The Jordan River 5
Bet Shean. 7
The Land of the Israelites
and the Philistines. 10
Tel Aviv 12
The Sharon Valley. 14
Jewish Customs. 16
Massada: The last refuge. 17
Christians and Jews. 18
Why the temple was destroyed 19
Religious Tolerance. 21
Yad Vashem. 22
The Avenue of the Righteous. 23
The Wailing Wall 25
The Western Wall Tunnel 26
The Menorah 27
The Temple. 28
Ramparts Walk 30
David's Tower 31
David’s Tomb. 32
The synagogue of the time
of Jesus. 36
Mea Shearim 38
Mt. Zion: The Upper Room. 39
Mt. Zion. 40
The Mt. of Beatitudes. 46
The Pool of Bethesda. 50
Ecce Homo 52
Understanding the Holy sites of Israel.
Tourism to Israel is a big industry mostly because people from every corner of the world and
from every different religious persuasion want to visit the Holy Sites. This is such an important aspect of Israel that it has virtually given Israel
a new name; The Holy Land.
The expression “Holy
Land” is translated from the Hebrew “Eretz Hakodesh”. An exact translation of this is, however,
“The land of the holiness”. This expression conveys the idea that holy events occurred here.
Events that occurred here were holy because they
revealed to mankind the two aspects of G-d; His might and His love.
In other words it is the events which are holy,
not the land. One tends to consider the land holy because G-d chose this land to perform these events. The reason why G-d
chose this land is a philosophical question out of the scope of this book.
My intention in this collection of articles is to
help the visitor to Israel understand
Admittedly one can reach an understanding of the
Biblical events without visiting Israel
but a visit adds immeasurably to understanding..
The articles don’t try to give complete factual
descriptions of the Holy sites. Factual details are only given when they are necessary for understanding the significance
of the events.
Some articles don’t deal with specific sites
but more with concepts that I hope will help the reader understand the cultural environment in which these events occurred.
The articles I’m referring to are: Religious
tolerance, Jewish customs, Jews and Christians, The Temple and Jewish Survival and The Synagogue at the time of Jesus.
Jordan River is first and foremost a significant boundary. It's a natural dividing line between
East and West of the Jordan Valley.
It's always been a political dividing line between nations like the Amonites, Moabites and Edomites, on the eastern side of
the Jordan and the Land of Israel
on the Western.
it's the border between the Kingdom of Jordan
and Israel. In ancient times it was a
symbolical spiritual dividing line between Paganism and the belief in G-d.
crossed over the Jordan R. and became the first Hebrew, a word which means “the one who crossed over” Referring
to one who crossed over from Paganism to the belief in one G-d. From then on Hebrews were people distinguished by two main
They lived on the West Bank of the Jordan River in the land known as the Land of the Hebrews.
As mentioned in connection with Joseph who is described to Pharoah as a man from the Land of the Hebrews[i].
They believe in One G-d who is also associated with the Land of the Hebrews. As when G-d tells Moses to describe Him to Pharoah
as the G-d of the Hebrews[ii]
Jew is bound to G-d by Biblical laws. The more laws he observes the mor strongly is he bound to G-d.
laws applied only to those living in Israel,
the land West of the Jordan R. For example the laws of tithing,the laws of the 7th year of rest and many others.
If you didn’t live in Israel you
could’t observe these laws. In this way the Jew living outside Israel
is less bound to G-d.
over the Jordan River was like crossing over the threshold into one’s home. A man might
leave his home but will always return. The Hebrews left their land several times in their history but they always returned.
Abraham went to Egypt because there was
famine in the land. Father Jacob left to escape quarreling with Esau only to return 21 years later. Nebuchadnezer forced the
Jews to leave and took them to Babylon, but they returned
75 years later under Nehemia.
point of return, both in the days of Father Jacob and under Nehemia, was the Jordan River.
Shean is a city in the north of Israel,
on the crossroads between
Jordan and Israel.
It's the first city you meet when you approach the land of Israel from the East through the Yarmuk valley. You have to pass Bet Shean to continue
Westwards through the Jezrieel Valley
and on to the Mediteranean sea.
and settlers have entered the land of
Israel through the Yarmuk
Valley. In 586 BCE Nebuchadnezzer entered here and Bet Shean was the
first Israelite city he conquered. The Israelite captives he carried off as slaves to Babylon
were probably gathered at Bet Shean and then marched through the Yarmuk valley.
Jews established the first Jewish cities in Babylon, Sura,
Pumpedita and Nehardea, where nearly 1000 years later the Babylonian Talmud[iii] was completed.
the settlers, Jacob was probably the first.. Possibly then the city was known as Succot, which means booths or dwelling places.
is a Jewish tradition that Bet Shean was also the first settlement to be rebuilt by Nehemia when he returned with the exiles
from Babylon. He too might have named the city Succot. It
was the realisatioon of a dream expressed in the book of Psalms: "By the rivers of Babylon
there we sat and wept when we remembered Zion."
marked the beginning of the rebuilding of Israel.
It's significance is acknowledged by the Rabbis of the Talmud who refer to Bet Shean as the gateway to paradise, the beginning
of G-d's salvation.
law defines the concept "Holy Land" as all cities settled by Nehemia. Bet Shean, therefore,
forms the Eastern limit of the Holy Land.
definition of the concept "Holy Land" is important in deciding whether crops must be tithed or not, or whether land should
lie fallow in the 7th year of rest or not. Crops East of Bet Shean, for example are not subject to certain tithes
and those lands needn't lie fallow on the 7th year of rest.
Pompey conquered Israel in the year 63 BCE he also entered the land through the Yarmuk valley. Bet Shean was also the first city
he encountered. He declared it a Roman city, one of ten, known as the Decapolis. He changed
its name to Scytopolis He could have called it Succotopolis, but this would have
sounded too Jewiish This certainly wouldn’t have been acceptable seeing that he wanted to deny that the Jews were the
original inhabitants. Pompey declared that the city had originally been the possesion of Pagan people from Syria and Arabia. These people accepted Rome as their nation and Roman culture ad their own. The Jews would never give up their nation
and their culture.
removed the Jewish population of the town. Henceforth Bet Shean, became an exemplary Pagan city. As in other cities, like
Hippos, Seporis, Trachea etc. the Jews fiercly resisted being expelled from their cities and having them "paganised". Naturally
to no avail. They were simply slaughtered or carried off to the slave markets and amphitheatres of the Roman world.
you visit Jaffa you walk through quaint, winding, cobblestone
alleyways lined with old buildings and walls made out of a honey brown colored stone, full of tiny holes, like air bubbles,
where the sea can trickle in, called “Kurkar”. Taken from the sand dune, hardened
over the millions of years of its existence, where it’s built and which gives it its high vantage point. Overlooking
the small harbor, one of the most ancient in the world you’re in an Arab fishing village, destroyed by Napoleon Bonaparte
in 1799, rebuilt in the 19th century by the Turks and again in 1966 by the Tel Aviv municipality as an artists
Jaffa goes back to the 3rd Millennium before Christ,
and was built and destroyed more than 20 times in its long history, its ruins today form the scenic hill known as “Tel”
grassy hill, which stands in the center of “modern day Jaffa”(19th Cen.)
is a great place for picnickers and has a spectacular view over the Mediterranean and the modern city of Tel Aviv.(20th Cen.).
you sit there munching your sandwiches, made with fresh bread from Abulafia, the famous bakery nearby, open day and night,
you not only have plenty of food to eat but quite a bit of food for thought aswell. For example, you might ponder on why G-d
showed Peter the vision of the sheet with the unclean animals in Jaffa[iv] and not anywhere else. I hope that my answer to this question will enlighten without
conflicting with the answers given by traditional Biblical commentators.
