The Jewish Quarter is one of the Old City of Jerusalem‘s four quarters. It is filled with history and culture that draws millions of visitors each year.
You can enter it through Zion Gate or Dung Gate.
However, you can also enter through Jaffa Gate and then walk through the Muslim shuk or Armenian Quarter to get there.
History of the Jewish Quarter
The history of Jerusalem is complex as it was conquered by many empires and dynasties.
However, aside for about 400 years under Roman and Byzantine rule, when Jews were forced out and forbidden to return under penalty of death, Jews have lived in Jerusalem almost continually for over 3,000 years.
For centuries the whole of Jerusalem was Jewish, however as different empires conquered the city, some of their peoples came to inhabit it and stayed leading to a “Jewish Quarter.”
When the Roman Emperor Hadrian built the city of Aelia Capitolina on the ruins of ancient Jerusalem, the Tenth Legion set up their camp on the land that is now the Jewish Quarter.
New structures, such as a Roman bathhouse and the Cardo, were built over the Jewish ruins.
Hadrian was the first to expel the Jews from their holiest city in response to the Bar Kokhba Revolt upon penalty of death.
This law held for centuries and Jews were only permitted to enter, one day a year, on the 9th of av, the day the Romans razed the city and the Jewish Temple.
Jews were permitted to move back to Jerusalem after the Muslims conquered the Byzantines and has been almost continually home to Jews ever since.
However, depending on who ruled Jews were often forced out again, or attacked by Muslim settlers.
The Crusaders overtook Jerusalem from the Muslims and emptying the city of all those they had not cut down and replaced the population with Christians including Armenians.
For four hundreds of years The city continued to change hands until the Ottoman Empire took took control.
The Jewish quarter was initially located near the Gate of the Moors and Coponius Gate, in the southwestern part of the Western Wall however over the canries it grew.
Life in the Old City was relatively peaceful until the British Mandate when Jews were no longer considered second class citizens, as they were under Muslim rule.
The British Government issued the Balfour Declaration which declared British support for the creation in Palestine of a “national home for the Jewish people.”
Hostilities grew from the Muslim residence towards their Jewish neighbors and there were Arab riots occurred in 1920 and in 1929 leading to the massacre of dozens of Jews.
1948 and After
Six months after the United Nations voted to approve Israel as an independent country, Israel declared it’s independence on May 14, 1948.
However, the next few days after the declaration, armies of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Syria attacked Israeli troops inside the area of what had just ceased to be Mandatory Palestine, thereby starting the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.
The Jordanians besieged the Jewish Quarter and house after house, position after position, fell to the hands of the Jordanians.
The Jews were pushed into the southern part of the Jewish quarter in the area of Four Sephardic Synagogues and Batei Machseh.
As a result of the war, Israel took control of the area which later would become West Jerusalem and Jordan took control of East Jerusalem including the Jewish Quarter.
Colonel Abdullah el Tell, local commander of the Jordanian Arab Legion, described the destruction of the Jewish Quarter in his memoirs:
“… The operations of calculated destruction were set in motion…. I knew that the Jewish Quarter was densely populated with Jews who caused their fighters a good deal of interference and difficulty…. I embarked, therefore, on the shelling of the Quarter with mortars, creating harassment and destruction….
“Only four days after our entry into Jerusalem the Jewish Quarter had become their graveyard. Death and destruction reigned over it…. As the dawn of Friday, May 28, 1948, was about to break, the Jewish Quarter emerged convulsed in a black cloud – a cloud of death and agony.”
The Jordanian commander is reported to have told his superiors: “For the first time in 1,000 years not a single Jew remains in the Jewish Quarter. Not a single building remains intact. This makes the Jews’ return here impossible.”
He also said that “the systematic demolition inflicted merciless terror in the hearts of the Jews, killing both fighters and civilians.”
He was aided by local Arab guerrilla fighters who joined with the Legion of Jordan.
