A Galilean Synagogue Demonstrates the Architecture of the Earliest Extant Jewish Houses of Worship

June 13 2018

In the 16th century, a rabbi made note of the remains of an ancient synagogue in the village of Baram in the upper Galilee, not far from the Israel-Lebanon border. The structure still stands, and it sheds much light on how Jews prayed in talmudic times. Ron Traub writes:

There are essentially three types of ancient synagogues: the first built during the mishnaic period (70-200 CE), the second in the 3rd and 4th centuries CE, and the last group from the latter part of the Byzantine period (324-638 CE). Baram . . . is purported to be one of the 24 synagogues built by Rabbi Simon bar Yoḥai, who lived in the 2nd century CE. However [most] archaeologists . . . maintain that the synagogue was built at least a century later.

The [structure] measures 15.2 by 20 meters. The southern façade, which faces Jerusalem, has three openings. External to the southern façade are eight columns that run parallel to the building front. The columns supported an overhead pediment not found in other synagogues of the period.

The space between the columns and the façade is known as a vestibule, which is essentially a covered lobby next to the outer doors of the building. The internal plan has three longitudinal divisions that are defined by columns and include two narrow side aisles on either side of a wider central aisle known as a nave. An internal row of columns runs parallel to the back wall. The space between the columns and the back wall is known as an ambulatory and allows people to walk around the inside of the building without disturbing the congregants in the center. . . .

An inscription under the right window of the southern façade reads “Elazar bar Yudan built it.” An unusual feature is the presence of a three-dimensional sculpture: a pair of stone lions featuring a winged Victory and images of animals.

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More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, Galilee, History & Ideas, Jewish architecture, Synagogues

 

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times