Synagogue of the Ramhal

August 29th 2014

There is a tradition in Judaism to refer to Torah scholars with a Hebrew acronym. Thus, Rabbi Moshe Haim Luzatto is more popularly known as The Ramhal. The Ramhal is best known for writing Mesillat Yesharim, an ethical and mystical work that remains in print and is studied until today. Although there are some scholars who dispute this, the Ramhal’s burial place is believed to be in the city of Tiberias in northern Israel, near the grave of Rabbi Akiva.

The Ramchal was an Italian Torah scholar who lived, wrote and taught during the 18th century. The rabbinical establishment in his native Italy was hostile to the Ramhal’s mystically-inspired writings, forcing him to flee, first to Amsterdam and eventually to Akko (also spelled Acco and Acre), on the Mediterranean coast of Israel, where he arrived in 1743.

Akko was originally in the parcel of land awarded to the Tribe of Asher. Today, it is a mixed Muslim, Christian, Jewish city. The original Synagogue of the Ramhal built in Akko was destroyed to its foundation in 1758 by the Bedouins who ruled in Akko at the time. In its place, the Bedouins built a mosque on the site.

The Ramhal’s original synagogue was replaced with a small building to the north of the original location. The tiny Synagogue of the Ramhal can be found in the midst of Akko’s Old City Market, still standing on the alternate plot of land.

The interior has been lovingly restored and features warm brown tones and graceful archways, lined with stone. Modern, wooden bookcases hold Jewish prayer books and the seating is identical to the kind found in modern synagogues throughout the world. The synagogue’s caretaker often treats visitors to a demonstration of the art of writing a Torah scroll.

A noteworthy and distinctive feature of the small prayer house is that the bimah, the table from which the Torah is read, is located on the wall opposite where the Torah scroll is housed. This is consistent with Italian Jewish custom.

Today, the Synagogue of the Ramhal is looked after by the Old Acre Development Corporation. Families who have a special occasion to celebrate, such as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, are invited to rent the Synagogue of the Ramhal for their private events.