Magen Avraham Synagogue, Aden, Yemen

The Great Synagogue of Aden:

The Magen Abraham (“Shield of Abraham”) Synagogue, sometimes referred to as the al-Milama’l-kabira (“the Great Synagogue”), was built in 1858, on the foundation of an older synagogue, destroyed by Arabs. The synagogue was financed by Menahem Messa, a leader in the Jewish community in Aden and David Sasson, a Jew from Bombay (1). The synagogue became a major attraction for passing tourists and evolved to become one of the most beautiful religious buildings in the world. The floors of the building were made of alabaster marble stone and the ceilings and windows were made of breathtaking stained glass (2). The central section of the synagogue contained a marble bima or pulpit (3). The sacred Torah Scrolls, kept in a huge Ark, were decorated with crowns and gold or silver pomegranates (4). Silver lamps hung from the ceiling in front of the Ark. As was tradition in many synagogues, most of the lamps were donated by congregation members. There was a space on the eastern part of the synagogue, separated by a high iron fence, reserved for women (5). The synagogue was built to hold around 2000 worshippers. A yeshiva, a Jewish university, named “Torah ve Hamitzvah” was built next to the synagogue (6). As per tradition, the synagogue faces north looking toward the state of Israel (7). By the end of WWII, after several pogroms in the city, only 1,100 Jews remained in Aden out of an original 4,500. By the mid-twentieth century the population shrunk to only 830 Jews living in Aden. As tension between Israel and the Arab states worsened, coupled with the rise of the nationalist Arab movement, living in Aden became dangerous for many Jews. In 1947, the Jews of Aden were attacked and many of the synagogues located throughout the city were destroyed. After the Six-Day War, the majority of the Jews living in Aden left (8), a combination of the economic downturn which resulted when the British withdrew from Aden and the Suez Canal was closed, and the rise of a Marxist state in South Yemen.

The Great Synagogue of Aden, built for thousands, once filled with eager congregants, existed until 1994, when it was destoyed after Yemen's civil war. 



Magen Avraham/Shield of Abraham:

The concept of the “Shield of Abraham” in Judaism comes from the Tanakh, a collection of Jewish stories and texts. When Abraham, patriarch of the Jewish people, left his native home of Ur and settled in Canaan, he faced trouble with four kings who wanted to get rid of him. They were jealous of his power and agreed that by kidnapping Abraham’s nephew Lot, they could corner Abraham and kill him. When Abraham received the news that Lot was kidnapped, he gathered 318 members of his family and went to attack the army of the four kings, already celebrating what they thought would be an easy victory. God, however, intervened. God protected Abraham in the battle and destroyed the opposing army (9). Abraham returned home and prayed and thanked God for protecting him. God replied to Abraham: "Fear not, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be great" (15:1). Many Rabbi’s interpret the word “shield” to mean “Shield of Abraham.” In a traditional Jewish service, the prayer: "Praised are you Lord, Shield of Abraham" is said in the Amidah, the central prayer of the service (10).

Aden, Yemen

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