The Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City is one of the four quarters of the walled city. It lies directly west of the Temple Mount and sits on a higher hill than the Temple Mount itself. The quarter is home to around 2,000 people and covers about 0.1 square kilometers. Except for the Temple Mount, the entire original city of Jerusalem from the time of David was outside the walls of the present Old City. Over the centuries, ancient Jerusalem has spread northward up the slope.
The Jewish Quarter is also the location of many synagogues and yeshivas (places of the study of Jewish texts.) The area has been almost continually home to Jews since the century 8 BCE. Today, the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is a fascinating place to explore with museums, synagogues, and the Western Wall.
Staring at the Damascus Gate (in the Muslim Quarter) the Cardo in Jerusalem intersects the city to the Zion Gate (in the Jewish Quarter). It was once the main thoroughfare of the city during Roman times. The section of Cardo in the Jewish Quarter dates from Byzantine times and has been beautifully excavated and restored, with the original shops now functioning as gift shops and cafes.
Within the Jewish Quarter, the Hurva Synagogue is one of its crown jewels. Constructed during the 18th century, it was destroyed only a few years later, remaining an empty ruin for over 140 years (this was when it was given the name ‘Hurva’ which means ruin). It was re-built in 1864 and named officially the Beis Yaakov Synagogue (but informally still referred to as the Hurva) and became the main Ashkenazi synagogue for Jerusalem. In 1948, the reconstructed Hurva Synagogue was destroyed by the Arab Legion.
Plans to reconstruct the Hurva Synagogue began when Israel re-gained control of the Jewish Quarter in 1967, however, it wasn’t until 2000 when the construction began. The new Hurva Synagogue was completed in 2010, its vast dome makes the synagogue totally unique and a truly impressive place to visit.
After the Six Day War, about 20 feet below the street in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, a one-of-a-kind discovery was made under a layer of burnt ash and charred timbers. What these Israeli archaeologists discovered was the home of the priestly family Kathros, or what was left of it after Rome burned it in 70 A.D. The home and its artifacts give a fascinating visual account of what was recorded by Josephus:
“So the Romans being now become masters of the walls, they both placed their ensigns upon the towers, and made joyful acclamations for the victory they had gained, as having found the end of this war much lighter than its beginning; for when they had gotten upon the last wall, without any bloodshed, they could hardly believe what they found to be true; but seeing nobody to oppose them, they stood in doubt what such an unusual solitude could mean. But when they went in numbers into the lanes of the city with their swords drawn, they slew those whom they overtook without and set fire to the houses whither the Jews were fled, and burnt every soul in them, and laid waste a great many of the rest; and when they were come to the houses to plunder them, they found in them entire families of dead men, and the upper rooms full of dead corpses, that is, of such as died by the famine; they then stood in a horror at this sight, and went out without touching anything. But although they had this commiseration for such as were destroyed in that manner, yet had they not the same for those that were still alive, but they ran every one through whom they met with, and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many of the houses was quenched with these men's blood.”
Whether rich or poor, such was the fate of the residents of Jerusalem. This remarkable discovery is now a house-museum today that tells the story of this wealthy family, known for their incense production for use in the Second Temple. A round stone weight was found with the words “bar Kathros” on it. This same Kathros family is mentioned in a poem about families that abused their power in the Talmud:
“Woe is me because of the House of Kathros,
woe is me because of their pens.
Woe is me because of the House of Ishmael, son of Phiabi,
woe is me because of their fists.
For they are the High Priests, and their sons are treasurers, and their sons-in law are trustees, and their servants beat the people with staves.”
Despite their tarnished legacy, the Kathros house is a testament to what happened here in 70 A.D. as evidenced by what is left of their home. Upon your descent into their large reconstructed home, you can see the remains of their paved courtyard, plastered walls that separated the kitchen, a ritual bath, and work rooms that were part of a larger building complex (still unexcavated).
Watch a 12-minute film that recreates their family life in Jerusalem during the throes of a civil war inside the city and a siege all around it. This film gives an overview of what their life may have been like, and the horrific events that ended it. The family’s excavated artifacts are like opening a time capsule that personalizes this tragic period, including a woman’s forearm and hand (skeleton.)
Next to this severed arm was a small spear, probably used against the Roman soldiers who cut it off. Other items found within the charred stone walls include coins (67-69 A.D.), clay jars, ceramic and metal kitchen items like bowls, cups, tools, and a grinding stone, inkwells, oil lamps, stone tables, iron nails (from a collapsed roof), a stove, and a still intact drainage channel.
The Burnt House museum is located on Hakaraim Street. This street was originally part of the Upper City area, known for housing the wealthier residents like this priestly family who worked at the Temple.
FROM THE SCRIPTURES
Thus says the LORD: I have returned to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts, the holy mountain. Thus says the LORD of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Thus says the LORD of hosts: If it is marvelous in the sight of the remnant of this people in those days, should it also be marvelous in my sight, declares the LORD of hosts? Thus says the LORD of hosts: Behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country, and I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness” (Zechariah 8:3-8 ESV).