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

What Is the Biden Administration Thinking?

In the aftermath of the rescue of four Israeli hostages on Friday, John Podhoretz observes some “clarifying moments.” The third strikes me as the most important:

Clarifying Moment #3 came with the news that the Biden administration is still calling for negotiations leading to a ceasefire after, by my count, the seventh rejection of the same by Hamas since Bibi Netanyahu’s secret offer a couple of weeks ago. Secretary of State Blinken, a man who cannot say no, including when someone suggests it would be smart for him to play high-school guitar while Ukraine burns, will be back in the region for the eighth time to urge Hamas to accept the deal. Why is this clarifying? Because it now suggests, here and for all time, that the Biden team is stupid.

Supposedly the carrot the [White House] is dangling in the region is a tripartite security deal with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Which would, of course, be a good thing. But like the stupid people they are now proving to be, they seem not to understand the very thing that led the Saudis to view Israel as a potential ally more than a decade ago: the idea that Israel means business and does what it must to survive and built itself a tech sector the Saudis want to learn from. Allowing Hamas to survive, which is implicitly part of the big American deal, will not lead to normalization. The Saudis do not want an Iranian vassal state in Palestine. Their entire foreign-policy purpose is to counter Iran. I know that. You know that. Everybody in the world knows that. Even Tony Blinken’s guitar is gently weeping at his dangling a carrot to Israel and Saudi Arabia that neither wants, needs, nor will accept.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Antony Blinken, Gaza War 2023, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship