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.

Read more at ASOR

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

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount