5 Significant Synagogues to Visit When Touring Israel

April 25th 2019

It’s hard to know how many synagogues there are in Israel but estimates put the figure at over 10,000. With Israel being the homeland of the Jewish people and with a rich history dating back many thousands of years, it’s no surprise there are some very significant synagogues to visit when touring the Holy Land.

Below are five synagogues we think are of particular interest. They include sites of historical and religious importance as well as buildings with unique and eye-catching designs.

The five synagogues are:

1. Beit Alfa Synagogue

The discovery of the ancient Beit Alfa Synagogue was truly an accident. No one expected it to be there when an irrigation ditch was being dug for the nearby Kibbutz Hefzibah, back in 1928. Dating from the sixth-century AD, the synagogue – believed to have been a two-story basilical building – features beautiful mosaics and inscriptions, in remarkably good condition.

Located near the northern city of Beit She’an, the remains of the synagogue are open to public viewing. You’ll be able to see a variety of stunning mosaics depicting numerous biblical scenes and a large Zodiac wheel adorning the floor.

2. Synagogue of the Ramhal

Rabbi Moshe Haim Luzatto was a renowned Jewish-Italian religious scholar who lived during the 18th Century. More popularly known as The Ramhal (based on a Hebrew acronym of his name), this great man was best known for writing Mesillat Yesharim, an ethical and mystical work still studied to this day. After fleeing persecution in Italy, he arrived in Akko and founded a synagogue. 

The Synagogue of the Ramhal – a replacement for the original destroyed by Bedouins – has been lovingly restored and is a fascinating place to visit if you’re near Akko.

3. Tunisian Synagogue Akko

There are many attractive synagogues in Israel but the Tunisian Synagogue in Akko (known also as Ohr Torah) is something else entirely. It’s famous for its mosaics that can be found on the walls, floors and ceilings. Sometime in the 1950s, a single mosaic was ordered from artisans in Kibbutz Eilon. The synagogue leadership was so delighted by the design, they ordered more… and more. Together with exquisite stained glass windows, the 1000-year old building is definitely a visual treat.

4. Bar’am Synagogue

One of the oldest synagogue remains in all of Israel can be found in the Bar’am National Park in the Upper Galilee. Near to the border with Lebanon, the ancient synagogue dates back to the times of the Mishnah, approximately 1,800 years ago. The doorways, windows, and façade up to the second level remain largely intact and can be viewed close up by visitors.

An Aramaic inscription naming the synagogue’s original builder can also be viewed as well as a pair of stone lions. Nearby to the synagogue is the beautiful Bar’am oak forest reserve which is also well worth a visit as well.

5. The Hurva Synagogue

The Hurva Synagogue is located in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. “Hurva” translates as “ruin” because for most of its existence, the synagogue was in ruins. It was first built in the 18th century by followers of Judah HeHasid but was soon after destroyed by local Muslims and remained abandoned for 140 years. It was rebuilt but then destroyed again in the war of 1948. It was only in 2010, when the building was eventually completed and opened.

Today it’s known as a center for World Jewry and a renowned place of study.

The Four Sephardi Synagogues

Also in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City you can find four very important synagogues, collectively known as the “four Sephardi synagogues of Jerusalem”. These include: The Yochanan ben Zakai Synagogue; The Istanbuli Synagogue; The Eliyahu Ha’navi Synagogue; and The Emtsai Synagogue.