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Jewish Quarter (Jerusalem)

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Title: Jewish Quarter (Jerusalem)  
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Subject: Jerusalem, Christian Quarter, Armenian Quarter, History of Jerusalem, Ma'ale HaShalom
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Jewish Quarter (Jerusalem)

Alley in Jewish Quarter

The Jewish Quarter (Hebrew: הַרֹבַע הַיְהוּדִי, HaRova HaYehudi; Arabic: حارة اليهود‎, Harat al-Yehud) is one of the four traditional quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem. The 116,000 square meter area[1] lies in the southeastern sector of the walled city, and stretches from the Zion Gate in the south, along the Armenian Quarter on the west, up to the Street of the Chain in the north and extends to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount in the east. In the early 20th century, the Jewish population of the quarter reached 19,000.[2]

The quarter is inhabited by around 2,000 residents and is home to numerous yeshivas and synagogues, most notably the Hurva Synagogue, destroyed numerous times and rededicated in 2010.



Mural of Roman cardo, Jewish Quarter
Jewish quarter in the early 20th century: The two large domes in the foreground are the Hurva Synagogue and the Tiferes Yisrael Synagogue, destroyed in 1948.

In CE 135, 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.[3] New structures, such as a Roman bathhouse, were built over the Jewish ruins.[4]

Ottoman era

The Jewish quarter was initially located near the Gate of the Moors and Coponius Gate, in the southwestern part of the Western Wall.[5]

The population of the quarter was not homogeneously Jewish, such a rule being neither desired by the Jewish inhabitants nor enforced by the Ottoman rulers. During the Ottoman era, most of the homes in the quarter were leased from Muslim property owners. This is one of the reasons for the growth of buildings west of the city in the last years of the Ottoman Empire since land outside the city was freehold (mulk) and easier to acquire.[6]

While most residents of Jerusalem in the 19th century preferred to live near members of their own community, there were Muslims living in the Jewish Quarter and Jews living in the Muslim Quarter. Many Jews moved to the Muslim Quarter toward the end of the century due to intense overcrowding in the Jewish Quarter.[7]

In 1857, the Batei Mahse housing complex was built by the Batei Mahse society, an organization of Dutch and German Jews.[8][9]

Jordanian era

Batei Mahase complex, built in 1857

In 1948 during the Arab-Israeli War, its population of about 2,000 Jews was besieged, and forced to leave en masse. Colonel Abdullah el Tell, local commander of the Jordanian Arab Legion, with whom Mordechai Weingarten negotiated the surrender terms, described the destruction of the Jewish Quarter, in his Memoirs (Cairo, 1959):

Weingarten negotiating the surrender with Arab Legion soldiers
"... 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."
—Yosef Tekoah (Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations) quoting Abdullah el-Tal.[10]

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."[11][12] The Hurva Synagogue, originally built in 1701, was blown up by the Jordanian Arab Legion. During the nineteen years of Jordanian rule, a third of the Jewish Quarter's buildings were demolished.[13] According to a complaint Israel made to the United Nations, all but one of the thirty-five Jewish houses of worship in the Old City were destroyed. The synagogues were razed or pillaged and stripped and their interiors used as hen-houses or stables.[10]

In the wake of the 1948 war, the Red Cross accommodated Palestinian refugees in the depopulated and partly destroyed Jewish Quarter.[14] This grew into the Muaska refugee camp managed by UNRWA, which housed refugees from 48 locations now in Israel.[15] Over time many poor non-refugees also settled in the camp.[15] Conditions became unsafe for habitation due to lack of maintenance and sanitation.[15] Jordan had planned transforming the quarter into a park,[16] but neither UNRWA nor the Jordanian government wanted the negative international response that would result if they demolished the old Jewish houses.[15] In 1964 a decision was made to move the refugees to a new camp constructed near Shuafat.[15] Most of the refugees refused to move, since it would mean losing their livelihood, the market and the tourists, as well as reducing their access to the holy sites.[15] In the end, many of the refugees were moved to Shuafat by force during 1965 and 1966.[14][15]

State of Israel

The Jewish Quarter remained under Jordanian occupation until the Six-Day War in June 1967 when Israel occupied it. During the first week after taking the Old City, the Mughrabi Quarter along with its 25 dwellings was razed to create a plaza at the foot of the Western Wall.[17]

In April 1968, the government expropriated 129 dunams (about 32 acres) of land which had made up the Quarter before 1948.[18] In 1969, the Jewish Quarter Development Company was established under the auspices of the Construction and Housing Ministry to rebuild the desolate Jewish Quarter.[19]

According to an article by Thomas Abowd in the Jerusalem Quarterly (Hawliyat al-Quds), the Arab population of the quarter reached approximately 1,000, most of whom were refugees[20] who had appropriated the vacated Jewish houses in 1949. Although many had originally fled the Quarter in 1967, they later returned after Levi Eshkol ordered that the Arab residents not be forcefully evacuated from the area. With Menachem Begin's rise to power in 1977, he decided that 25 Arab families be allowed to remain in the Jewish Quarter as a gesture of good will, while the rest of the families who had not fled during the Six-Day War were offered compensation in return for their evacuation, although most declined.[2] The quarter was rebuilt in keeping with the traditional standards of the dense urban fabric of the Old City. Residents of the quarter hold long-term leases from the Israel Lands Administration.[19] As of 2004 the quarter's population stood at 2,348[21] and many large educational institutions have taken up residence.

