The Mystery of Jerusalem’s Cave Synagogue

August 3, 2020 | Nadav Shragai
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For many decades, historians and archaeologists have argued about the location of the “cave synagogue,” known only from medieval texts. Now they many have finally found it, writes Nadav Shragai:

The only part of the synagogue’s story about which there is consensus took place in the first half of the Hebrew month of Av [July or August] in the year 1099, when Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders. Jews and Muslims fought shoulder-to-shoulder for the city, but were eventually defeated, and the Crusaders slaughtered the residents of Jerusalem. . . . According to Gilo of Paris, a 12th-century poet, the Jews took the lead in defending Jerusalem and were the last to fall. The Muslim historian Ibn al-Qalanisi says that the Jews of the city fled to the Cave Synagogue, where the Crusaders burned them alive, a story corroborated by the 12th-century Arab writer Sibt Ibn al-Jawzi.

The archaeologist Dan Bahat, who excavated and researched the Western Wall tunnels, thinks that he has discovered the location of the Cave Synagogue. He believes that it lies “in the area of Warren’s Gate,” underground, which is why it is known as the “cave.” Warren’s Gate is named after the English researcher Sir Charles Warren (1840-1927) and is one of four gates that in the Second Temple era led from the Western Wall to the Temple Mount. In the past, it opened to a tunnel that was dug eastward under the Mount and ended in stairs leading up to the Temple Mount plaza.

Bahat thinks that in the early Muslim period (638-1099) the Jews of Jerusalem established their main synagogue near the gate because of its proximity to where they believed the [Temple’s] Holy of Holies was located beneath the Dome of the Rock.

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