update deskMiddle East

Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo reopens after significant restoration

The current building dates to the late 19th century, though the synagogue’s origins trace all the way back to Maimonides and the Middle Ages.

Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, 2017. Credit: Ovedc via Wikimedia Commons.
Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, 2017. Credit: Ovedc via Wikimedia Commons.

A ceremony in Cairo on Aug. 31 marked the completion of the years-long restoration of the Ben Ezra Synagogue, whose current building dates to the late 19th century though traces its origins to the Middle Ages, including being associated with the Jewish scholar and philosopher Maimonides.

The site is also where the Cairo genizah was discovered. That trove of medieval Jewish manuscripts is now housed at Cambridge University in England.

Mostafa Madbouly, Egypt’s prime minister, attended the ceremony, as did Cairo’s governor, as well as Egyptian ministers of tourism and antiquities, and of local development.

The synagogue is “one of the most important and oldest synagogues in Egypt,” according to an Arabic announcement from the Tourism and Antiquities Ministry. The ministry added that the synagogue is associated with biblical commentator Abraham ibn Ezra (1089-1167).

In late 2018 and early 2019, the Egyptian government announced tens of millions of dollars in funding to repair religious sites, including Jewish ones. The recent project involved architectural restoration, including reinforcing roofs, updating lighting systems and insulation, and cleaning marble columns.

Part of a medieval ark door from the synagogue is jointly owned by the Yeshiva University Museum in Manhattan and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.

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