Being a coastal city, and the
safest harbor on the Eastern Mediterranean coast in Biblical times, Jaffa was, like all the other coastal cities, such as
Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gaza, more open to Pagan influence than the cities of the interior; Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth Cana
etc. The coastal cities were inhabited, successively, throughout history by the Canaanites, Philistines and the Greeks, seafaring
nations from the Mediterranean basin, who had settled here at various periods in history and had brought with them religious
customs and eating habits completely opposed to the laws of the Torah of the Israelites. I’m sure that Pork and shell
fish, forbidden in the Torah to be eaten, were popular amongst those nations. These laws of the Torah make it impossible for
Peter, a Jew to have a meal with the Pagan inhabitants of Jaffa.
Not eating with them would create a social barrier between Peter and the Pagans, the people to whom he is supposed to bring
the message of the Gospels. The vision he has permits what the Torah had forbidden, namely to eat the flesh of unclean animals
and so eat and socialize with the Pagans, making it possible for him to preach the Gospel and convert them to Christianity.
What did they fight about?
a visit to the land of Israel
begins at a place where the enemies of the Israelites, the Philistines, lived in Biblical times, some 3000 years ago. The
Ben Gurion airport is located here for the same reason that the Philistines lived here, namely it’s flat, ideal for
chariots in the past and airplanes in the present. This part of Israel
is known as the “Shefelah” and it lies between the Mts. of Jerusalem and Judea in the East and the Mediterranean coast in the West.
the Israelites and Philistines settled here in the 12th century. The Philistines in the flat “Shefela”
the Israelites in the mountainous areas to the East. This division was the result of a technological gap between the two nations.
Let me explain what I mean by “technological gap”.
Philistines were a technologically advanced nation who had come from the Greek islands with the knowledge of how to make iron,
a hard metal necessary for the manufacture of chariots. The Israelites, on the other hand were somewhat “retarded”
technologically and only knew how to make bronze, a soft metal, good for making short daggers and arrowheads but not for making
chariots, swords or spears. They weren’t any match for Philistine chariots. The Philistines conquered the flat “Shefela”
and the Israelites were left in control of the mountain areas, where chariots were useless. Only in the reigns of David and
Solomon did they learn how to make iron and conquered the “Shefela”.
the battles mentioned in the Bible, from the time of the Judges to the days of king Solomon were fought over these two areas:
The Philistines wanted to conquer the mountains because that would give them strategic control over the entire land: the Jordan
valley to the East and the Shefela to the West. The Israelites wanted to conquer the “Shefela” for its economic
advantages; the main international highway, the “Via Maris”(Way of the Sea) connecting Egypt
with Babylon, passed through here, the harbors were here; Jaffa(Joppa)
Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gaza and
first book of Samuel is replete with these mammoth struggles; David and Goliath, The Battle of Aphek, where the Ark of the
L-rd was taken, and the two sons of Eli were killed, David’s battles with the Philistines in the Valley of Rephaim and
one of the great Philistine victories, the Battle of Bet Shean, where Saul took his own life.
the time Solomon came to the throne of Israel, however, the game was over for the Philistines, because the Israelites
had caught up to them, technologically; they had mastered the use of the chariot and the horse.
Philistines left the Land of Canaan.
Only a few traces of their culture have been found; Tel Kasile, in Tel Aviv, Ashdod, Ashkelon and now even more at the recent excavations at
Ekron, Kibbutz Revadim.
Unlike the world changing ideas which the prophets of the Bible preached in Jerusalem hardly anybody knows about the idealism of the founders of
Their Ideal was twofold; to rejuvenate the land that had been neglected for nearly
2000 years and the nation who had been scattered from their ancient homeland by cruel enemies.
Tel Aviv, more than any other settlement which the idealistic pioneers established,
embodies both of these ideas, expressed in the name, Tel Aviv, Hill of Spring, taken from Ezekiel 3:15.
The founders envisioned a city which would be a "Hebrew urban centre in a healthy
environment, planned according to the rules of aesthetics and modern hygiene"1.
So it was only natural that the founders built Tel Aviv according to a plan by Sir
Patrick Geddes, a famous Scottish Urbanist influenced by the Garden City Movement.1
This is what makes walking in Tel Aviv so pleasant. Dizengoff Str has beautiful,
leafy ficus trees on either side where students sit in sidewalk cafes typing intently on their mini, mobile computers as they
sip coffee and nibble pastries, salads and cakes and their dogs lie curled up sleeping peacefully next to them or bark nervously
at little boys like Kyle who wake and frighten them.
In Rothschild Boulevard
cyclists and strollers moving leisurely along the path separating the tarmac strips of road on either side like a tropical
island in the middle of the ocean, hardly notice the passing, noisy cars.
Here too the founding fathers, being full of garden city hope, planted ficus trees,
now giants gaily waving at the heavens in their height and casting primordial darkness in the midst of the most fiery city
day so that even the drivers wait patiently in the centre of town traffic because the young people cavorting and strolling
on the island paradise next to them., unknowingly entertain them
The Sharon Valley.
prophet Isaiah prophesied© that the desert would bloom like the Rose of Sharon.
he made this prophesy the Sharon Valley was probably just as swampy as it was for the last 3000 years until the beginning
of the 20th Century when it was purchased by the Jewish National Fund
for Jewish settlement and the Jewish People began to drain the swamp and cultivate the land making it the beautiful garden
it is today.
swamplands were purchased at the same time, such as the Huleh and the Jezrieel
Valleys. These lands have also been turned from swampy Malaria infested
areas into lush fertile farmland.
To appreciate what has been done all you need
to do is to take a drive from Tel Aviv along the Coastal highway towards Haifa. You’ll be riding on a sand dune on the edge of the beautiful Sharon Valley.
see the Jezrieel Valley go to the highest point of Mt. Carmel, the Muhraka, looking down into the valley, you will gasp at the greenness of the farmland and you’ll say: “G-d
has truly brought Israel to the Promised
Huleh Valley is located North of the Sea
of Galilee, between the Golan Heights in the East and the mountains of Naftali in the West.
The swamp draining operation here was the biggest ever undertaken. Today some 20 farming settlements, Kibbutsim[v] and Moshsvim[vi] dot the valley making it lush and
green as far as the eye can see.
no doubt that Jewish Settlement in the swamps has been a success but the pioneers who originally came to live here in the
early 1900’s didn’t think in terms of settling and rejuvenating the
swamp lands, their ideal was to settle in the desert and make it bloom to realize the prophesy of Isaiah and other promises
in the Bible relating to the desert[vii].
Megiddo is now in ruins, but it was once a great city on the crossroads
of history. Nations from the two ends of the known world 3000 years ago, Babylon in the East
and Egypt in the West clashed in battle for possession of Megiddo.
can still walk through the great gates of Megiddo from Canaanite
days. King David and Solomon walked through these gates. Ahab kept his war chariots and horses here and Jehu, his successor,
chased Amazia, the king of Judah to these
gates and had him killed here. The grain silo and the water tunnel kept the city fully equipped to face long sieges.
can visit Megiddo and not be shocked at mankind’s desire
to make war? Look over the fertile Jezreel valley from the top of Megiddo! And tell me if you think a farmer in his wheat field wanted to go to war.
could it be that these farmers were enticed to leave their peaceful lands and go to war?
In the Bible man keeps saying
that it’s G-d who made him go to war. They said that the enemies who attacked them could only have been sent by G-d.
Why else would that enemy leave his peaceful land in Egypt or Babylon to march hundreds of miles to make war against another peaceful
group of people on their land.
