The Shalom Al Yisrael Synagogue

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The "Shalom Al Yisrael" synagogue of Jericho was discovered in 1936 as part of excavations by D.C. Baramki of the Antiquities Authority under the British Mandate. The 10 by 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. A contemporary ancient synagogue in nearby Na'aran, on the other hand, does contain animal images and a representation of the biblical Daniel.


Recent History of the Synagogue

After Israel's victory in the 1967 War, some Jews began visiting Shalom Al Yisrael in Jericho and other holy sites throughout the West Bank. 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.

There were few problems before the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, members of the prayer group say. But when Jericho was to be turned over to the Palestinian Authority, the regular students at Shalom Al Yisrael were anxious that their access to the site would be impeded or even blocked altogether.

Prime Minister Yitchak Rabin initially wanted the yeshiva evacuated and closed. But after pressure from MK Hanan Porat, IDF head Nehamia Tamari, Chief Rabbi Lau, and others, Rabin agreed to let it remain if proven that the yeshiva had been functioning before Olso. 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. 



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. The army, however, refused to go in and retrieve it. In the end, the yeshiva gave the IDF liason officer the code number to the safe, and the Palestinians opened it and returned the Torah scroll. It is presently housed at Mevuot Yericho, about a mile away from the Shalom Al Yisrael synagogue.

Addendum

In 2005 a group of Israelis were able to visit the synagogue after IDF soldiers restored the site.  Currently the IDF allows only monthly visits - on the first of every Jewish month - in order to conduct prayer services.

For more about Jericho, see www.JewishJericho.org.il.