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.
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.
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
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.