Gilaki Synagogue

Synagogue Attractions

The Gilaki Synagogue is the synagogue in which
today the residents of Red Settlement pray and which has never been closed. It
was built by natives of the Persian province of Gilan.
The architect of this temple is Hillel Ben Haim and his name is inscribed on the brick facade. The temple was constructed in 1896, according to the inscription on the foundation stone. The synagogue has 12 windows, one for each of Israel’s tribes. The bimah, situated under the wooden dome, is a two-tiered octahedral platform with stairs that houses a massive pulpit for reading the Torah scroll.

In 2000 during the renovation
of one of the walls of the synagogue a hiding place was discovered in which
about 50 cases for Torah scrolls were kept. It is likely that this hiding place
(a kind of genizah) contained the Torahs from all the synagogues in Red
Settlement that were confiscated by the Soviet government in the 1930s.

It is clear from the inscription on the foundation stone that the temple was erected in 1896, although there is also another board on the entrance door indicating the year 1857. It is believed that this board belonged to an older synagogue of the Jewish emigrants, on the place of which Gilaki synagogue was erected. The characteristic feature of the Gilah synagogue is its standing roof, over which lies an octagonal drum surmounted by tribes of Israel (the windows of the 19th-century synagogue in Nalchik, in southern Russia, are arranged similarly). The prayer hall measures 17 x 17 meters. In the center of its ceiling is a square inner cupola covered by an octagonal outer drum with windows. The windows were once glazed, enabling natural light to penetrate the synagogue from above. The design of the Gilaki synagogue may have been influenced by a mosque with a similar roof built in the second half of the 19th century. Some recall that in the distant past there was a water fountain for washing hands and feet. Also, in the past, there was no women’s section, and on holidays women gathered in the courtyard of the synagogue and followed the service from there. Today, they are permitted to enter the vestibule.