Beginning in the years immediately after 1967, around 6,000 Arabs were evicted from the Jewish Quarter, and the start of exclusion of Palestinians from appropriated land by the private company in charge of its development, for the reason that they were not Jewish. This later became legal precedent in 1978 when the Supreme Court made a decision in the case of Mohammed Burqan, in which the Court ruled that, while Burqan did own his home, he could not return because the area had "special historical significance" to the Jewish people.[22]


Before being rebuilt, the quarter was excavated under the supervision of Hebrew University archaeologist Nahman Avigad. The archaeological remains are on display in a series of museums two or three stories beneath the level of the current city as well as outdoor parks. Among the finds were a 2,200 year old depiction of the Temple menorah, engraved in a plastered wall, and the Burnt House, the remnant of a building destroyed in the Great Jewish Revolt against Roman rule. The dig also unearthed lavish homes inhabited by the Herodian upper classes, the remains of the Byzantine Nea (new) Church, Jerusalem's Cardo, a fifth-century 70-foot (21 m)-wide road connecting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Nea Church and remnants of the Broad Wall, twice mentioned in the Book of Nehemiah, which was built to defend Jerusalem during the reign of King Hezekiah. Avigad also unearthed the Israelite Tower, a remnant of Jerusalem's Iron Age fortifications attesting to the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem in 586 BCE.[23]

In 2010, Israeli archaeologists uncovered a pool built by the Roman Tenth Legion. The dig uncovered steps leading to the pool, a white mosaic floor and hundreds of terracotta roof tiles stamped with the name of the Roman unit. It may have been part of a larger complex where thousands of soldiers once bathed and suggests that the Roman city was larger than previously thought. During the Jordanian occupation, a sewing factory was built on the site.[24] An Arabic inscription dating back to the 10th century from the Abbasid Caliphate was also unearthed in 2010.[25]


Map of the Jewish Quarter(2010)
Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter.




  • Sidna Omar Mosque (abandoned)

Archaeological sites


  • Cardo market
  • Hurva Square



  1. ^  
  2. ^ a b Hattis Rolef, Susan (2000). "The Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem". Architecture of Israel Quarterly. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  3. ^ "The Christian Heritage in the Holy Land" edited by Anthony O'Mahony with Goran Gunner and Hintlian. ISBN 1-900269-06-6. Pages 15 and 18. Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, "Pre-Constantinian Christian Jerusalem". At this time Hadrian expelled all Jews from the territory.
  4. ^ The Mughrabi Gate Access - the Real Story, Israel Antiquities Authority
  5. ^ This is Jerusalem, Menashe Har-El, Canaan Publishing House, Jerusalem 1977, p.276
  6. ^ Alexander Scholch, "Jerusalem in 19th Century (1831 - 1917 AD)" in "Jerusalem in History", Edited by K.J. Asali. 1989. ISBN 0-905906-70-5. Page 234. Quoting Muhammad Adib al-Amiri, "Al Quds al-'Arabiyya", Amman, 1971, page 12 (85% of Jewish Quarter was waqf owned), and 'Arif al-'Arif, "Al-Nakba", vol 2, Sidon and Beirut, page 490 (90%).
  7. ^ Jerusalem in the Nineteenth Century: The Old City, Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi and St. Martin's Press, 1984 p.14
  8. ^ "The Jewish Quarter – BATEI MAHSE Square". Retrieved 26 July 2012. 
  9. ^
  11. ^ Shragai, Nadav (November 28, 2006). "Byzantine arch found at site of renovated Jerusalem synagogue".  
  12. ^ Elizabeth Warnock Fernea (1992). The Struggle for Peace: Israelis and Palestinians. University of Texas Press. p. 53.  
  13. ^  
  14. ^ a b Meron Benvenisti (1976). Jerusalem: The Torn City. Isratypeset. p. 70. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f g Avi Plascov (1981). The Palestinian Refugees in Jordan 1948–1957. Frank Cass. 
  16. ^ Shepherd, Naomi (1988). "The View from the Citadel". Teddy Kollek, Mayor of Jerusalem.  
  17. ^ Esther Rosalind Cohen (1985). Human Rights in the Israeli-Occupied Territories, 1967-1982. Manchester University Press. p. 210.  
  18. ^ "Christians in the Holy Land" Edited by Michael Prior and William Taylor. ISBN 0-905035-32-1. Page 104: Albert Aghazarian "The significance of Jerusalem to Christians". This writer states that "Jews did not own any more than 20% of this quarter" prior to 1948.
  19. ^ a b Zohar, Gil (November 1, 2007). "Trouble in the Jewish Quarter".  
  20. ^ The Moroccan Quarter: A History of the Present, Thomas Abowd, Jerusalem Quarterly, nº7, 2000. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
  21. ^ shnaton C1404.xls
  22. ^ Abowd, Thomas (2000). "The Moroccan Quarter: A History of the Present". Jerusalem Quarterly 7. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 
  23. ^ Geva, Hillel (2003). "Western Jerusalem at the end of the First Temple Period in Light of the Excavations in the Jewish Quarter". In Vaughn, Andrew G;Killebrew‏, Ann E. Jerusalem in Bible and archaeology: the First Temple period. Society of Biblical Literature. pp. 183–208.  
  24. ^ Archaeologists Uncover Roman Pool in Jerusalem CBS News
  25. ^ staff (17 February 2010). "Jewish Quarter: Arabic inscription found". The Jerusalem Post. 

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