Bible, however, stresses over and over again that G-d doesn’t want war. Man is using G-d as a scapegoat, as an excuse
for his own foolishness.
spite of all the riches G-d has given him, and these can be seen more clearly at Megiddo
than many other places on earth, man is determined to make war. Man is the puzzle not G-d.
city was destroyed and rebuilt at least 21 times. The people here couldn’t have enjoyed many peaceful times.
fighting the wars, however, people always remembered their peaceful lands and always dreamed of returning to them. As history
proceeded peace seemed to be a more and more unattainable goal.
eventually came to the belief that you’d only find peace in Paradise, in the world
to come. In fact the word “Paradise” is a Hebrew Biblical word referring to a
fertile orchard of Pomegranates, Figs and Grapes. The kind of products that grew in the Jezreel valley.
about time that man started blaming himself for war not G-d. When he starts doing
that he will begin to discover that Paradise is here on Earth not in Heaven.
customs are derived from the Bible[viii], the Mishna and the Talmud[ix]. The combined name for all these books is “Torah”. When we say that
an individual is studying “Torah” we mean all of these books.
the “what, when and how” of Jewish customs but not the “why”.
When I studied “Torah” as a young boy in Hebrew school I was always puzzled why I should perform these
customs. I decided that the only way to find out “Why” was to do the customs.
the age of 18 I began observing Jewish customs and continued for 18 years. They affected my life in every way possible; my
career, marriage, children, my relationship to non-observant (non-religious) Jews and to non Jews etc. I can now say why the
laws were given for me and I understand the reason for the laws is different for each person. Only by observing these laws
can one discover the reason why they were given to him. I understand now; the laws were given to each person individually,
for each person their observance has a different meaning.
Each one can only speak for himself, on the basis of his experience. My own experience was that observing
Jewish Customs distinguished me as a Jew. I was recognized by the covering on my head, my beard, the food I ate, the time
of day when I went to the synagogue to pray, the Phylacteries (Prayer boxes) I wore on my head during prayer, the celebration
of Jewish festivals and many other activities
is one of the most solitary and lonely places imaginable. Nobody wanted to live there out of choice. Massada was a place you
fled to when there wasn’t anywhere else to hide. The Jews at Massada would certainly have preferred to live in Jerusalem but Jerusalem was destroyed.
If they’d have stayed there they would have died. The Jews at Massada fled there to live not to die. They didn’t
have any more plans to defeat the Romans, all they wanted was to live.
Romans saw things differently; Massada was a key Roman fortress that controlled the main road from Jerusalem
to Petra and to the Red Sea. Massada had been conquered from
them by trickery at the beginning of the Jewish Rebellion against them three years earlier and now the Jewish leadership was
hiding out there. The Romans saw them as a threat in many ways; the Jews could disrupt traffic on the important trade route
to the East or they could rally their forces for another attack on Roman sovereignty. They certainly didn’t think that
the Jews were going to live peacefully carrying out their beloved religion of loyalty to the one G-d.
requires life. Death is in the hand of G-d and if that is G-d’s will for us we accept it as we accept everything G-d
requires of us. The act of the Jews at Massada, taking their own life, isn’t an example of how a Jew should behave.
The Jews of Massada aren’t mentioned in any Jewish history book because the militaristic ways of the Zealots were unacceptable
to Judaism. Judaism requires us to live as Jews not to fight or to die. Even if living as a Jew means submitting to indignity
or even slavery.
must be emphasized that the story of Massada is told by the Romans. They considered dying as heroes honourable. Judaism considers
living as a Jew as important, even at the expense of suffering indignity. Survival, not death is imprtant in Judaism.
letter is addressed to both Christians and Jews and is written in the interests of a better understand between the two.
would define himself as someone who believes in Christ, and a Jew would define himself as someone who identifies with the
Jewish people and believes in Judaism.
you ask a Jew to define a Christian, I think he’ll say a Christian is someone who performs Christian acts and is a good
the other hand if you ask a Christian to define a Jew, I think he would say a Jew is a clever or resourceful person. Jew is
associated with “clever” and Christian with “good”. I’m not trying to prove these assumptions,
I admit they may be wrong, let’s say I’m just guessing or observing from my own experience.
intention is to find a way of understanding one another, because at present I think there is misunderstanding. Jews and Christians
are talking at cross purposes. When considering each other they relate to characteristics; good, clever. When they relate
to themselves they think in terms of their religious beliefs. They might begin to develop understanding when they relate to
and so admit the other’s beliefs. A Jew should see the Christian as one who believes in Christ, which is the way the
Christian sees himself and Christians should see the Jew as one who believes in the tenets of Judaism, which is the way Jews
traits, of good and kind, and clever and resourceful, can be founnd in both Jews and Christians.
of the conclusions that I came to, on seeing the massive stones of the Temple
is that the structure was indeed impregnable as we are told by Josephus in his history of the Jews. Besides being a place
of worship it was also a place of refuge in times of war.
We have several examples in Jewish history when it was used
for this purpose. No army had ever succeeded in penetrating The Temple by force. The only way that the attackers entered the
Temple was by agreement made with the defenders.
makes it quite surprising that the 10th Roman Legion, in the year 70 chose to attack the Temple
rather than to negotiate an agreement of surrender.
Also, judging from the account in the Talmud, the high priest was
in the middle of making the afternoon sacrifice when the Romans broke through and took him by surprise, it appears that the
Jews never expected the Roman army to try to conquer the Temple by force but to make an agreement.
The Talmud gives
us a clue to the reason why the Romans chose to attack, conquer and finally destroy the Temple
instead of reaching a surrender agreement. According to the Talmud the Temple
was destroyed by God as a punishment for unfounded hatred between one Jew and another.
In my opinion, the worst form
of unfounded hatred is treason, which is an act against the nation. It's unfounded because it's not a specific hatred of one
person who's done something specific to harm the hater. It's the result of a general feeling of hatred of an entire nation
and it harms the entire nation.
information, provided by a traitor could have shown the Romans how to penetrate the Temple.
And only encouragement from a traitor, in the form of incitement could have urged the Romans to carry out the terrible act
of destroying the Temple.
After our visit to the Western
Wall tunnel I am convinced that the destruction of the 2nd Temple
by the 10th Roman Legion was indeed, as said by the Talmud, the act born from the worst kind of hatred, hatred without reason,
(the meaning of the Festival of Hanukah.)
is the celebration of the victory, which the Jews won over the Greeks to practice their own religion.
an atmosphere of intolerance and religious persecution, prevailing at the time of the Macabees, 167 BCE, the Jews won the
right to publicly worship the one G-d. Today in the civilized world religious freedom is taken for granted but in those days
the idea that one group of people should practice their own religion, different from the religious practices of the people
around them was revolutionary.
right of religious freedom, however, wasn’t won without struggle. Struggle meant the Jews had to kill and shed blood.
This conflicted with the principles of the religion they were fighting to practice. A Jew with blood on his hands was considered
spiritually impure. He was thus prohibited from participating in the most important ritual of Judaism, namely; worshiping
in the Temple and kindling the seven branched candelabra,
the Menorah.The whole
was considered spiritually impure, even though they weren’t all involved directly in the struggle.
that state of spiritual impurity they couldn’t even manufacture “pure
oil”[x]. Needed to kindle the Menorah in the Temple.
The light of the Menorah could declare the victory but there was no man pure enough to kindle it, only G-d could kindle it,
only G-d was pure enough. G-d would have to make a miracle for the Menorah to be kindled. He did interveand made a miracle;
“pure oil” was discovered, made before the period of Greek oppression and defilement of the Temple, with the seal of purity of the High Priest. According to the legend the oil was enough
for kindling the Menorah for only one day but G-d caused it to last for 8 days. Thereby giving the Jews time to purify themselves
to make new oil. This miracle made it possible for the Jews to declare the victory to the whole world by lighting the Menorah.
learn two lessons here:
public declaration of our religion and religious tolerance is vital to G-d. and
purity is important (G-d intervened because He didn’t want man to transgress this law to keep the law of lighting the
8 lights of the Hanukah lamp are reminders that those who worship G-d must be spiritually pure. Intolerance and forcing our
beliefs on others, exactly what the Jews were fighting against, contradicts the concept of spiritual purity and is an obstacle
to worshipping G-d. The conclusion is that People with blood on their hands cannot worship G-d.
