the traces of several steps. Tradition asserts that upon this step sat King Hazael when the Prophet Elisha anointed him king”. Another inscription, in Arabic, said it was the tomb of Al-Khidhr, held in some Islamic traditions to be a prophet who traveled with Moses.
Franjieh Synagogue in Damascus
“Frangi” was the largest synagogue in Damascus. The synagogue was founded by the Spanish – Sefarai Jews. The al-Franj Synagogue stood near the Talisman Hotel in the Jewish quarter of Old Damascus. The artist Maurice Nseiri designed the gates, floor and platform for the Al-Franj Synagogue in the Old City ( also the grand gates of the Syrian Presidential Palace in Damascus).
Nseiri designed the 10-foot-high brass doors for the Al-Franj Synagogue, which include overtly Jewish images, such as a Torah crown inlaid in silver and copper. Nseiri also engraved his father’s name, “Tzion,” on a door. Just bearing that name was illegal in Syria.
The secret police came and asked about the name on the gate and he explained that it is his father’s name and that he donated the door in his memory. They allowed it, despite its association with Zionism.
The Destruction of Syria’s Oldest Synagogue
Jobar –جوبر is a historical village on the outskirts of Damascus, 2 km northeast of the old city walls. In it is the most venerated site for Syrian Jews, an ancient 2,000-year-old synagogue in commemoration of the prophet Elijah, which has been a place of Jewish pilgrimage for many centuries. Rabbi Rafram bar Pappa was recorded as having prayed in the synagogue of Jobar.
After the establishment of the State of Israel, Jewish property in Jobar could not be sold and those that had been abandoned were confiscated. A religious centre in the neighbourhood was taken over by Palestinian Arabs and the old synagogue was converted into a school for displaced Arabs.
Today 93% of Jobar lies in ruins.