Oldest synagogues in the Land of Israel

Oldest synagogues in the Land of Israel
Ruins of the ancient synagogue of Kfar Bar'am in the Galilee

The designation oldest synagogues in the Land of Israel requires careful definition. Many very old synagogues have been discovered in archaeological digs. Some synagogues have been destroyed and rebuilt several times on the same site, so, while the site or congregation may be ancient, the building may be modern.

Archaeologists have uncovered many remains of synagogues from over two thousand years ago, including several that were in use before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Synagogues securely dated to before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem include the Migdal Synagogue, the ancient synagogue at Gamla, the synagogue of Capernaum, the Herodium synagogue, the synagogue of Qumran, and the small synagogue at the top of Masada.


Wadi Qelt Synagogue

The Wadi Qelt Synagogue located in Wadi Qelt west of Jericho, is the oldest synagogue that has been found to date.[1][2] It dates from between 70 and 50 BCE, and was built as part of a Hasmonean royal winter palace complex in the warm desert oasis of Jericho.[1][2]

Despite the excavator's identification of a building among the Hasmonean palatial complex near Wadi Qelt as a synagogue,[3] the matter is far from conclusive. In fact, few scholars seriously consider this suggestion in discussions of Second Temple period synagogues, though even fewer have openly challenged the identification in print.[4][5]

Oldest buildings

The Torah Ark of the Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue

One of the oldest synagogue buildings currently in use is the Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue in Safed, which dates from the 16th century CE.

Synagogues rebuilt on ancient sites

The Karaite Synagogue in the Old City (Jerusalem)

Several synagogues in Israel are located on the sites of far older synagogue buildings but, because the older buildings were destroyed by non-Jewish rulers of the city, the present buildings are reconstructions. The Karaite Synagogue in Jerusalem is the oldest of Jerusalem's active synagogues on a site in use as a synagogue for many centuries. It was first built in the 8th century. It was destroyed by the Crusaders in 1099 and Jews were not allowed to live in the city for 50 years. In 1187 Saladin restored the site to the Karaite Jews who promptly rebuilt the synagogue. It has been active continuously since its foundation, except during the Crusades and Jordanian occupation of the city from 1948. In 1967, the Israeli government returned the synagogue to the Karaite community, who finished rebuilding it in 1982.[6]

See also

  • Palestinian synagogues


  1. ^ a b Israel's Oldest Synagogue, Archaeology, Volume 51 Number 4, July/August 1998 by Spencer P.M. Harrington
  2. ^ a b Oldest Synagogue Found in Israel, March 29, 1998. Associated Press
  3. ^ Ehud Netzer, "A Synagogue from the Hasmonean Period Recently Exposed in the Western Plane of Jericho," Israel Exploration Journal 49 (1999): 203-31.
  4. ^ David Stacey, "Was There a Synagogue in Hasmonean Jericho?" http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/Hasmonean_Jericho.shtml
  5. ^ S. Japp and H. Schwarzer, "Synagoge Banketthaus oder Wohngebaude?" Anitke Welt 3 (2002): 277-88.
  6. ^ Jerusalem curiosities, Abraham Ezra Millgram, Jewish Publication Society, 1990, pp. 123-4

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