The Archaeological Evidence for Ancient Jewish Purity Rites

From the Bible, the Talmud, and various texts from the Second Temple period it is evident that ritual purity was a major concern of ancient Jews—as it is for many modern Jews. Only recently, however, has extensive physical evidence of this concern come to light, particularly in the form of the many ancient mikva’ot, or ritual baths, discovered by archaeologists. Yonatan Adler writes:

Most ritual baths were located in residential contexts, in the basement or ground floor of houses as well as in shared domestic courtyards. The phenomenon of ritual baths installed in private homes was prevalent across the entire socioeconomic spectrum, from simple dwellings in rural villages to lavish mansions such as those found in the upper city of Jerusalem and the royal palaces of the Hasmoneans and of Herod the Great. Numerous ritual baths have been found near entrances to the Temple Mount. . . . These were apparently public ritual baths intended for the use of the multitude of pilgrims who visited the Temple on the festivals and throughout the year and required purificatory immersion prior to entering the sacred realms of the Temple. . . .

Another important archaeological phenomenon that points to the observance of ritual-purity regulations is the widespread use of chalkstone vessels [for food]. The practice is based on the notion that stone is a material impervious to ritual impurity. . . . The status of vessels made of stone (such as grinding implements usually made of basalt or other hard rock) is nowhere apparent from [the Bible itself]. Throughout rabbinic literature, [however], we find the assumption that stone vessels cannot contract ritual impurity and, as such, never have any need for purification. . . .

During the early Roman period, various types of vessels made of chalkstone, serving as both domestic tableware and storage containers for food and liquids, were in widespread use at Jewish sites throughout Judea, supplementing the usual repertoire of ceramic vessels. These include hand-carved bowls, mugs, basins, and platters, as well as lathe-turned bowls, trays, goblets, stoppers, spice bowls, and inkwells.

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Read more at ASOR

More about: Archaeology, History & Ideas, Judaism, Kashrut, Mikveh, Second Temple

The New Iran Deal Will Reward Terrorism, Help Russia, and Get Nothing in Return

After many months of negotiations, Washington and Tehran—thanks to Russian mediation—appear close to renewing the 2015 agreement concerning the Iranian nuclear program. Richard Goldberg comments:

Under a new deal, Iran would receive $275 billion of sanctions relief in the first year and $1 trillion by 2030. [Moreover], Tehran would face no changes in the old deal’s sunset clauses—that is, expiration dates on key restrictions—and would be allowed to keep its newly deployed arsenal of advanced uranium centrifuges in storage, guaranteeing the regime the ability to cross the nuclear threshold at any time of its choosing. . . . And worst of all, Iran would win all these concessions while actively plotting to assassinate former U.S. officials like John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and [his] adviser Brian Hook, and trying to kidnap and kill the Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad on U.S. soil.

Moscow, meanwhile, would receive billions of dollars to construct additional nuclear power plants in Iran, and potentially more for storage of nuclear material. . . . Following a visit by the Russian president Vladimir Putin to Tehran last month, Iran reportedly started transferring armed drones for Russian use against Ukraine. On Tuesday, Putin launched an Iranian satellite into orbit reportedly on the condition that Moscow can task it to support Russian operations in Ukraine.

With American and European sanctions on Russia escalating, particularly with respect to Russian energy sales, Putin may finally see net value in the U.S. lifting of sanctions on Iran’s financial and commercial sectors. While the return of Iranian crude to the global market could lead to a modest reduction in oil prices, thereby reducing Putin’s revenue, Russia may be able to head off U.S. secondary sanctions by routing key transactions through Tehran. After all, what would the Biden administration do if Iran allowed Russia to use its major banks and companies to bypass Western sanctions?

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Russia, U.S. Foreign policy