The Jerusalem Great Synagogue is the spiritual heart of Jerusalem second only to the Wailing Wall. At first leading religious leaders were against establishing one central synagogue but in 1958 a small synagogue began operating and pretty soon it became obvious that a larger space was needed. The plot of land was purchased with the help of donations, primarily from Sir Isaac Wolfson a British Jewish philanthropist. It cost 18 million dollars to create the synagogue. It was inaugurated in 1982 as the national synagogue, the synagogue was dedicated by Wolfson to the Jews who died in the holocaust and to IDF fallen soldiers. The synagogue is also a reminder of Jewish pride and eternal continuity of the Jewish spirit in the face of adversary. It is a center not only for Israeli Jews but for world Jewry.
Structure of the Great Synagogue
The basic plan of the Great Synagogue was based on that of the ancient Jewish Temple of Jerusalem. The synagogue is composed of the Sephardic Hechal Jacob Synagogue where prayer and Torah study is conducted in the Sephardic tradition; Bet Midrash Be’er Miriam where Torah is studied and daily prayers held; Friedler Banquet Hall where social and cultural events are held like Kiddush, simchot and lectures; the Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Entrance Hall where you can see the Jacob, Z”L and Rosenbaum Mezuzah collection from around the world, it is one of the largest collections in the world.
The synagogue is designed to maximize the acoustics and the synagogue has 1400 seats, 850 men and 550 women. The main Bima (prayer stand) is lit by a stunning colossal chandelier and above the Aron Kodesh are stained glassed windows depicting spiritual and physical realms. Other stained glass windows in the synagogue sanctuary depict Jewish themes like Shabbat and Biblical events. The Great Synagogue is next to the Hall of Solomon, the Israeli Rabbinate at 56 King George Street, Jerusalem.
Use of the Great Synagogue
Locals and visiting Jews alike use the synagogue regularly and on Shabbat and religious holidays professional cantors are invited to fill the space with their beautiful voices. The prayer services are conducted in the Orthodox Ashkenazi tradition and Sephardic prayers are held in the small inner temple in the synagogue’s lobby. At this religious, cultural and social Jewish center Torah classes, lectures and Torah study is conducted.
There is a permanent Cantor and an internationally recognized choir which strives to preserve the repertoire of cantorial music from Jewish communities around the world as well as contemporary Jewish liturgical music. Head coverings are required and the men and women sit separately.
Groups of first graders come here to celebrate receiving their first Siddur (prayer book); the Chief Rabbi of Israel is inaugurated here; group bar and bat Mitzvot are held here for Ethiopian and Russian immigrant children and many Jews and gentiles come here to learn more about the Jewish faith.