When the Jewish Quarter surrendered, about 1,500 Jews were removed from their homes, which were then looted and set on fire, and gathered into Batei Mahaseh Square.
Most were deported to West Jerusalem but about three hundred were taken into captivity in Jordan.
During the nineteen years of Jordanian rule, a third of the Jewish Quarter’s buildings were demolished.
In addition, out 27 in the Old City, 22 synagogues had been razed. The remaining five were pillaged and stripped and their interiors used as hen-houses or stables.
Fifty-eight synagogues, including the 700-year-old Hurva Synagogue, were destroyed and desecrated. The small number that remained were pillaged and stripped and their interiors used as hen-houses or stables.
The Red Cross housed Arab refugees in partly destroyed Jewish Quarter and appropriated Jewish houses. However, the conditions became unsafe for habitation due to lack of maintenance and sanitation.
The Jewish Quarter remained under Jordanian control until it was reunified in 1967 after Jordan attacked Israel during Six-Day War.
The quarter was rebuilt in keeping with the traditional standards of the dense urban fabric of the Old City.
WHAT TO DO IN THE OLD CITY
The Temple Mount
The Temple Mount refers to the elevated plaza above the Western Wall that was the site of both the First and Second Jewish Temples. It is and always has been the holiest site in the world to Jews.
in the 7th century Muslims began viewing Jerusalem and the Temple Mount as a holy site. Today it is considered the third holiest sites to Muslims, after Mecca and Madina.
At the end of that century the shrine known as the Dome of the Rock was built on the Jewish holy site shortly and Al Aqsa mosque was as well shortly there after.
Non-Muslims are permitted to visit the plaza during set days hours. However they are not allowed to enter the Dome of the Rock.
Western Wall (Kotel)
The Western Wall or the Kotel, is the last remaining wall of the Second Temple. It is revered as a holy site because it is the closest to the Temple Mount Jews are legally allowed to pray.
In addition to Jews, many Christian tourists also come pray at at the wall.
Prayers there include regular Jewish prayers that are said three times a day, saying Psalms, and personal heartfelt prayers.
It is also tradition to leave a note asking G-d for things. These can be anything your heart desires, big or small.
Western Wall Tunnels
The Western Wall Tunnels offer a tours that follow tunnels under ground, between the houses of the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall Plaza, and extends to the end of the wall under the Muslim Quarter.
The site contains unique archaeological findings from many periods of Jerusalem’s 3,000 years of existence.
This includes evidence of Jewish settlement and government from the First Temple, 2,700 years ago.
This guided tour will bring your through archaeological sites, give historical information and context of discoveries found there.
The Jerusalem Archaeological Park
The Jerusalem Archaeological Park and Davidson Center are located nearby the Western Wall in the Old City.
The park contains artifacts from different periods: the First and Second Temple periods, the Byzantine period, Muslim period, the ancient Crusades period, as well as others.
The most exciting findings are: the walls of the city from the First Temple period, the steps leading up to the Temple, the original street from the time of the Second Temple period, shops, ritual baths, and more.
However, you can also walk the streets and climb the stairs pilgrims to the Temple Mount did 2,000 years ago.
The Davidson Center is a museum within the archaeological park, with presentations and exhibitions related to findings from the site.
In addition, a virtual model with local guidance will take you back in time to the days of the Second Temple.
With it, you can and walk with pilgrims on the street, buy a sacrifice, immerse yourself in the mikveh, and ascend to Temple Mount.
The Herodian Quarter
The Herodian Quarter is a museum that exists under the Jewish Quarter. Here you can see ancient houses, ritual baths, and housewares which belonged to priests who worked in the Temple.
The Burnt House
The Burnt House, also known as Katros House, is a museum presenting an excavated house from the Second Temple period.
The house, was found under a layer of ashes and destruction, indicating that the house had been burned down. It was the first evidence found of the total destruction of the city by the Romans.
In the museum, you can walk through rooms that are virtually intact with artifacts from the time of the Second Temple.
