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Arunansh B Goswami
An Indo-Israel friendship ambassador.

Indians in Egyptian Synagogue

Author’s father Mr. D. B. Goswami standing outside the Ben Ezra Synagogue. Image Credits: Mr. Arunansh B. Goswami.

While travelling in Egypt with his father the author of this article decided to explore Jewish heritage of this civilisational state in North Africa. Those who have read Hebrew Bible know about the scripture based connections of Jews with Egypt, in the past when author of this article was in Hebron in West Bank he visited the Cave of the Patriarchs (Meʿarat ha-Makhpela) where Prophet Jacob is buried and years after visiting the tomb of Jacob,

Cave of the Patriarchs/Al-Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. Image Credits: Mr. Arunansh B. Goswami.

the author visited Egypt where Jacob’s son Prophet Joseph was made a governor by Pharaoh ruler of Egypt as per Old Testament of Bible. Egypt became a safe haven for the Jews when they were expelled from several European countries from Spain and other places and they congregated at the Jewish Alley that this author visited with his father. 

Prophet Joseph

Great Pyramid of Giza. Image Credits: Mr. Arunansh B. Goswami.

Prophet Joseph one of the 12 sons of Prophet Jacob invited his father and brothers to come and settle in Egypt. Joseph’s two sons were Manasseh and Ephraim. Each son began their own half-tribe, so the descendants of the Tribe of Joseph came to be called the Tribe of Manasseh and the Tribe of Ephraim. Jews of North Eastern India claim to be the tribe of Manasseh and Telugu speaking Jews of India claim to be tribe of Ephraim, about both these tribes this author has written before for Times of Israel.

Ben Ezra Synagogue

Inside Ben Ezra Synagogue the attendant there after the request of the author allowed him to take a photo. Image Credits: Mr. Arunansh B. Goswami.

Near the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, behind the Hanging Church, within the walls of Coptic Cairo is located the oldest Synagogue in Egypt, Ben Ezra Synagogue that the author visited with his father, this synagogue is named after Abraham ibn ‘Ezra, a Jewish religious scholar and philosopher. It was in 2024, that this synagogue was inaugurated by Prime Minister of Egypt Mostafa Madbouly after a decade of restoration work, according to the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (MOTA) of Egypt.

Geniza of this synagogue had accumulated documents over a span of 850 years. A treasure trove of hundreds of thousands of documents, some as old as the 11th century were found in the storeroom of this synagogue. This happened in the 19th century when scholars and collectors recovered what is now called the Cairo Genizah—roughly 210,000 documents pertaining to life in Egypt from the 11th–19th centuries. 

Cairo Genizah

Fortress of Babylon in Egypt. Image Credits: Mr. Arunansh B. Goswami.

The foundation date of the Ben Ezra Synagogue is not known but there is good evidence from documents found in the genizah that it predates 882 C.E. and is probably pre-Islamic. As per Catherine Ansorage in her article for the Blog of the Genizah Research Unit, supported by the Littman Genizah Educational Programme, University of Cambridge “Inside the Synagogue, the opening to the Genizah chamber was high up in the end wall with access via a rickety ladder which had its rungs widely-spaced. Schechter bravely mounted the ladder and jumped down into the enclosure beyond, landing on the dusty fragments of parchment and paper below.

He was closely followed by Margaret….After loading the manuscript fragments from the Genizah into sacks to be transported back to Cambridge, Schechter went on to Palestine to visit his twin brother, and then sailed back to England…Schechter and the sisters all returned to Cambridge to begin sorting and listing the manuscript fragments which became the Taylor-Schechter Genizah collection, work which continues to this day.”

Jewish Quarter

Jewish Alley Old Cairo. Image Credits: Mr. Arunansh B. Goswami.

The Jews were removed from the al-Jawdariyya quarter of Fustat by the caliph al-Ḥākim at the beginning of the eleventh century, and after that, they were concentrated in the area north of it, which became known as the Jewish Quarter. As per Farah Montasser for Ahram Online newspaper “The Jewish Quarter was renowned as the home of the best jewellers of all Cairo, yet today only a few remain and have nothing to do with Jews.”

Mosque of Al-Hakim in Old Cairo. Image Credits: Mr. Arunansh B. Goswami.

 The author with his father walked a lot through the narrow alleys of this area in search of the Jewish quarter and reached the Jewish Alley, Maimonides died at the Jewish Quarter on December 12th, 1204, where it is believed that he was briefly buried before being reinterred in Tiberias in Israel. The Synagogue of  Maimonides is located here.

Conclusion

Beautiful Old Cairo. Image Credits: Mr. Arunansh B. Goswami.

Egypt is a beautiful country with several historical sites, and it is praiseworthy that they have preserved them, even the Ben Ezra Synagogue. The author wishes that peace is established in West Asia so that Hebrews and Arabs can live easily in each other’s countries like they used to do before, Egypt was a safe haven for the Jews who fled due to anti-Semitism in Europe. Let’s hope that rulers of all the states in this region and beyond learn from this tolerance.

About the Author
Mr. Arunansh B. Goswami is an advocate, historian and popular author based in India. He studied history at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi, read law at Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi, completed a diploma in International Environmental Law, and later joined the Bar Council of Delhi and Supreme Court Bar Association in India. Mr. Goswami has written around 200 articles for different prestigious publications, newspapers, magazines and journals around the world. He works as a consultant with Union Minister of Steel and Civil Aviation of India, Mr. J. M. Scindia and Mrs. Priyadarshini Raje Scindia titular Queen of the erstwhile princely state of Gwalior. Mr. Goswami has studied Israeli and Jewish History deeply and travelled extensively in Israel, and other parts of the world, to explore and research about sites associated with Jews.
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