I write this post in the hope of answering a question that I’ve been pondering for the past few months. What is the world’s longest continuously running synagogue? I ask not about the oldest synagogue building, or about an uninterrupted religious tradition that may have survived geographic dislocation. Rather, I seek to discover the longest continuously worshiped in synagogue building in the world.
My current thinking is that it is London’s Bevis Marks Synagogue (note: I am its rabbi). It was built in 1701 and as far as I know it has essentially been in continuous use since that time. The synagogue already lays claim to being the oldest synagogue in Great Britain, and to being the longest running in Europe, however I think it may in fact be the longest running in the world.
There are no synagogues in the Americas that are even as old as 1701, let alone in continuous use since that time. The majority of European synagogues were closed during the atrocities of WWII and the Holocaust. Furthermore, most Sephardic Jews were forced out of their Middle Eastern and North African homes in the years following the founding of the State of Israel. Israel itself does not have any synagogues from before the eighteenth century that are in continuous use since that time (Safed was destroyed in an earthquake in 1837, Old Jerusalem was off limits to Jews from 1948-1967, Hebron’s Jews were massacred in 1929, and the community of Tiberius was only founded in the 1740s).
I wonder though, whether there are any pre-eighteenth century synagogues still in use from before 1701 in Morocco, Iran or India. Assuming not, then is Bevis Marks Synagogue not in fact the world’s longest running snyaoguge? I ask, because it isn’t just a claim for publicity, but because it would mean that Bevis Marks is home to the oldest authentic continuous Jewish tradition alive today. If true, that would make Bevis Marks a treasure for the entire Jewish people to hold dear to, even more than it already is. Its authenticity is a reality that I find difficult to describe, but experience daily when I pray in its venerable confines. It is a window into the past that captivates all who enter and worship within its walls.
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