“To them I will
give in My house and within My walls a memorial and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting
name which will not be cut off.” Isaiah 56:5
Vashem is the name of the institution for the remembrance of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
The name is taken from the verse in the book
of Isaiah quoted above. In Hebrew the word memorial is “Yad” and the word “. Shem” means name. Literally
translated it would be “a hand and a name”.
of man’s greatest fears is that of dying and not being remembered, that’s why he builds monuments. All his life
a man is obedient to G-d, observing His laws and his goodness seems to go unnoticed, when he dies nobody remembers that he
was ever here on earth, excepting his children and those close to him.
words of Isaiah are a comfort to the G-d fearing man that he will be remembered, through his obedience to G-d he has caused
a much more significant memory than the transitory memory of human beings. Through his observance of G-d’s commandments
he has caused his name to be recorded in G-d’s memory. G-d will remember him forever because he was obedient in observing
G-d’s commandments. His children cannot remember forever, they do their best to create ways to memorialize him for future
generations but there’s nothing they can do which can guarantee everlasting memory. Only G-d can give an everlasting
name because He is everlasting.
purpose of the institution “Yad Vashem” is to help us remember the innocent, decent people who died unjustly in
the Holocaust and to pass that memory on to future generations.
visitor to “Yad Vashem” walks through “The Avenue of the Righteous among the nations” on his way to
the main museum where he can see exhibitions of pictures, films and documents vividly depicting the atrocities committed by
the Germans and other nations under German occupation in the 2nd WW involved in the crime of exterminating Jews.
The Walk through this avenue gives one time to consider the other side of the coin, that is the actions of the few good people
who risked their lives to save Jews from been caught and murdered. The trees in the “Avenue” are Carob trees,
the kind of tree that produced the Carob fruit believed to have been the food (incorrectly translated as “Locusts”
in the Gospels) that John the Baptist ate in the wilderness. In this way one tends to associate the deeds of the “Righteous
People” who saved Jews with the message of goodness and concern for one’s fellow man preached by true Christianity.
Next to each tree is a plaque with the names of the “Righteous” people and the country they came from. One realizes
that not all people were bad and that in every nation there were good people. This realization helps one understand three
objectives of “Yad Vashem” which are:
1) To reveal the deeds of the wicked so that we will do everything in our power to prevent such evil from happening again.
2) To praise the good and righteous deeds of helping our fellow men, even at the risk of our own lives.
3) To remember the millions of Jews who died because they were Jews and not because of any crime they committed.
to the righteous people commeorated in the “Avenue of the Righteous” we cannot generalize about any nation being
bad or evil.
righteous people are like the righteous people in Abraham’s discussion with G-d when G-d decided to destroy the wicked
city of Sodom. Abraham asks G-d if He will destroy the city
with the righteous people aswell and G-d answers Abraham that if He finds 50 righteous people there He will save the entire
city for the sake of the 50, Abraham asks what if there are only 45 righteous people and G-d says for the sake of the 45 He
will savne the city. Finally G-d agrees to save the city even if there are only 10 righteous people there. There G-d did not find any righteous
people and Sodom was destroyed. In Europe
under the Nazis there were some righteous people and we remember them because had it not been for their righteous deeds in
saving Jews we’d have had to say that all of the countries under German occupation were bad. We cannot say that and
this softens the anger we feel towards those nations when we visit Yad Vashem. These righteous people too deserve “…
an everlasting name which will not be cut off.”
2000 years Jews have overcome all obstacles to visit the Wailing Wall. I had dreamed of coming here since I was very young
and finally managed it in 1959.
tour guide pointed out the place of “Wall” from the rooftop of David’s tomb on Mt. Zion and I thought I could see it. We couldn’t
go there because it was in the Jordanian part of Jerusalem
and Jews weren’t permitted.
realize the pent up feelings I had for the “Wall” or the Jewish People until I finally visited the “Wall”
in 1967, just after the 6 days war, I stood at the “Wall” and wept bitterly and uncontrollably because suddenly
I realized the loss we suffered 2000 years ago wasn’t just a building called the “Temple”. It was much more
was as if I was standing up to my knees in the blood of my people just slaughtered
by Titus’ Roman soldiers. I felt as if I and all the Jewish people had just become homeless orphans wandering through
a world seeking love and mercy from the nations for 2000 years.
2000 years the nations of the world have had the opportunity to fulfill the words of the Bible: “And you shall do no
wrong to a stranger or oppress him…..” “And you shall not afflict any widow or orphan.” Ex.22.
years of wandering in vain. In every nation they sought shelter and instead were cruelly persecuted by antisemitism. Cruelty
still abides in the world, the principles of love and mercy, denied to the Jews for 2000 years are still not applied and people
and nations are still cruel to each other. This is why we “Wail” at the “Wailing Wall”.
archaeological excavation is under the houses of the Arab neighborhood of the Old
City and makes it possible for the visitor to walk along a part of the
Western Wall that had been hidden for nearly 2000 years.
A small part of the Western Wall, known as the Wailing Wall,
has always been visible, since the time of the destruction. Jews have been going to pray there from time immemorial. But this
tunnel, dug laboriously for 20 years from 1967 to 1987, provides one with a clear glimpse of the magnificence of the Temple that once was.
Stones buried deep underground kept their
newness and look as if the temple was built only yesterday. The narrowness of the tunnel and the strong reinforcing prevent
the Arab neighborhood above from being damaged. Above the tunnel the Arab population continues their lives undisturbed. In
fact the exit of the tunnel is in that neighborhood and we walk back to the Western Wall that way.
legends are told about the Menorah, but the one which, in my opinion, best describes its function is the one that tells us
how it used to burn day and night in the Temple and when the Temple was destroyed the light of the Menorah was extinguished. Since then the Jewish people
and the world are living in darkness.
Menorah was a symbol that the spirit of G-d dwells in the universe and illuminates it. The fact that it had to burn by day
and night is another indication that it was a symbol. If it was only a physical light it would have been necessary only at
seven branches are possibly a symbol of the days and nights of the week. Reminding us that with the spirit of G-d in us we
have strength to create, our days and nights are filled with the light of the spirit of G-d. Without the spirit of G-d our
days would be as dark as our nights.
power of the spirit of G-d is described by the prophet Zacharia in seven words, corresponding with the seven branches of the Menorah, “Not
by might and not by power but by My Spirit saith the L-rd of hosts.”[xi]
the destruction of the Temple and the extinguishing of the
Menorah the symbol of the Menorah has disappeared. Man tends to think that the spirit of G-d has disappeared as in the legend
from the Talmud. In fact the spirit of G-d is still with us only the symbol has disappeared.
spirit of G-d helps us all the time, only we don’t acknowledge that the spirit of G-d is helping us. We interpret our
help as “a flash of inspiration” or a “flash of light”.
often, as a child, in South Africa, being
threatened by boys bigger than myself. Usually I was so scared I was frozen into inaction and ended up getting a beating.
Sometimes, however, a “flash of light” inspired me to overcome my fear. Suddenly I felt free to decide whether
to run and escape or stand and fight. If I chose to stand and fight I still got beaten up but the feeling was much better.
I felt like a hero. If I chose to run I avoided a beating.
acknowledge the “flash of inspiration” as the spirit of G-d.
we rekindle the Menorah it would be an empty symbol because mankind doesn’t acknowledge “the flashes of inspiration”
which help him out of difficulties as being the spirit of G-d. Rekindling the Menorah isn’t going to bring about this
acknowledgement. Man will have to reach that by himself then he can rekindle the Menorah as a symbol of acknowledgement that
“the L-rd He is G-d”[xii]
(The Jewish will to survive)
visitors have asked me: “When are the Jews going to rebuild the Temple?”
This question seems reasonable, taking into account that the Jewish people are in possession of Mt.
