Visit Egypt's Oldest Synagogue

August 15, 2011
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The simple temple behind the Church of St. George is a must-see in Cairo before embarking on a Nile cruise or other explorations of Egypt. The Ben Ezra Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in Egypt, located on a site that has been holy to the Jews as long as they have been in Egypt. In fact, it is said to be where Moses was found in the reeds.

Still, visitors don't need to be Jewish to appreciate this temple. It was originally built as the Church of St. Michael the Archangel in the 4th century. The church was closed by Khalif al Hakim, the Fatimid ruler who mandated bans on things such as sleeping at night.

The building was restored in the 12th century by Abraham Ben Ezra, the rabbi of Jerusalem, and was renovated in the 1890s, 1990s and again this year. Massive amounts of ancient documents have been found in its walls.

Mark Cohen, a Jewish scholar and professor at Princeton University, built a database of these primary documents called the Princeton Geniza Project. He told a university media outlet that the documents detail Jewish commerce and commercial activity as far back as the 11th century.


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