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

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East