Bauhaus in Jerusalem: The Yeshurun Synagogue

Its name is based on Deuteronomy 33:5: God is king when the people are gathered together as one.

Jacob Solomon

Officially named the Yeshurun Central Synagogue, this curved Bauhaus international-style edifice is an iconic feature of central Jerusalem.

The name Yeshurun, by the way, emphasizes unity. It is based on Deuteronomy 33:5, which states that God is king when the people are gathered together as one.

The Yeshurun organization originated 90 years ago as a group of forward-looking young people moving from address to address in quest of a permanent place to pray. With the support of Chief Rabbi Avraham Kook, who presented the community with their first Torah scroll, the means were put together to put up the present synagogue in 1936, at 44 King George Street.

The distinguished connections have been maintained. Its worshippers have included the who’s who of Israeli society, including the second president of Israel, Yitzhak Ben Zvi; Yosef Burg, formerly minister of religious affairs; the biochemist and Jewish philosopher Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, and current president of the State of Israel, Reuben Rivlin\.

That distinction is matched by the Yeshurun being the first modern Jerusalem synagogue to employ a professional cantor. The current incumbent is Asher Hainowitz (formerly of Edgware, and St. John’s Wood synagogues, London). Special occasions are chorally accompanied, such as the midnight penitential prayers that inaugurate the High Festivals.

Jacob Solomon

Sabbath and Festival services are formal by Israeli standards, but comfortable. Until a generation ago, Yeshurun was the mainstay of the scholastic and professional-leaning German-Jewish Orthodoxy transplanted to Rehavia, Jerusalem. Those generations have been succeeded by a substantial Anglo membership, which is reflected in the announcements being made in both Hebrew and English.

Although the musical repertoire includes items from Western European composers of synagogue music, the liturgy is from further east: strictly Jerusalem-Ashkenazi, according to the disciples of the Gaon of Vilna. The service is also hallmarked by the ultra-punctilious accuracy of the Torah reading, as well the less-common practice of the Prophets portions being read from a special sacred scroll rather than from standard print.

But it is in Torah learning and service to the community that the Yeshurun really distinguishes itself. Daily attendance at its high-standard, wide-ranging Torah-study circles (shiurim) can pass the three-figure mark, and as the synagogue website http://yeshurun.org.il/ shows, the lessons extend through most of the daylight hours. Specially recommended is the daily English-language daily page of Talmud (daf hayomi) shiur, delivered by Rabbi Shumel Herschler.

Amongst the synagogue's wide-ranging services to the community is a Passover seder for well over 100 people who lack the means or connections to celebrate the festival in the traditional way.

Sabbath services at The Jerusalem Yeshurun Synagogue begin at around sundown in the evening and at 8:30 am in the morning; weekdays at 6:00 am and 7:00 am, and before sundown in the evenings. For details on its shiurim an dother activities, phone +972-2-624 3942 or visit the website.

Jacob Solomon