In Encyclopaedia Britannica, a synagogue is described as “A prayer place for the Jews.” In old Greek, it means: “The usual place where the Jews assemble to receive religious teachings and to worship.” Some of these Temples were built close to a source of water, as much as for protection from any attack, not just for ablution!
The Synagogue of Ben Ezra in Cairo was originally named El-Shamieen Church, and is situated today behind the “Hanging church”.
The Synagogue once had an old copy of the Old Testament, and it was said that Ezra the Prophet (Al-Azir) had written it. Yet, It is believed that the site of the Synagogue where the box of Baby Moses was found.
Ben Ezra Synagogue was originally a Christian church that the Copts had to sell, to the Jews, in 882A.D in order to pay the annual taxes imposed by the Muslim rulers of the time, and therefore Abraham Ben Ezra, who came from Jerusalem during the reign of Ahmed Ibn Tulun, bought the church for the sum of 20,000 dinars.
Through the centuries, the Synagogue received extensive restorations and renovations. The current building dates back to 1892 after the original collapse.
It is built in the shape of a basilica (rectangle), consisting of 2 floors; the 1st dedicated to the men while the 2nd is dedicated to the women. The entrance is situated on the north side.
The 1st floor:
It is rectangular in shape, measuring 17m in length and 11.3m wide. It is divided into 3 parts, the largest being the middle one (4.75 m in width); these parts are divided by steel bars painted in a marble-like color.
There is a platform located in front of the sanctuary, where the rabbi stands to read the Torah. The lector platform is in an octagonal shape and is made of marble. A copper fence is situated on the 8th side of the platform, where the Torah, and its rolls, is rested.
There is a memorial Stella located in front of the platform. In the middle of this Stella is a top part consisting of 2 semi-arches carried on 3 pillars, with a height of 85cm. there are 2 rooms on each side of the Holy Ark on the 1st floor.
The Most Important Decorations of the Synagogue:
This decoration goes back to the Turkish Period. It is clearly seen in the side halls with patterns such as star patterns, pentagonal patterns, and rectangles.
Used as a background for the geometrical patterns, they are also found around the Star of David in the middle of the ceiling. Here is a mixture of the Hatai and the Roman decorations, which are floral patterns and are called “Ottoman Arabesque”. This decoration includes floral patterns, palmettos, and lotus flower.
The southeastern side of the top of the Torah closet is decorated with stalactites, on top of which is a semi-circle with ray decorations. The frame of the Torah Ark is a mimic decoration and on each of the two sides are 2 wooden columns with geometrical patterns. The 2 columns have stalactite capitals of the Ottoman period.