Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Synagogue in Syria Again Attacked, This Time by ISIS

Nadene Goldfoot                                                           

News came to me that in a suburb of Damascus, Syria was an ancient synagogue that was discovered by IS (formerly ISIS).  They took it over and discovered an underground city with treasures that they have destroyed.  It was a Jewish city with gold, statues, paper, scrolls and dead bodies.  IS pulled out all the gold and were excavating and destroying everything in it.

It turns out to be the  Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue which was an ancient synagogue complex that was destroyed in May 2014.  It was also known as the Jobar Synagogue and was built in the former village of Jobar now surrounded by the city of Damascus.  "Jobar is in northeast Damascus. It is a vital link to the East Ghouta area, much of which is held by insurgents, including towns like Harasta and Douma."  The Talmud, which states that the village was one of ten surrounding Damascus inhabited by Jews is an early source of information about Jobar.   This synagogue was connected to a complex with rooms for the rabbi and other functionaries of the community.  It was built on top of a cave traditionally thought to have been the prophet Elijah's when in hiding.

 Elijah lived in the 9th century BCE during the reign of Ahab and Ahaziah.  He is popularly believed to come to the help of Jewish communities and also individuals in dire distress.  Elisa in my book is Elisha,(in Hebrew the letter shin can be either an S or an Sh sound)  also of the 9th Century BCE and an Israelite prophet.  He lived during and after the reign of Jehoram.  He was the disciple and successor of Elijah, and like Elijah was brave and forceful and interested in politics.  He foretold Hazael's accession to the Syrian throne and he anointed Jehu as king over Israel.  He was a prophet for a good 60 years.   The center hall was said to be the place where Elijah anointed Elisa.  During the Syrian Civil War it was hit by mortar bombs, looted, and later demolished or destroyed at the end of May 2014.

In it was a plaque showing it was from 720 BCE and was thought be be 2,000 years old, but with that plaque would have been almost 3,000 years old. It was in 721 BCE that the Assyrians had attacked Israel and taken away the best of the male and female citizens.   This had been a place of Jewish pilgrims visiting for many centuries.  It is also the burial place of a wonder-working sage of the 16th century.
              Damascus, Syria (Syria had 22,505,000 population before Civil War) Damascus' population is about 17,951,639.  Many people have moved into Damascus since the fighting.  

On May 31, 2013 it was reported to have been burned to the ground during the Syrian Civil War with both the government and the rebel forces accusing each other of doing it.  Then in June 2013 the al Aaan Broadcasting Corporation published a video demonstrating that the synagogue had not been destroyed but had suffered from the effects of mortar fire with damage to the ceiling and the bimah (where the rabbi would speak from.)  In December 2013, photographs of the synagogue also surfaced that showed it was not destroyed.

The Daily Beast reported on Jerusalem Day, May 29, 2014, that the synagogue left wing and nave were totally demolished.  Again rebel and Syrian army claims accused each other.  They showed pictures.

The synagogue, said to have been built by Elisha,  was built on top of a cave where the prophet Elijah concealed himself during persecution.  it was said to have been repaired during the first century by Eleazar ben Arach.  Another tradition says that the biblical anointing by Elisha of King Hazael of Syria took place in this synagogue.

The Talmud is one of the earliest sources which mentions the existence of the synagogue of Jobar (A-beit Govar the Synagogue inside Jobar).  It said that Rabbi Rafram bar Pappa prayed there.  However, it is clear that the town of Abi Gobar was in Babylonia and not near Damascus.

The history during the medieval period was that Jobar was a Jewish village with a Muslim presence.  In 1210, a French Jew, Samuel ben Samson, visited Damascus and told of the beautiful synagogue outside the city in Jobar.  Another Jewish traveler who arrived a few years after the Spanish immigration (1492's Spanish Inquisition) found 60 Jewish families living in the village of Jobar who had a very beautiful synagogue.  The writer described it as having 13 columns supporting it.  Another described it as reminding him of the Mosque Moawiah.  the interior was supported by 13 marble pillars, 6 on the right and 7 on the left side and everywhere there was inlaid marble.  There was only one door to enter.  Under the holy shrine was a grotto which you could walk down a flight of about 20 steps.  At the entrance of the synagogue toward the middle of the wall to the right was an irregularly formed stone where one could see the traces of several steps.  Tradition was that on this step sat King Hazael when the Prophet Elisha anointed him king.

A 19th century report was that the wicked had entered the synagogue at Djobar and pillaged the whole edifice.  The holy scrolls were torn into pieces.  They had even taken some of these holy coverings of the scrolls and other sacred writing and used them most contemptuously.  This was found in a private letter from Damascus June 4, 1840.

The New Yorker wrote about the Jews of Damascus and the ritual murder they were accused of.  during the rioting that followed in 1840, the mob fell upon the synagogue and pillaged it and destroyed the scrolls of the Mosaic Law.  In 1847, only one Jewish family was left in the village and they took care of the synagogue.  On festival days Jews from Damascus returned there for services.  During the year Jews would come and visit, probably to say Yortzeit.

After May 14, 1948 when Israel was established again, Jews in Syria faced much discrimination.  The Syrian government enforced more restrictions on them.  Jewish property could not be sold and those that had been abandoned were taken.  The synagogue was taken over and converted into a school for displaced Palestinian Arabs.

"In 2013, during the Syrian civil war, Jobar was the site of several chemical attacks."

7/22/14:  News of 4 hours ago  (1:57pm my time) is that tanks were in Jobar, and the ISIS was mentioned.  

Resource:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jobar_Synagogue
http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=a23_1406047323 mentioning ISIS
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cVLdPhw9d8         fighting in Jobar
the New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia

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