Restoration of the Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue

There is great excitement in the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem.  The  Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue which was destroyed during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 is being reconstructed and restored to its original glory.  The synagogue, which was completed in 1872, was one of the major landmarks in the Old City, with its dome rising above all other buildings.

Tiferet Yisrael aerial view
An aerial view of the Old City of Jerusalem in the early 20th century. The Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue is marked by the red arrow.  Photograph courtesy of Zoltan Kluger.

The Tiferet Yisrael synagogue was built by followers of Rabbi Yisrael Friedman of Ruzhin and was a place of payer for Hassidic Jews in the Old City.  It is also known as the Nisan Bak Shul after its co-founder Nisan Bak. The Rabbi of Ruzhin is known to have said that while the Temple stood, the prayers of all of the Jewish people rose from it to heaven, but now, during the Diaspora, the prayers ascend from the Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue.

In Hebrew, Tiferet means “glory” or “splendor” and “Yisrael” is the name of the Jewish people.  As the name suggests, the synagogue was majestic.  The Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem Ltd. (JQDC) which is responsible for the reconstruction of the synagogue is taking all of the necessary steps to restore it to its original beauty. The synagogue is going to be 25 meters high and include 275 meters of constructed space.  It will have an elaborate domed roof and its arched entrances and windows will be restored.  The synagogue was also renowned for its ornate decorations such as its iron bimah which too will be reconstructed.

Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue Interior
Interior showing raised bimah topped by ornate ironwork, vintage postcard c. 1900. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

Beneath the synagogue will be three underground levels. The first level will display antiquities and ritual baths discovered in the site, the second level will be used for technical requirements, and the third will function as a conference hall.

A brief history of the Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue

The land for the synagogue was first purchased by the Ruzhiner Hassidim in 1843. Czar Nikolai I was planning to purchase the plot to build a monastery or a church, but the Hassidim closed the deal just days before he purchased the land.  It took the Hassidim years to raise money to build the synagogue and the construction was further delayed by Muslim officials.

The final funds to complete the synagogue were donated by German ruler Franz Joseph.  It is said that Joseph visited Jerusalem en route to the inauguration of the Suez Canal. During his tour of the city, he asked why the synagogue was missing its roof. Rabbi Bak replied “the synagogue has taken off its hat in honor of Your Majesty!”.  Joseph then graciously donated the funds needed for the construction of the dome, which was coined the “Franz Joseph’s cap” by the residents.

During the Israel War of Independence, due to its height and strategic location, it was used by the Israeli forces in the battles against the Jordanian army.  On 21 May, 1948,  the synagogue was completely destroyed by the Jordanian Arab Legion during the ‘Battle for Jerusalem’.

The Jerusalem Municipality approved the rebuilding of the synagogue in 2012 and the cornerstone was laid on May 27, 2014.

Similar to the reconstruction of the Hurva synagogue, the rebuilding of the Tiferet Yisrael synagogue is a momentous step that strengthens the Jewish presence in Jerusalem.