The Shalom Al Yisrael Synagogue
The "Shalom Al Yisrael" synagogue of Jericho was discovered in 1936 during excavations by D.C. Baramki of the Antiquities Authority under the British Mandate. The 10 x 13 meter mosaic floor was identified as a synagogue due to its image of the Ark of the Law (Aron HaKodesh), a menorah, a shofar and lulav, and a Hebrew inscription reading "Shalom Al Yisrael", or "Peace Upon Israel" - from which the synagogue derives its name.
This synagogue, founded in the late Byzantine period (sixth century CE), is noted for the fact that it contains no animal or human representation.
Recent History of the Synagogue
After the Six Day War, some Jews began visiting the "Shalom Al Yisrael" in Jericho. A local Arab built a house over the site and charged admission to visitors. In 1986, the National Parks Authority purchased the building.
Arel Yoav-Kest founded a prayer group (minyan) there the same year. In the early 1990's, Yoav-Kest and Mordechai Rabinovich established a small study group which would soon grow into a full-time yeshiva.
Before the 1993 Oslo Accords, there were few problems. But when Jericho was to be turned over to the Palestinian Authority, students at "Shalom Al Yisrael" were anxious that access to the site would be impeded.
Prime Minister Yitchak Rabin initially wanted the yeshiva evacuated. But after pressure from MK Hanan Porat, IDF head Nehamia Tamari, Chief Rabbi Lau, and others, Rabin agreed to let it remain. Rabin decided to give the "Shalom Al Yisrael" yeshiva special status; it would remain under Israeli control in the context of the Cairo Agreement signed on February 9, 1994. This agreement was a precedent for Joseph's Tomb, where there was also a yeshiva.
Mitzpe Yericho resident and tour guide Mordechai Weiss in the "Shalom Al Yisrael" synagogue
Since the Oslo War
On a visit to the site at the beginning of September 2000, In Jerusalem asked the Palestinian guards about their relationship with the yeshiva. "We're all friends here, and we have no problems" was all that they would say.
This amicable relationship came to an end on Rosh Hashanah. On the night of October 12, 2000, rioters broke into the yeshiva and destroyed prayer books, furniture, and much of the second floor. The Torah scroll was spared damage because it was kept in a safe inside a storage shed next to the mosaic.
In 2005 a group of Israelis were able to visit the synagogue after IDF soldiers restored the site. Currently, the IDF allows prayer services every Friday.
For more about Jericho, see www.JewishJericho.org.il.
(Based on an article by Doron Geller in Nov 17, 2000 issue of "In Jerusalem" © 2000 Jerusalem Post.)