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.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Mida

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

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy