Robbed of Its Congregants and Ravaged by War, the Great Synagogue of Aleppo Lives On, Virtually

June 24 2022

At Jerusalem’s Israel Museum, it is now possible to experience a virtual-reality tour of various historic synagogues. Matti Friedman describes his “visit” to the Great Synagogue of Aleppo, which was destroyed during the brutal assault on the city by Bashar al-Assad’s forces in 2016:

Prayers began at the site, scholars believe, around the 5th century CE, maybe earlier, and continued until the 1990s, when the last Jews left the city. There were breaks only for events like the Mongol invasion that leveled much of Aleppo in the 13th century, for the occasional devastating earthquake, and for the Arab riots and arson that accompanied the United Nations vote on Israel’s creation in 1947. No other synagogue on earth embodied fifteen continuous centuries of Jewish life and memory.

Since the community’s final departure, the building had been empty but intact, guarded by the regime, upkeep covered discreetly by members of the Aleppo Jewish diaspora. But photos after the 2016 fighting showed pulverized stonework, a courtyard full of rubble, twisted iron railings, and Hebrew engravings blasted off the walls. The Great Synagogue was gone.

The virtual exhibit was made possible by a Syrian Jewish woman from Aleppo named Sarah Shammah, at whose behest an Armenian photographer took 51 pictures of the building:

One day . . . in 1947, just weeks before the outbreak of Israel’s War of Independence, Shammah had the ancient building recorded in its entirety by the photographer, whose name has been lost. She seems to have had a premonition. Only days later, on November 29, the United Nations voted to partition the British Mandate territory of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, upon which a mob in Aleppo rioted and torched Jewish homes, shops, and synagogues, including much of the Great Synagogue. . . . After the 1947 riot, Shammah made it to Jerusalem via Beirut with the negatives. The borders were cut a few months later, and she never saw her city again.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Jewish museums, Synagogues, Syrian civil war, Technology


Israel’s Covert War on Iran’s Nuclear Program Is Impressive. But Is It Successful?

Sept. 26 2023

The Mossad’s heist of a vast Iranian nuclear archive in 2018 provided abundant evidence that Tehran was not adhering to its commitments; it also provided an enormous amount of actionable intelligence. Two years later, Israel responded to international inspectors’ condemnation of the Islamic Republic’s violations by using this intelligence to launch a spectacular campaign of sabotage—a campaign that is the subject of Target Tehran, by Yonah Jeremy Bob and Ilan Evyatar. David Adesnik writes:

The question that remains open at the conclusion of Target Tehran is whether the Mossad’s tactical wizardry adds up to strategic success in the shadow war with Iran. The authors give a very respectful hearing to skeptics—such as the former Mossad director Tamir Pardo—who believe the country should have embraced the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Bob and Evyatar reject that position, arguing that covert action has proven itself the best way to slow down the nuclear program. They acknowledge, however, that the clerical regime remains fully determined to reach the nuclear threshold. “The Mossad’s secret war, in other words, is not over. Indeed, it may never end,” they write.

Which brings us back to Joe Biden. The clerical regime was headed over a financial cliff when Biden took office, thanks to the reimposition of sanctions after Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal. The billions flowing into Iran on Biden’s watch have made it that much easier for the regime to rebuild whatever Mossad destroys in addition to weathering nationwide protests on behalf of women, life, and freedom. Until Washington and Jerusalem get on the same page—and stay there—Tehran’s nuclear ambitions will remain an affordable luxury for a dictatorship at war with its citizens.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, Mossad, U.S. Foreign policy