Moriah, the site of the original Temple,
the opportunity they’ve been praying for since it was destroyed 2000 years
ago. It seems like the moment of fulfillment has arrived and the Jews are missing the opportunity
answer, based on 20 years of guiding tourists here,is that the need for survival makes us hesitate.
are here today because of the single mindedness to survive.
being scattered to the four corners of the earth for 2000 years, persecuted in practically every country, the Jewish people
has shown that Jews will do anything to survive, except denying their Judaism. Denying Judaism is as bad as dying.
In the Diaspora a Jew felt he
was safe if he did as he was told. If anything he did, building a Synagogue, a school, a mikveh etc. provoked his Gentile
masters to anti-Semitic acts, he would abandon those activities, or he would bribe and plead to get permission to do whatever
was necessary to maintain Jewish life. He made his activities less conspicuous. It would be unthinkable for Jews to call the
worshippers to prayer,like the Moslems do or to ring out the bells like the Christians.
That would be considered dangerous provocation agains the Gentiles.
building the Temple on Mt. Moriah would be considered a provocation of the Moslems.
is a group of Jews planning to rebuild the Temple, and there is a strict order in Jewish religious
law commanding the Jew to build the Temple, but the law to
survive takes priority.
1 billion Moslems would not be in the interests of survival.
Some brave nations who would have considered this
a cowardly idea, don’t exist today. You might say "better a living Jewish
coward than a dead Jewish hero.
determination to survive does have some positive aspects. It makes us very tolerant of the religious sensitivities of our
Moslem citizens and other religious grouups living in Israel.
extent to which the State of Israel goes to protect the rights of the different religious groups can be seen in the very determined
way the Israeli police back the Moslem guards on the Temple
Mt. in their zeal to ensure that no other religious group prays there.
has been the dream of every religious Jew, for 2000 yrs to pray on the Temple
Mt. and still we restrain ourselves in the name of survival and tolerance.
Israel protects the rights of Christians, Jews and Moslems at many holy
places around the city of Jerusalem.
Temple is a symbol of peace. Building the Temple won’t bring peace. Peace will come when men of all different faiths, cultures
and races have learned to live together in peace and harmony. The building of the Temple
will then be a celebration of that event.
The walls are open to everybody. You don't need a guide but it's a good idea to have one, but it's
still fun to do even without one.
You don't need to make a reservation.
On Shabbat they don't sell tickets so one needs to buy tickets on the internet. Other days they sell
tickets on the spot.
The entrance to the walls walk is behind the tower
of David. Facing the Jaffa Gate, standing on the road, before entering
the Old City
you turn right through an opening between the walls of the city and the wall of David's Tower, just walk to the end of the
courtyard there and you come to the entrance down a few steps.
The site for pre purchasing tickets is only Hebrew as far as I can see http://www.pami.co.il/promenade.html
But you only need that if you plan to visit on Shabbat. In that case go to : http://www.pami.co.il/eng/index
And write them a letter or fax them.
David's Tower is one of the oldest buildings you will see, above ground, in The Old City
The Jewish historian Josephus Flavius gave it that name nearly 2000 years ago probably because he thought
that King David's original palace had stood there, nearly a thousand years earlier, although he plainly declares that the
builder was Herod the Great, the Nabetean king whom the Romans placed to rule over the Jews in about 40 BCE.
He is also purported to be the builder of the Temple
of which the Wailing Wall and the other outer perimeter walls which remain to this day as evidence of his enormous building
Today the City of Jerusalem houses an excellent museum in this ancient tower depicting the history
of Jerusalem from the days of father Abraham's meeting here with Melchizedek about 2500 years BCE to the days of the British
Mandate of 1917 - 1948.
The building as seen from the outside is another example of another great builder of beautiful buildings,
Suleiman the Magnificent in 1538. He was being true to his namesake, KIng Solomon, another great builder.
The Tower of David was a very scary place for the poor Jews of the Old City during many centuries of
Moslem rule from the days of Saladin who conquered Jerusalem from the Crusaders to the days of the British Mandate of 1917
because the city's Moslem government and court sat in judgement where the Jews had less standing than the governor's ass or
dog. Jews were thrown into prison there at the slightes pretext.
Here's a good site for David's Tower http://www.towerofdavid.org.il/English/Night_Spectacular
first of the holy places on Mt. Zion
was David’s tomb, probably because David is holy to all three religions: For the Jews and the Christians he is the precursor
of the Messiah and for the Moslems he is mentioned in the Koran as one of the
friends of Mohammed.
intend discussing the authenticity of David’s tomb it’s much more important to see the place for what it is, namely,
a holy site visited mostly by Jews, who come here to read Psalms and to make individual prayers, communal prayers are held
in the synagogue next door.
tomb was an alternate Wailing Wall; when Jews were prevented from going to the Wailing Wall they came here and in the same
way they wept at the Wailing Wall so they wept here. It came to be a meeting place for all those who longed for “Zion”[xiii] but were prevented from going there by whoever ruled Jerusalem at the time. It’s as if the Jews were praying that David would rule Jerusalem once again, as he had done 3000 years ago.
can see this wish expressed in the inscription from the Bible embroidered on the red velvet cloth covering the tomb, “David
Melech Israel Hai Vekayam”, (David the king of Israel
Jews believe that when David returns their suffering will end because he will
bring an end to the exile, the place of their suffering. He will establish a kingdom as he did before, where Jews can live
happily and securely, praising G-d as David did in the Psalms, and practicing their religion without fear of persecution.
For the Jews Caesarea symbolized
Roman rule of Judea. While the Temple in Jerusalem
lay in ruins the theaters and amphitheaters of Caesarea were crowded with spectators. Often
the theme of the play was the Jew, mocked and tortured for amusement.
success, however, came to an end in the 3rd Century CE with a small shift in the “plates” supporting
the East Coast of the Mediterranean. A small matter in Geological terms but catastrophic
for the inhabitants of this coast. The harbors of coastal cities, from Gaza in Judea to Aspendos
in Turkey, vanished under the sea.
sunken harbors are popular diving areas and the subject of underwater archaeology.
Jewish people saw the catastrophic destruction of Caesarea as a sign of hope. At that time
there was a popular Jewish saying “when Caesarea stands Jerusalem will fall, when Caesarea
falls Jerusalem will stand”. Caesarea had fallen now
it was time for Jerusalem to be rebuilt.
at Caesarea by tourist bus from Ben Gurion airport along a super modern highway doesn’t help us to imagine what this
city was like in the 2nd Temple period, 1st
century BCE. In those days we’d have come to Caesarea by wagon, or by ship.
had been anchoring off the shore here for thousands of years before Herod the Great for two reasons:
was a small Phoenician harbor here, built at least a thousand years before Herod the Great, known as Straton’s Tower.
Remains of this tower have been found here by archaeologists. It’s star shaped and its real name was the Tower of Astarte,
the Phoenician goddess of fertility. “Straton” is the Latin version
Good roads connected this harbor with the rich agricultural hinterland of Samaria, the fertile Jezreel valley and the great sea route, ”the
richness of Caesarea depended on its harbor. It was known as Sebastos, the harbor of Sebastia
because this was the origin of most of the products exported from the harbor. Wagons from Sebastia, heavily laden with dried
figs, almonds, jars of olive oil, date honey and wine, came trundling in to be offloaded at the harbor and in the markets.
a harbor ships could only anchor here in the Summer time, when the sea was calm. A proper harbor made it possible for ships
to be loaded while they lay safely tied up protected from pirates and the stormy Winter months, when in any case the sea was
too rough for sailing.
loading goods here came from every corner of the Mediterranean basin and further. Their owners paid high prices for the anchorage
and were well rewarded because their ships would be first at the markets of Europe in springtime.
The products they brought would fetch higher prices than those arriving later would.
the ships were being loaded sailors crowded the temples, gymnasiums, theaters, amphitheaters and hippodromes of Caesarea in search of spiritual inspiration, entertainment and exercise.
crowded the roads. Some carried travelers on their way to the markets of Caesarea. Others
wanted to visit the Temples there. Others the Hippodrome or
the theatre. Others on their way to board a ship for a long journey to Rome
or some other distant city.
are told in the Gospels that Jesus preached in the synagogue of Capernaum.
