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Great Synagogue at Aleppo, Syria

An ancient site, Aleppo's central synagogue housed the legendary Aleppo Codex (one of the oldest complete texts of the Hebrew Bible) but was looted and burned by rioters in 1947.  Despite the destruction done by the rioting, the Syrian Jewish community raised funds during the early '90s to partially restore the building which was placed under the protection of the Syrian government.  The synagogue's current condition is unknown.

Description

Origins: According to legend, the foundation of the synagogue was originally built by King David's general Joab in 950 BCE after he conquered the city (known in Hebrew as Aram Soba). The oldest surviving manuscript found was dated to the year 834CE. The synagogue also features open-air courtyards that were used for services during warm weather, and seven arks, one of which was known as Elijah's Cave and was used to store the Aleppo Codex for 500 years.

In the 13th Century, during the Mongol conquest, the synagogue was turned into a mosque. The structure was largely destroyed in 1400, only to be rebuilt in 1418. The synagogue accommodated the growth and diversity of Aleppo's Jewish community, whose indigenous members were augmented in the 1500s by a contingent of Spanish origin. Separate prayer groups for each sub-community were held in different chapels, with the western wing for the indigenous community and the eastern wing for "newcomers."

Complex: The main courtyard features a covered pulpit raised twenty stairs above ground-level. A yeshivah study hall is over the synagogue, and a chamber in one of the roof eaves was used as a genizah for "burying" old religious documents. The western hall features three arks for holding torah scrolls, with another three arks in the southern wall. The seventh ark, located in the eastern wing by the courtyard, was the Cave of Elijah (where the Codex was stored).

Attack: Local rioters severely damaged the building in December of 1947, and it has never fully recovered. While parts of Aleppo's Jewish quarter have been destroyed as part of 'urban renewal' projects, the Syrian government continues to protect the Great Synagogue. In 1992, the Syrian Jewish community in New York financed some basic repairs. Aside from rare group visits, the synagogue remains empty.

Codex Rescue: Part of the Aleppo Codex has disappeared, but significant sections of it were smuggled to Jerusalem and are today on display at Israel's "Shrine of the Book" museum beneath the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Aleppo, Syria

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