Old Yishuv Court Museum
The Isaak Kaplan Old Yishuv Court Museum tells the story of the inhabitants of the Old Yishuv, displayed through their original belongings, objects, and tools.
It also tells of the struggles they had to face; stories of birth and marriage, happiness and sadness, and faith in God.
The museum depicts the period decor and aspects of daily life in the Jewish Quarter from the mid-19th century to the end of the Ottoman rule just after World War I.
Plugat Hakotel Museum
The Plugat HaKotel Museum tells the seldom mentioned story of the Western Wall Platoon, a group of 24 young men and women who risked their lives to keep a Jewish spark alive at the Western Wall.
Through the museum, located in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, together with other Zionist museums in Jerusalem, you can learn of historical Zionism beginning.
Museum visitors will begin the tour with the story of the shofar and will continue to stories of the heroism of the Irgun members who were brought up on the same values instilled by the platoon.
Jewish Quarter Defender's Memorial
Jewish Quarter Defender’s Memorial features rare images which capture the last days before the fall of the Jewish Quarter in 1948.
It also has short video where residents and fighters recall their experiences from those dramatic moments.
Thirty-nine fighters and thirty residents of the Jewish Quarter fell in the War of Independence.
Forty eight of them were buried in a mass grave where the Gal-Ed memorial monument now marks, Batei Machseh Square.
The Hurva Synagogue
The Hurva synagogue was constructed in 1864 in what was known as the courtyard of the Ashkenazim.
It became the most important synagogue for Ashkenazi Jews living in the old city. However, it was destroyed by the Jordanian Legion forces during the fall of the Quarter Israel’s War of Independence.
The Hurva Synagogue was re-inaugurated 62 years after its destruction in March of 2010.
Four Sephardic Synagogues
The Four Sephardic Synagogues are interconnected and served as the center of the Old City’s Sephardic Community.
Yochanan ben-Zakai and ELiyahu Ha-Navi Synagogues were established first. Later the Kahal Zion and the Istambuli Synagogue, build by Turkish Jews.
During the war of independence, many of the Quarter’s residents sheltered here. After the Six Day War, the Four Synagogues were renovated and prayer was established.
The Ramban Synagogue, is the second oldest active synagogue in the Old City.
It was founded by the scholar and rabbi Nachmanides, otherwise known as Ramban, in 1267.
The Broad Wall
The Broad Wall is an archaeological site that was once Jerusalem’s protective wall during the First Temple period and one of the most important discoveries uncovered in Jerusalem.
Until the discovery of the wall, many scholars believed that the capital of the kings of Judah until the destruction of the Temple was only in the limited area of the City of David.
However, the discovery of the wall in the 1970’s reveled that the city had expanded to include the hill to the west of the Temple Mount.
This proved that the Kingdom of Judea was in fact much larger and greater than previously thought.
The Israelite Tower is an archaeological site that was a significant find since it testifies to the size and strength of Jerusalem during the First Temple period.
The tower is a significant find since it testifies to the size and strength of Jerusalem during the First Temple period.
It also is evidence of Jerusalem’s destruction at the hands of the Babylonians.
HOLY TEMPLE MUSEUM
The Temple Institute is recreates items that were a necessary part of worship in the Jewish Temple.
These items are on display at the Holy Temple Museum, including High Priests garb and 60 sacred vessels created in accordance with biblical requirements.
Also on display is a gold and marble model of the second temple.
AISH HATORAH CENTER
Aish Center overlooks the Western Wall from across the Plaza. They host thousands of visitors annually to free religious lectures given daily, as well as their Discovery Seminar.
The Center is also home to a 1.2-ton model of the Holy Temple which sits on the rooftop terrace overlooking the site where the real Temple once stood.
The model is the largest of its kind, constructed at a scale of 1:60. It also incorporate authentic materials like gold, silver, wood, and Jerusalem stone.
In addition, it features a system that raises the sanctuary section of the Temple. This offers an internal view of key elements such as the Holy of Holies, the Menorah and the Ark of the Covenant.