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August 1, 2015 / 16 Av, 5775
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Jewish History

When the Wall Falls

The Jews of Safed believed the Messiah would come when the gate of the Meron synagogue fell.
Old synagogue of Meron near the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

Old synagogue of Meron near the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
Photo Credit: Danny Ventura

The ancient synagogue in Meron is located on a hill above the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.   Like other Galilean synagogues from the Byzantine era, its entrance faces south, towards Jerusalem.

But what makes this synagogue special is a story from its later history.  A student of Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura wrote in 1495 about the synagogue:

I also saw the synagogue of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, and it’s also a building made of large stones, but now it’s in ruins and there’s only one wall remaining.  And the people of Safed say that when the wall falls, our Messiah will come, speedily in our days.  And I was told that in the year of the Spanish Expulsion lightning struck that wall and it started to fall, and the people of Safed made a day of feasting and happiness.

The Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, just three years before this story was written down.

The broken lintel stands till today, though the Antiquities Authority has made sure it won’t fall on the visiting tourists, by fixing it with cement.

[Thank you to Daniel Ventura and friends who helped with translating the Hebrew-transliterated medieval Italian.]

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