The Rise and Fall of Beyt She’arim, Birthplace of the Mishnah

March 6 2018

Queen Berenice—the daughter of the 1st-century-CE Judean king Herod Agrippa I and the sister of Herod Agrippa II, the last king of Judea—built one of her palaces near the Galilean village of Beyt She’arim, which became a major center of Jewish intellectual life during the early talmudic period (ca. 70-400 CE). Having spent the last three years leading an excavation of the village’s remains, Adi Erlich summarizes his and his colleagues’ findings:

The story of Beyt She’arim that is emerging from our excavations starts in the Iron Age II period [ca. 1000-550 BCE, i.e., the earlier biblical period], of which only sporadic sherds of pottery survived. From the Hellenistic/Hasmonean period (3rd-1st centuries BCE) there are buildings, quarried pits, and small finds. The early Roman period (1st century CE)—the era of Queen Berenice’s estate on the hill—is represented by impressive walls, . . . possibly belonging to that estate, and small finds.

The heyday of Beyt She’arim (2nd-4th centuries CE), the days of the Jewish sages and [the town’s famous] cemetery, are well attested in buildings, streets and alleys, cisterns, quarried installations, and many small finds. The town was well planned, perhaps fortified, and the dwellings and public buildings indicate the high socio-economic status of the residents. Various installations for collecting water were constructed. The Jewish character of the inhabitants is attested by ritual baths and the use of stone vessels, typical of Jewish households. The town was destroyed in the mid-4th century CE, perhaps by the 363 CE earthquake.

The town recovered for a short time (ca. 380-420 CE), but was ruined again, probably by another earthquake. The pottery and glass industries north of the gate belong to that period. There are also some late Byzantine finds (5th-6th centuries CE), but only little architecture and it seems that the town declined in the mid-5th century. The almost [complete] lack of Byzantine coins is striking in this regard. . . . The special place of Beyt She’arim as a living Jewish town, the home of Rabbi Judah, [who codified the Mishnah around 200 CE], and the Sanhedrin, is now coming into better focus.

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More about: Ancient Israel, Ancient Rome, Archaeology, History & Ideas, Judea, Mishnah

Zionists Can, and Do, Criticize Israel. Are Anti-Zionists Capable of Criticizing Anti-Semitism?

Dec. 12 2018

Last week, the New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg defended the newly elected anti-Israel congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, ostensibly arguing that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism aren’t identical. Abe Greenwald comments:

Tlaib . . . has tweeted and retweeted her enthusiasm for terrorists such as Rasmea Odeh, who murdered two American students in a Jerusalem supermarket in 1969. If Tlaib’s anti-Zionism is of the Jew-loving kind, she has a funny way of showing it.

Ilhan Omar, for her part, once tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” And wouldn’t you know it, just because she believes that Zionist hypnotists have cast global spells masking Israeli evil, some people think she’s anti-Semitic! Go figure! . . .

Goldberg spends the bulk of her column trying very hard to uncouple American Jewishness from Israel. To do that, she enumerates Israel’s sins, as she sees them. . . . [But] her basic premise is at odds with reality. Zionists aren’t afraid of finding fault with Israel and don’t need to embrace anti-Zionism in order to [do so]. A poll conducted in October by the Jewish Electorate Institute found that a majority of Americans Jews have no problem both supporting Israel and criticizing it. And unlike Goldberg, they have no problem criticizing anti-Semitism, either.

Goldberg gives the game away entirely when she discusses the discomfort that liberal American Jews have felt in “defending multi-ethnic pluralism here, where they’re in the minority, while treating it as unspeakable in Israel, where Jews are the majority.” She adds: “American white nationalists, some of whom liken their project to Zionism, love to poke at this contradiction.” Read that again. She thinks the white nationalists have a point. Because, really, what anti-Semite doesn’t?

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel & Zionism, New York Times