The Ben Ezra Synagogue, Cairo, Egypt
This famous synagogue in Fostat (Old Cairo) was called originally the synagogue of ‘the men of Israel’, built in the year 882 on the remains of the basilica of a Coptic church that had been sold to Jews. It became known as the Synagogue of Elijah the Prophet and also as the Ben Ezra Synagogue.
Large-scale festivities were held there after the festivals of Passover and Sukkoth (Tabernacles), when the synagogue was the goal of pilgrimages made from various parts of North Africa. Its remarkable wooden doors with 16 wood-carved panels probably dating from the 11th century are housed today in Jerusalem (Israel Museum).
One of the most famous Jews of the Middle Ages, Moses Maimonides (Moshe Ben-Maimon -HaRambam), physician, philosopher, authority on religious law, worshipped at this synagogue while living in Cairo, as a result of which it was popularly called the Maimonides Synagogue. During a restoration in the 1890’s, a great discovery took place: a medieval Geniza (hiding place) was found. Sacred books and worn-out scrolls of the law were put away in the Geniza. Thus, thousands of original documents of the Middle Ages were found.
From the 1980’s the synagogue went through a restoration process and today it is an historical monument and one of the most visited Jewish sites in Cairo.