When you visited Capernaum several years ago, the impressive remains of a synagogue was the
first thing that met your eyes, today the modern, Catholic church of St. Peter outshadows the ancient ruins of the synagogue.
is in the eye of the beholder and many consider the new church as being very beautiful, it emphasizes the house of St. Peter,
where Jesus healed Peter’s mother in law. The building employs engineering techniques that make it appear to hover over
the ancient house like a flying saucer, as if it came from heaven.
When you stand in the church,
on its glass floor, it’s almost embarasing the way you look down into the
house, giving you an intimate view of the exact place of the miracle. You need to remind yourself that the room you’re
looking into was inhabited 2000 years ago and it’s not rude to peek inside it today.
the 6th Century, the time of the emperor Justinian a church was also built over Peter’s house. Like the modern
church it also dominated the synagogue, which was built in the 5th Century.
not known whether the Jews of Capernaum left the city or adopted Christianity because of the religious persecution at the
time of Justinian, or if the Jews and the Christians left or converted to Islam when the Moslems conquered the town in the
thing we do know is that the town was destroyed by the earthquake of the 8th Century and left deserted untill the
end of the 19th Century, when the Ottoman Turks returned the site to the Christians and appointed the Catholic
church as the official guardians of the town.
1931 the Franciscans carried out extensive archaeological excavations and revealed the interesting remains we see there today.
all the changes in the fortunes of Capernaum it’s difficult
to find the original synagogue of the time of Jesus, presumably it’s under the 5th Century structure. What
makes it even more difficult is that synagogues of that time weren’t easily distinguishable from other structures, like
homes. In those days they were only used as meeting rooms mainly for Bible study. The Gospels describe the synagogue, both
in Nazareth and Capernaum,as
a place where Jesus reads the Scriptures before the congregation.
ceremonies like sacrifices, bringing of the first fruits, parading with the Palm branch on the festival of Tabernacles, public
worship, national gatherings etc. didn’t take place in synagogues, but in the Temple
of the time of Jesus are local meeting places, whereas the Temple
is the place for national gatherings. Synagogues represent local or communal unity, but the Temple represents national unity.
great tragedy of the destruction of the Temple by the Romans
is that this symbol of national existence was removed. It seemed the Jews had ceased to exist as a nation. The Romans understood
the national significance of the Temple very well, that’s
why they went to such trouble to destroy it.
Jewish People, however continued to exist as a collection of communities, scattered throughout the world. The Rabbis transferred
the emphasis of Jewish life from the Nation to the congregation. They never gave up the hope that the Jewish people would
once again exist as a nation.That hope became the loadstone of survival. Jews
and Jewish congregations survived to preserve the trappings of the nation for the day they would again be needed. The synagogue
became the centre of the congregation. The form and content of the Temple
was preserved in it. Here the Jew kept the hope of Nationhood alive.
synagogue can never take the place of the Temple. If that
had happened it would mean that the Jewish people had accepted that they were just another religious group and not a nation.
of the tours I enjoy the most is a tour to the ultra Orthodox neighbourhood of Jerusalem,
Mea Shearim. People here dress in the familiar garb of the black coat(capote), furry hat(streimel), fringes(Tsitsis) etc.in
the case of the men, which identifies them as Orthodox Jews. Women wear long dresses with long sleeves and shawls covering
sees Orthodox Jews all over the world but then they are the unusaual here they are the usual. This is their terrain, they
feel at home here, they feel they are the masters here, they can decide who comes in or out of their neighbourhood, they decide
how you will dress when you come in here to visit.
want to preserve Judaism,to protect their belief from outside influences. They are preserving the Jewish people as a distinctive
nation in the world, with a belief in the One G-d.
for the neighbourhood have declared Tourists officially unwelcome. Many inhabitants of Mea Shearim don't agree with that official
standpoint. They say that if tourists dress modestly and don't insult their beliefs they are welcome.
way you look at it there are certain conditions to be fulfilled if you want a comparatively peaceful visit in Mea Shearim.
It's really a beautiful place. Here you can see an example of how Jews lived in the shtetle(village) in Poland hundreds of years ago.
Shearim looks like a museum but it isn't. People are living here in the style of their ancestors 300 yrs. ago in Poland. They aren't acting out a part they believe very strongly
in preserving the old ways and so to preserve their Judaism in a world that is constantly changing. Everything changes but
Mea Shearim stays the same.
1870 when Mea Shearim was established it was the most progressive neighbourhood in Jerusalem.
The people who first came to live here were inovators and pioneers, they had moved out of the congested Jewish quarter within
the walls of the Old City.
A very brave thing to do considering how desolate and dangerous life was outside the walls.
Mt. Zion: The Upper Room.
Upper Room is the name of the place selected by Jesus to celebrate the Passover meal.
the times of Jesus the word “Upper” referred to the neighborhood of Jerusalem we
call today Mt. Zion.
It was a suburb of Jerusalem, inside the walls (The walls
of today are from the 16th century, not from the time of Jesus).
the days of Jesus an “upper room” could mean one or all of several places; an upstairs room of a building, an
elegant room or a room in an elite neighborhood of Jerusalem
history and archaeological excavations we know that the priests lived on Mt. Zion in quite luxurious dwellings, and they supplemented
their income by renting rooms to pilgrims coming to Jerusalem to celebrate the three compulsory pilgrim festivals; Passover,
Pentecost and Tabernacles.
and His disciples, however, stayed on the Mt. of Olives,
possibly, being people of moderate means, they couldn’t afford the rent to stay on Mt. Zion for the whole duration of the feast,
which was 8 days.
could, however, afford to rent a luxury room for a few hours to celebrate the Passover meal in fitting elegance. This is,
possibly, the reason why they return to Mt. of Olives after the meal and Jesus is betrayed there and not in the Upper Room.
building in which we see the Upper Room today was built by the Crusaders(12th century.) over the tomb of David,
and was used as a dining room of their Monastery of Mt. Zion.
Crusaders believed that three events took place here: The burial of King David, The Last Supper and the outpouring of the
Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
belief is based on a verse in the Gospels where Peter, on the occasion of the Pentecost, says; “ And David’s tomb
is with us here to this day ”. This places David’s Tomb and the Pentecost at the same site.
is in turn connected to Passover because on Passover the Jews became a free people and, as free people they could accept G-d’s
law, which they received on Mt. Sinai
on the 50th day after Passover.
additional factor uniting the three events is the Jewish tradition that David
was born and died on Pentecost.
prophet Isaiah says that “Torah”(knowledge of G-d) will go out from Zion and the
word of the L-rd from Jerusalem.
During the 1st and the 2nd Temple
periods Mt. Zion
was a residential suburb of Jerusalem. Archaeologists digging
there in the 30’s and 70’s proved this by the discovery of remains
of magnificent dwellings: Houses with wine and oil cellars, private mikvaot, beautifully plastered guest and living rooms etc It was a beautiful suburb, from
where you got a good view of the Temple and for that reason was called “ the Mt. from where you see Zion, which was
another name used by the prophets for the Temple. When the prophet says “we are marching upwards to “Zion” he doesn’t mean Mt. Zion,
he means the Temple on Mt. Moriah.
I first visited Jerusalem, in 1959, the city was divided; Mt.
Moriah(The traditionally accepted site of the Temple)
was under Jordanian control and Mt. Zion
under Israeli control. The Jordanians didn’t allow Jews to go to their side of Jerusalem,
so the only way to see Mt. Moriah was from
the roof of an old Crusader building, known as the “Room of the Last Supper” which had been changed into a Mosque
in the 12th century, when Salah e Din conquered Jerusalem
from the Crusaders. Standing on this roof you could identify the place where the Temple once
stood by the prominent golden dome of the Mosque of Omar which stands on top of Mt.
