The Belz Great Synagogue is the biggest synagogue in Jerusalem, with an ark that is so huge it has been included in the Guinness Book of World Records. This imposing monolith of a building is located in northern Jerusalem and was built by the Belz Hasidim, a Hasidic sect dating to the nineteenth century. The Belz Great Synagogue is also significant for its uncanny resemblance to the Holy Temple built by Herod thousands of years ago.
Like the original Belz synagogue in Europe that was destroyed by the Nazis, the Belz Great Synagogue in Jerusalem took 15 years to build. The building was dedicated in 2000 and now towers imposingly in the Jerusalem skyline, rising above the surrounding apartment complexes like a new incarnation of the Holy Temple. The project was financed by the Belz community as well as by philanthropic donations.
The main interior of the synagogue can house up to 6,000 worshipers—an unheard of number for most synagogues, which usually seat hundreds or less. The record-breaking ark is 12 meters high, weighs 18 tons, and can hold 70 Torah scrolls. (In contrast, most synagogue arks can hold about six or less.) Nine chandeliers gracing the synagogue are each strung with 200,000 pieces of Czech crystal, lending the sanctuary a lofty ballroom splendor. Since it is so huge, the building is utilized not just for prayer, but also for weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and communal events. Smaller study halls and communal facilities are included in the building.
The original Belz synagogue, located in the Ukrainian town of Belz, was similar in size to the new Jerusalem version. The building was destroyed in 1939 by the Nazis, who first attempted to burn it down. When the synagogue proved too huge to be destroyed by such means, the Nazis forced the Jews of the community to dismantle the synagogue one stone at a time.