יום שני ט"ו בתשרי תש"פ 14/10/2019
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  • The Mission Continues

    As in the past so it remains today - we were and still are under the selfsame commitment to adhere to the directions of the Gedolei Yisrael, who stand guard against breaches of purity threatening our camp. When we were required to ask – we asked. When we were instructed to depart – we left. The moment we are summoned back to raise the flag, every other consideration is pushed to the side and we answer: We are ready!

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  • Harav Yisrael Friedman zy”a, the Rebbe of Husyatin

    מוטי, ויקיפדיה העברית

    The ancestral chain of Harav Yisrael Friedman, the founder of the Husyatin chassidic court, originates with the holy Baal Shem Tov. The Husyatin chassidus has its roots in Galicia and eventually came to Tel Aviv, during the turbulent years between the two World Wars.

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  • Maccabi'im Gravesite

    In honour of Chanukah, we will discuss a fascinating, ongoing investigation attempting to establish the place of burial of Mattisyahu Kohen Gadol and his family.

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In Jewish Sites

‘The Custom of the Place’

Chapter 2: Buildings from a Bygone Era In this chapter we will deal with Beit Shearim - a town from the period of the Mishna, and take a look at the ruins of the ancient settlement ‘Megido’

M. Shurak 26/11/2009 10:34
(Chapter 1 – Introduction and Crusader’s Fortresses)

Beit Shearim

About 20 kilometers from Haifa, at the western edge of Emek Yizrael and adjacent to Kiryat Tivon, lies an ancient town dating back to the time of the Mishna, which in its prime merited to house the seat of the Sanhedrin. It was also the hometown of the great Sage Rebbe Yehuda HaNassi.

Historic Background

Beit Shearim is a Jewish town dating back to the days of the Mishna, at the time when Rebbe Yehuda HaNassi relocated the seat of the Sanhedrin and his own home to this town. However according to archaeological findings, the town existed for many years before this – evidence proves it was in existence since the days of the Kings of Israel. The town is in fact purported to have belonged to the royal house of the Hasmoneans. The first written mention of Beit Shearim is found in the writings of historian Yosef ben Matisyahu, and the place is described as an estate belonging to a princess of the royal house of Herod. Indeed the most ancient remains found in Beit Shearim date back to the period of Herod – they consist mainly of small, hewn stones.

In the Talmud, the city is first mentioned as an agricultural town and the home of the Tanna, Rav Yochanan ben Nuri.

The City at its Prime

Approximately in the year 3897 (136-137), after Bar Kochva’s rebellion, many Jews came to settle in Beit Shearim and slowly the town became a prominent center of Jewry. It was precisely during those years that Rebbe Yehuda haNassi left the city Shefaram and relocated to Beit Shearim. Together with him the seat of the Sanhedrin also moved, and the city reached its zenith in those glorious days. Here Rebbe Yehuda haNassi sat and taught Torah, and produced a generation of outstanding Torah scholars, almost unprecedented in their greatness. There he arranged the Mishna, and there too he was buried in the year 3980 (220). For the last 17 years of his life he did not live in Beit Shearim but moved together with the Sanhedrin to Tzipori, however this was primarily due to health reasons.

Burial Caves in the Town

Deep in the bowels of the earth, the residents of Beit Shearim carved out numerous spacious burial caves, and joined them via a network of tunnels. That is how an entire subterranean ‘City of the Dead’ came to be. Inside the caves are numerous embossed inscriptions and engravings, including many obviously Jewish symbols such as: a seven-branched Menorah; an Aron haKodesh(holy ark); Shofar, Lulav and Esrog. In addition, there are other inscribed symbols that have no connection to Judaism, such as boats, animals, images of men and various geometrical shapes.

Many of the inscriptions appear in the Greek language, which was the widespread language then in the land. There are however some inscriptions in Hebrew and Aramaic too.

After the passing of Rebbe Yehuda haNassi, and his subsequent burial in the area, the town’s cemetery became a holy site. It was considered the central burial site of Jews in that period, and affluent Jews from other places in Eretz Yisrael and abroad purchased plots there.