Moriah on the exact place of the Temple
Jordanians of the 20th century weren’t the first to prohibit Jews from visiting the place of the Temple,
generations of Jewish pilgrims longing to see the place of the Temple, had come to Mt. Zion, the nearest place to the Temple
site that they were permitted, to see the place of the Temple, even though they only caught a glimpse of the place. You couldn’t
even see the “Wailing wall” from here, you only got a rough idea of its location, as I had in 1959. People began
to call this the Mt. from where you could see “Zion”, This name was eventually
shortened to Mt. Zion.
traditions are associated with Mt. Zion:
tomb of David is located here..
was born and died on Pentecost, so Jews come here to celebrate the festival of Pentecost.
prophet Isaiah prophesied that “ Out of Zion will go forth the Torah(Knowledge of G-d) and word of the L-rd out of Jerusalem.”
believe that Jesus celebrated the Last Supper here with His disciples and at the same place the Holy Spirit descended upon
the disciples on Pentecost and they began to speak in tongues.
understanding the similarity between the olive and Jesus’ suffering one can gain new insight into the message of Gethsemane.
the foot of the Mt. of Olives there is a
garden of olive trees, known as the Garden of Gethsemane. According to the Gospels this is the place where Jesus frequently met with
His disciples and prayed and suffered bearing the sins of all mankind. According to the Gospel He suffered so much that He
word “Gethsemane” is made up of two Hebrew words: “Gath”
meaning Olive Oil press, and “Semane” meaning Olive Oil. Olives cannot be eaten straight from the tree, they must
first be crushed and pressed to be used as olive oil or they must be pickled in brine or vinegar to be eaten.
cannot escape the similarity of Jesus being crushed by the sins of Mankind as the olive was crushed to make oil, or that He
sweated as the olive “sweats” giving out its valuable light giving oil. As oil illuminates so does the message
that Jesus brings to the world illuminate the darkness in man’s soul.
oil produced from olives grown on the Mt. of Olives, however was not produced for the purpose of being sold to the general
public for common oil lamps, it was produced for two specific holy purposes:
1) To anoint the king and the high priest and 2) To kindle the holy candlestick, the Menorah, in the Temple.
kings and high priests of Israel were anointed on the Mt.
of Olives or on the Temple Mt. and for this reason the Mt. of Olives
is known in Jewish literature as the Mt. of Anointing
and later changed to the Mt. of Olives
because the anointing was done with olive oil. People, in ancient Israel
watched the anointing ceremony from the Mt. of Olives,
the best place to view the Temple.
events that took place in the Garden of Gethsemane
were similar to the anointing of the king and high priest. The kiss of Judas is part of the ceremony of homage to the newly
anointed king and high priest, the escort of a cohort of soldiers is a sign of honor given to the king or high priest, He
is installed in the house of the high priest and later taken to the palace of the king. Jesus in fact becomes the eternal
king when He is finally crucified on Calvary.
this time of the year many Christians will be making their way to Bethlehem,
to visit the town where Jesus, the Savior was born and possibly even stand at the actual site of the birthplace. Most visitors
anticipate a feeling that will come to them when they stand at the actual site. It’s exciting, a mystery because they
don’t know what that special feeling will be or when it will come to them.
visitor’s expectations are fulfilled and the visit to Bethlehem
becomes a highlight in their lives that they will look back on and keep reliving forever. For others the visit will be a disappointment
and Bethlehem will remain in their memory as a scruffy Arab
town filled with tour busses, postcard sellers and souvenir vendors.
that the few background details here will help the visitors to Bethlehem
fulfill the expectations of their visit and experience the excitement of touching the foundations of their faith.
important to remember that at the time Constantine the Great built the first church here, 4th Century, Christianity
wasn’t the only religion. There were many religions, all pagan, who competed with each other for attendance at their
shrines. Temples competed with each other to attract more
visitors. Each temple promised some other benefit to the visitor; Jupiter promised power, Aphrodite - success in love, Diana - success in hunting, Minerva - success in money matters, Aesclepius - health, Tamus - youth, Mars - success in
Temples also competed in beauty; mosaic floors, golden idols, beautiful
music, dancing etc.
church of the Nativity was built to enshrine and display three basic proofs that Jesus is the Messiah and so is the only One
who can truly fulfill the needs of the believer:
the fact of the birth in Bethlehem. 2)the star.3) the manger.
birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is fundamental to Christianity.
Being born there is fulfilment of the prophecy of Micah that great things will come out of
Bethlehem and proof that Jesus is descended from the tribe of Judah, a prerequisite of the Messiah.
star on the floor of the cave where Jesus was born is a reminder of the new star that appeared in heaven at the time of His
birth so fulfilling another prophecy of the Messiah, namely the prophecy of Bileam in the book of Numbers that “a star
will come out of Jacob.”
manger where Mary placed the baby Jesus to keep Him warm, was also the place where the ox and the ass were eating hay, a reminder
of the prophecy in the book of Isaiah that “ the ox and the ass knoweth their master.”
The decorations not only beautify the church, making it more attractive than other shrines
and so attracting more visitors, but they also helped the new believer understand who Jesus was, who was His mother and what
was His ancestry. Icons, beautifully and lovingly painted, using the most expensive materials show Jesus with Mary. Mosaics
made out of thousands of minute, different colored stones depict His ancestry, like the mosaic on the wall of the church of
the Nativity. Beautiful chandeliers of Gold, bronze and porcelain symbolized the promise of light that will illuminate the
life of the new believer.
The Mt. of Beatitudes.
of comfort to the poor and spiritual meaning for the rich. The people who visit the Mt. of Beatitudes today are from a great
variety of social strata; some are very poor and have saved up for many years to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, others are
wealthy and have come to absorb some spirituality, that will make their life more meaningful.
Some people have a closer experience with poverty than others. You can find it in many
places. The Mt. of Beatitudes is not one
of those places; here the scenery is rich agriculture, comfortable homes in Tiberias, holiday villages on the shores of the
Sea of Galilee.
you stand here the countryside looks very pastoral; the Sea of
Galilee with hardly ever a boat excepting for the occasional tourist boat or, early in the morning a small
fishing boat or two making its way to the small fishing harbor in Tiberias. The scene definitely doesn’t measure up
to the description in the Talmud of great fleets of boats with billowing sails sailing back and forth with their cargo of
fish caught at Bethsaida to be sold at Migdal on the Western shore, or the description in the New Testament of thousands of
people following Jesus, who preaches to them words of spiritual sustenance or feeds them miraculously because they are hungry.
Galilee is not what it used to be; it’s not the busy urban area of the times of the 2nd Temple, far from it. The Sermon on the Mt. is said in the context of the busy times of 2000
years ago and has meaning for people living in that kind of busy environment. It must be explained in that context to have
speaking, I believe that Biblical parables, events and teachings need to be placed in their geographic context to be properly
understood. In this series of lectures I hope to develop this theme and to show how it applies to many biblical texts of the
“Old” and “New” Testaments.
those times there were both rich and poor living around the Sea of Galilee. Not like today,
where there’s no sign of poverty in this area. The poor or oppressed of the world today will have little in common with
the Gallileans of today. They need to see the Galilee as it was in the time of Jesus to derive
any comfort from Jesus’ sermon on the Mt.
they see the Galilee as Jesus saw it people who are down and out will be comforted by Jesus’
sermon, while the affluent will be encouraged to add spiritual wealth to their material
isn’t saying that material wealth is evil or that poverty is something one should strive for.
and wealth are the gift of G-d, both can be a blessing and a curse; spiritual wealth is acquired, the poorer you are materially,
the more you are likely to become spiritually wealthy; that is your comfort, because spiritual treasures are worth more than
you are wealthy or poor you have some idea of poverty in the world; the media tells us about starvation in North Korea, Africa ,India
and many other parts of the world. Standing here today you need to understand that in the times of Jesus there was overcrowding,
poverty and hopelessness.
