Festival stamps 5735 (1974) Festival stamps 5735 (1974) Festival stamps 5735 (1974)

  • Issue: August 1974
  • Designer: M. Amar
  • Stamp size: 20 x 51.4 mm
  • Plate no.: 417 - 419
  • Sheet of 20 stamps Tabs: 10
  • Printers: Government Printers
  • Method of printing: Photogravure

Within the Jewish Quarter the Old City of Jerusalem is a complex of four Sephardi synagogues. Best known is the synagogue of Yohanan ben Zakkai - the name is often applied to the entire compound - while adjoining it is the synagogue of Elijah the Prophet and that called the Istanbuli. Smallest is the Middle Synagogue, at one time an open courtyard connecting the other three.

Established early in the sixteenth century by Jews fleeing from Spain to escape the Inquisition, the first of the four - that of Elijah, the Prophet - was erected around 1516. Jerusalem in those days was a small town with some 10,000 inhabitants, only a few hundred of whom were Jews, and the newcomers immediately raised the standard of Jewish life. Imbued with the culture of their native land, the immigrants built their prayer houses in Moorish style, with graceful arches, domed ceilings and ornate iron grillwork.

As the number of worshippers increased, the synagogue of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, with its distinctive double Ark, was added in honour of the last of the sages to be rescued when the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 G.E. Rabbi Yohanan later set up the Yeshiva of Yavne, thus preserving the Jewish heritage of learning for posterity.

Two architectural details in this synagogue deserve special attention - the first is the placing of the Women's Gallery at street level, indicating that the structure itself arose on deep-set foundations to conform to the Turkish rule forbidding a Jewish-owned building to overtop its surroundings. The second is the imitation "mihrab" or Moslem prayer niche on the south wall, added to make the authorities believe this was a mosque, so preventing disturbances during services.

Next to be constructed was the spacious Istanbuli Synagogue with its four square columns and lofty dome. Like the others, it shows an ornamental disc at the highest point of each vaulted ceiling designed to neutralize the forbidden cross at the rib junction. Finally the common courtyard, which also houses the "mikveh" or ritual bath for the whole complex, was covered over and decorated, providing yet another hall for worship. For centuries these synagogues were places where Jews gathered together to practice their religious rites. Embellished with the finest carved wood furniture; with rich draperies; with paintings and delicate wrought ironwork, Jerusalem's Sephardi synagogues were among the most beautiful of their kind.

With the Jordanian conquest of the Old City in 1948, all its synagogues were wrecked. Most were blown up; others were burnt, while the Spanish synagogue complex was looted and used as cattle byres. Israel soldiers returning during the Six Day War of June 1967 found them in a sorry state, but they were soon cleansed and cleared. Restoration was then undertaken jointly by Jerusalem's Sephardi community, the Municipality, and well-wishers from abroad, including the London branch of the Rothschild family.

The festive opening took place on 25 September 1972 during Succot - the Feast of Tabernacles - and was particularly moving as these were the first of the Old City's synagogues to be rehabilitated after the Jordanian occupation.

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Festival stamps 5735 (1974)