No visit to the Holy Land is complete without some Holy site seeing. While areas in Jerusalem and Nazareth host iconic churches, scattered across the rest of the country are some of the most spectacular synagogues in Israel. Don’t just pass by the Great Synagogue on Allenby, duck inside and admire its beauty; don’t let Tzfat’s ultra-orthodox ideals scare you away, revel in its synagogues’ ancient Israeli Torah scrolls; don’t just stare from afar, explore the interior of Tel Aviv’s seashell-shaped temple. Whether you’re orthodox, conservative, reform or atheist, these stunning synagogues with their stained glass windows and grand structures deserve more than a doubletake.
The most beautiful synagogues in Israel
The Hurva Synagogue was first founded in 1721 and was destroyed several years later, remaining in ruins for 140 years. Rebuilt in 1864, it served as Jerusalem’s central Ashkenazi sanctuary until it was destroyed by the Arab Legion during the 1948 War of Independence. After the area was reclaimed in the 1967 Six-Day War, a commemorative arch was built in 1977, serving as a monument to the destroyed Jewish Quarter. The new synagogue was dedicated in 2010, built to evoke its neo-Byzantine 19th century phase. Today, it stands as a testament to the perseverance of the Jewish residents of the Old City and the world in general. Visitors are invited to admire the beauty of its interior, with the world’s tallest Holy Art, and the breathtaking 360 degree view of Jerusalem from the veranda surrounding the synagogue's dome.
The Cymbalista Synagogue and Jewish Heritage Center aims to contribute to the understanding and meeting of minds and hearts among different sects of the Jewish people. Connecting the religious, from Orthodox, Conservative and Reformed Jews, to the secular, all are invited to partake in services, talks and cultural events at Cymbalista. They aim to promote tolerance through dialogues, lectures, lessons, symposiums and discussion groups related to the Jewish way of life and tradition. An architectural gem, the building was designed by internationally-renowned Swiss architect Mario Botta. With an exterior of reddish stone and interior walls of a golden-hued stone resembling wood, it is worth visiting solely for the beauty.
The Abuhav Synagogue houses the oldest Torah scroll in Safed, a scroll associated with many traditions and legends. It is only taken out for readings on Yom Kippur, Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah. The synagogue was built in the sixteenth century, with its design taking roots in Kabbalistic principles. Its southern wall contains three Arks, the bima is located in the center, with benches for the congregation arranged around it. The interior dome is decorated with depictions of musical instruments used in the Temple in Jerusalem, symbols of the tribes of Israel, and four symbolic crowns. This historical synagogue is a majestic sight to see, and is commonly shown to tour groups visiting Safed for its beauty.
This complex is made up of four Sephardic Synagogues, created in the late 1500s, in order to establish their own community for Sephardic immigrants in Jerusalem. The first to be created was the Yochanan Ben Zakkai, and new ones were built as the demand increased, with Sephardic immigrants continuing to pour into Jerusalem. Today, the Ben Zakkai Synagogue is joined by the Istanbuli Synagogue, the Elijah the Prophet Synagogue and the Middle Synagogue. The Elijah Synagogue was offered to the Ashkenazi community when their synagogues were destroyed in 1948, an arrangement that holds to this day. Each of the four synagogues have a distinct appearance and minor cultural differences.
The Conegilano Veneto Italian Synagogue is located at the U. Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art in the center of Jerusalem. The exhibits demonstrate Jewish art and heritage artifacts coming from Italy, including guests can see the oldest surviving Torah curtain/parochet, dating back to 1572. The synagogue itself was built in the Italian village of Conegilano’s Jewish ghetto in 1701. It was used up until World War I. In the fifties the synagogue was taken apart and sent to Israel, where it was re-constructed in the German Compound, where it remains today. The synagogue is still in use today for weekly prayer services by the local Italian community.
The Jerusalem Great Synagogue was founded in 1982 as a spiritual, religious, cultural and social centre for Jerusalem. It is dedicated to the Jewish lives lost during the Holocaust, and to those who have spent their lives establishing and protecting the State of Israel. The synagogue is a symbol of the hope and continuation of the Jewish people, as well as a reminder of all the hardships they have faced. Come to the Great Synagogue to join in a prayer service, Torah study, lectures and other weekly activities, or simply to admire its beauty. Hosting a world renowned Cantor and choir, stained-glass windows and an exhibit of historic and contemporary mezuzah covers in the lobby, there is much to see here. Free guided tours are available if you call ahead.
When walking down Allenby Street in Tel Aviv, the Great Synagogue is hard to miss. One of the grandest buildings in the city, it is a centre of Jewish life in one of Israel’s least religious cities. Come by for a Shabbat service, or just stop by to see the architectural beauty. As Allenby is one of the most bustling streets in Tel Aviv, it is convenient to come while seeing everything else the city has to offer. The Great Synagogue has been a part of Tel Aviv since the early days of the settlement and many leaders in Israeli history have visited it. It is truly an important part of Tel Aviv’s story.
The impressive building has marble interior walls, a large main section for men and a second-floor, wraparound women’s section, with a Holy Ark made of white marble. Guests are invited to stop in for daily prayer services, or to visit to hear the impressive story of Ohel Yaakov’s creation, when early settlers worked in cooperation with the German Christians living there to evade Muslim law to build it without a permit. Centrally located at the intersection in the middle of the pedestrian mall, it is worth a visit while in the area.
Sometimes referred to as the Recanati Synagogue or the Seashell Synagogue, this synagogue is known for its unique appearance. Designed by architect Yitzchak Toledano, and named for Yehuda Leon Recanati, it was modeled to resemble the seashells on the shores of the Greek city of Thessaloniki, hometown to the Recanati family. The inside of the synagogue is as impressive as the outside, with stained glass windows, soft carpet, a monumental ark and seating that accommodates over 600 people. There are no internal pillars and the dome shape means that all guests and see and hear the service. It is affiliated with Greek Sephardic and Orthodox Judaism.
Tucked away from Rothschild's hectic boulevard, O'hel Mo'ed has come to be known as the Great Sephardic Synagogue of Tel Aviv. Its facade lives up to its implied 'greatness' with impressive architecture inspired by Art Deco and Bauhaus styles, to keep with the White City theme. Duck inside the spiritual site to truly appreciate its splendor: mystical adornments scaled with the golden ratio and a mesmerizing dome that covers the sanctuary.