Jews were oppressed by the Romans, whose taxes impoverished them and whose physical punishments of whippings and crucifixions
crushed them. Even the coin Peter, the poor fisherman finds in the mouth of the fish has to be given to the Romans or he’d
face severe punishment. Jews couldn’t obtain food in the towns at certain times because of restrictions on entering
those towns. At the same time Roman citizens moved luxuriously on the highways, such as the “Way of the Sea” which
passed by the Mt. of Beatitudes.
If you want to see how Romans lived in the times of Jesus look at the magnificent ruins of cities like Sepporis, Bet Shean
or Caesarea Phillipi, with their magnificent marble statues and their lavishly decorated homes with mosaic floors with the
most expensive and exquisite designs. Place the Jew next to this luxury, and see the great gap between the Jewish people,
poor and decimated and the Romans waxing fat and greedy. This is the context in which we need to understand the Sermon on
word “Tabgha” is Arabic for seven and refers to the site of the miraculous feeding. It’s thought that the name refers to seven springs.
are a few springs here but certainly not 7.
same mistake is made in understanding the name of the town of Abraham, Beer Sheba; “Sheba”
is the Hebrew word for“Seven” but also means “Satiation”, here also you can’t find seven wells.
both places, however, G-d provided food: In Beer Sheba
for Father Abraham and in “Tabgha” for the 5000 people who followed Jesus. and they were satiated.
both the Old and New Testament names of places relate to important events which occurred there.
These were events that changed
the thinking of Mankind through a revelation. Revelation causes Man to change beliefs because through it he realizes the truth
of a new belief. Eventually armed with his new belief Man changes the course of history.
in Tabgha and Beer Sheba Man had a revelation which brought him new realization
and changed his belief.
realization is: it is G-d who feeds Mankind not the water provided by a spring or a river. There is only one G-d and He is
the sustainer of Mankind.
to this realization the belief that springs and rivers were gods was prevalent.
example of a river god is the river Nile. The ancient Egyptians enjoyed good crops and therefor
food only when the Nile flooded its banks, so they thought that the river Nile was god.
of Egyptians obviously visited Tabgha in the 4th century and made the beautiful mosaic floor we see there today.
One of the striking decorations is the nilometre, an instrument for measuring the depth of the river Nile.
This was a common theme in mosaic decorations of homes of wealthy citizens or places which wanted to proclaim abundance, like
the public building discovered in Sepporis, as if to say that the god Nile has given this
abundance. The mosaics in both Tabgha and Sepporis also show scenes of abundance; birds, plants, animals, flowers and many
other signs of abundance.
Tabgha, however the mosaic floor makers added another symbol, namely that of a loaf and two fishes. The presence of this symbol and the Church over the mosaic
point to a realization of new information about G-d; namely that it’s not
the Nile that sustains us, it is the One G-d Who is also the G-d of all the life giving forces like the Nile and other rivers.
of the signs that this is the right explanations is that one of the first groups
of people to adopt Christianity were in fact the Egyptians, they were, and still are, known as the Copts. The word “Copt”
derives from the Greek word “Gypt” or “Gyptos”..
performed one of His best known miracles here; The healing of the man who had been lame for 38 years. He told the man to take
up his bed and walk and the lame man did as he was told.
location of the pool is clearly described in the “New Testament”: It’s near the Sheep pool and the Sheep gate. These indications are clearly
identifiable today: Both pools and the gate nearby can still be seen. The pools
are located in a valley called the Valley of Bethesda which is a natural catchment area.
location is also identifiable by archaeological remains found there referring to one
of the uses of the pool namely as a place of healing ( the word Bethesda means House of Kindness): A piece of a Roman temple with the sign of a snake, which is the sign of Aesclepius
, the Roman God of healing, some remains of a temple dedicated to Serapes, the God of healing for the ancient Egyptians.
churches have been built here in the Byzantine and Crusader period. One of these still stands, the church of St. Anne and the ruins of the others
can still be clearly seen.
all of the above the site is exciting because new archaeological discoveries are shedding light on the significance of the
miracle: In the “New Testament” the lame man says that he can’t get healed because only the first person
to go into the water after an angel moves it is healed and he doesn’t have anyone to help him get in the water. Jesus
obviously wasn’t the first person from whom he had requested help, it’s obvious that many people had refused to
help him. The help he expected was for Jesus to pick him up and put him in the
surprises him by helping him with words that bring new understanding to that lame man and to us, namely; It’s not the
holy water that heals you, but your belief.
in the healing powers of holy water or other so called holy objects aren’t beliefs, they’re superstitions and
it’s about time we realized the difference.
told the lame man to go and sin no more. His superstitious belief in the power of “holy water” to heal him was
his sin and that is what kept him from being healed.
think Jesus didn’t heal only that lame man but all people who are spiritually “lame” because of superstitions.
many people still believe in holy water and other superstitions.
new archeological discoveries I refer to reinforce the superstitious nature of the lame man’s reason for not being healed,
namely that only the first person to enter the water after it has been moved by and angel was healed and he couldn’t
manage to get in the water in time as he didn’t have anyone to help him.
examining the pools it appears they were a series of dams where the water flowed
from one to the other as the one filled up water was allowed to drain off into another one so releasing pressure on the dam
walls and making it possible to store up as much of the Winter rain water as possible for use in the dry Summer months.
can still see the slots at the base of the dam wall and the steps, carved into the wall at the place of these slots to enable
someone to climb down there and release stones that closed the slots.
these stones were released water would gush out of the dam into a channel, which carried the water to another dam lower down
could call the man operating the drainage system an “angel” because some of that water spilled over, or was siphoned
off to caves next to the dam. Bathing of the sick probably took place in one of these caves. Once these caves were full, however,
it would be almost impossible to bath in them.
“Ecce Homo” Latin
for “Behold the Man” are the words Pontius Pilate said when he finally convicted Jesus. The place where Pilate
said these words is considered by some to be the “Antonia Fortress” which was outside the city on its North Eastern
corner and by others “Herod’s palace”, also a fortress like structure inside the city, but, on its North
Western corner. Both structures, and a great Northern wall served to protect the city against attack from the North, the most
vulnerable side of Jerusalem.
the day Pilate said those words hundreds of attacks have been launched against these fortifications leaving them buried in
long as the Moslems controlled the city Christians or Jews weren’t allowed to search amongst these ruins for remains
of “Ecce Homo”, only after the Crimean war of 1853 did the Ottoman Turks begin to allow representatives of Christian
countries involved in that war to build new churches and search for the sites of Biblical events like Pilate’s judgment
1878 an archway, believed to be the entrance of the Antonia fortress, where Pilate said these words, was discovered by workers,
building a convent for the “Sisters of Zion”, an order of Catholic nuns, whose objective is to foster understanding
between Jews and Christians.
1931, when the “School of Archaeology” of the Hebrew University was established, one of the nuns of the order,
sister Anne, took an interest in Archaeology and dug up the floor of the convent in
the certainty that she’d find more remains of the “Antonia fortress” and she did: The paved interior courtyard
of the fortress, the “Lithostratos”, where Jesus was scourged and
made to wear the crown of thorns, the drawings of games, carved into the stone floor and used by the Roman soldiers for amusing
themselves when Jesus was brought there and the “Gabbatha”, the striated roadway, leading out of the fortress,
were all discovered by her.
sight of the actual remains of the fortress make “Ecce Homo” a very memorable experience for the Christian visitor.
From here Christians begin to walk along the way of suffering “Via Dolorosa”.
[v] Kibbutz: A group of people sharing the work
in cultivating a piece of land for the mutual benefit of all the members. Benefits are shared equally.
A single family farm living in a group of other farming families. Each family
works for itself, but they share facilities like schools roads etc.
[vii] Biblical prophesies about the desert: Is35:1,6,9,.41:19,43:19-20,51:3,Jer.2:2,
8 Zach 4:6 In the Hebrew there
are 7 words