Around the year 4112 (352) the city was destroyed by the Romans. The town was inhabited for a short while once again during the Byzantine era, and then in the 19th Century it became a small Arab village by the name of Sheik Avrik.

the national park in Beit Shearim [צלם]

Uncovering the Ruins

The National Park of Beit Shearim

For many long years the area was barely recognizable for what it once was, up until the year 5663 (1903), when groups of German archaeologists uncovered several sites that seemed to contain ancient graves. The diggers reported their findings, but nothing was done about it at the time.

A number of years later, in the year 5688 (1928), the site was discovered by chance by Alexander Zeid, a founding member of ‘HaShomer’. He had taken up residence in the place so as to guard the land. Immediately upon his discovery excavations began, and the underground city containing over 30 burial caves was exposed. The assumption is that there are many more caves which were not dug up. Out of all the caves, only 2 are open to the public.

Remains of a Beit Knesset (house of prayer) were also found, and a large public building called ‘Basilika’. Other public buildings were discovered, and residential homes, a glass factory and textile house. All these findings dated back to the time of the Mishna.

Close by to the ancient site archaeologists found a monument in memory ofAlexander Zeid, hy’d, who was murdered at the hands of Arab marauders.

Today, the site is a large national park, with a museum located in the central hall displaying artefacts found in the excavations.

the gateway of the city Megido, First Temple era צלם

Tel Megido

Tel Megido is an archaeological site from biblical times, and is considered one of the most significant historical sites in Eretz Yisrael. The area of the site extends over 60 dunam and rises to a height of 60 meters above the plains of Emek Yizrael.

History

The ancient city Megido was situated in a highly strategic location, due to which it acquired its military importance. It was located near the ‘Derech haYam’ junction, one of the most important crossroads at the time since it branched off into three directions: to Syria, to the bay of Haifa and to Emek Beit Shean. In addition, the proximity of the city to two fresh water fountains and large expanses of fertile land near Emek Yizrael, contributed another advantage to the town.

In Tenach the town of Megido is mentioned eighteen times. David haMelech conquered the city, and in the days of his son Shlomo the town began to develop and thrive. At the end of Shlomo’s reign the city was conquered by Sheshak king of Egypt, but after a few years it reverted to Jewish hands. Later, King Achav transformed the town into a thriving ‘chariot town’, where horses and military chariots were kept on a permanent basis. The town became a bustling military center during that time.

The prominence of the city began to decline after the king of Ashur, Tiglas Pileser the Third, entered and conquered the town. Even though it was captured again afterwards by Paraoh Necheh, it did not recover yet continued to decline. It was in Megido that King Yeshayahu found his death, when he went out to war against Paraoh Necheh.

Excavations and Findings in Megido

Many excavations were carried out in Megido,the first of which took place between the years 5663 - 5665 (1903 – 1905) by Dr. Gotlieb Shumcher, an engineer and resident of Haifa. He worked on behalf of the German fund for research in Eretz Yisrael. Shumcher dealt mainly with the channel that crossed through the hill from north to south. In later years, additional excavations were carried out by various different groups.

In the course of the excavations thirty layers of inhabitation were uncovered, beginning with the biblical period of the forefathers up until the period of the Second Temple. Numerous invaluable findings were uncovered, most noteworthy of which include: several holy sites and altars, the city gate called ‘Shaar haCnaani’ dating back to the bronze era; a granary from the Cna’anite era; ‘Shaar Shlomo’ from the days of King Shlomo’s reign, and many others. The most pivotal finding was the water reservoir, which also dates back to the time of King Shlomo. During the days of King Achav the water system was refined, and was connected to the reservoir so that people could draw water without leaving the city walls. The system comprised of a deep shaft, 25 meters long, with a 3-meter high tunnel at its base running 70 meters underground. The base of the shaft was lower than the water level of the fountain, so the water flowed from the fountain to the shaft, and could be drawn up with the aid of a rope and bucket. The reservoir itself was restored in the year 5767 (2007).

Today, Tel Megido can be found within a well maintained national park, under the management of the Parks and Nature Reserves Authority. In the year 5765 (2005), it was declared a ‘World Heritage Site’, by the UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization).

Entrance to the city Megido, First Temple eraן [צלם]

The coming chapter will deal with additional sites from various periods, and will be the last chapter in the series.