According to a report by the Syrian opposition, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad have damaged an ancient 2,000 year-old synagogue in the Jobar District of Damascus, which is supposedly one of the oldest synagogues in the world. A video posted online shows significant damage done to the exterior area of the synagogue. It also displays an inscription in both English and Arabic which reads “Shrine and Synagogue of Eliyahu Hanavi since 720 BCE.”
The Jewish tradition teaches that the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue was built on top of a cave where Eliyahu Hanavi hid from his persecutors. It was said to have been built by Eliyahu the prophet’s successor, Elisha, and some Jews believe that Elisha appointed King Hazael of Syria at this location. The synagogue was repaired during the 1st century by Eleazar Ben Arach and the structure has reportedly not been changed since that date, thus making the synagogue a unique archaeological treasure. According to the Talmud, Rabbi Rafram bar Pappa prayed at this synagogue.
The Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue has been sacred to Syrian Jews for generations and was a common pilgrimage site, visited by many sick people who believed that the spirit of Eliyahu Hanavi could heal them. In 1210, French Rabbi Samuel Ben Samson, who visited Damascus, described the “beautiful synagogue situated outside the city.” Another anonymous Jewish traveler who visited Syria following the Spanish Inquisition claimed that around 60 Jewish families lived in Jobar and that their remarkable synagogue was supported by “thirteen columns.” The Romanian Jewish historian and traveler J.J. Benjamin, writing in 1864, also claimed that the synagogue was “inlaid with marble,” possessed a grotto, and had an irregularly formed stone, which many believe marks the spot where King Hazael was anointed king by Elisha the Prophet.
After the establishment of the State of Israel, the Jews of Syria suffered increased levels of discrimination, until they finally managed to flee the country. The Syrian government confiscated all property left behind by Syrian Jews. The Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue, upon being confiscated by the Syrian government, was converted into a school for Palestinian Arabs, yet other than that was left untouched until now.
The democide that Assad is committing against his own people has threatened numerous Jewish cultural sites, in addition to many other archaeological treasures. Numerous historic churches and mosques have also been adversely affected by the violence. Thus far, Six World Heritage sites have been damaged by shelling and cross-fire between Syrian rebels and forces loyal to the regime. UNESCO has voiced “grave concern about possible damage to precious sites.” In addition, 70,000 Syrians have lost their lives and over one million Syrians have become refugees.
To view the video of the damage caused to the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue, see below!