In the Ancient City of Gamla, a Synagogue That Predates the Destruction of the Second Temple

Located in the Golan Heights, Gamla is described in great detail by the historian Josephus, and Israeli archaeologist discovered its ruins following the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The city’s Jews had made a valiant stand against the Romans in 67 CE—as evidenced by the dozens of arrowheads and projectiles from that period that litter the soil—but eventually its walls were breached. As Ticia Verveer writes, Gamla was also home to an ancient synagogue.

The earliest traces of the existence of synagogues were found in Egypt. Two inscriptions, dating from the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes (246-221 BCE) mention synagogues. . . . [T]he word synagogue comes from the Greek word originally meaning “an assembly.” In ancient Greek Jewish texts, synagogue usually means the community of the Jews. It makes sense that the congregation may have developed from a gathering at any suitable place, into a fixed gathering, and with time into a synagogue. . . .

Until now, we have been able to identify three prayer halls that predate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Two of these were part of fortresses built by Herod, at Herodium and at Masada. The reception rooms of theses palaces were transformed into prayer halls when they were occupied by the Jewish rebels. The third synagogue was found . . . at Gamla [and] probably built between 23 and 41 CE.

These three are the only ones known in Palestine from the 1st century CE. . . . Before this period, no other structures are known to have been used as synagogues, except in the diaspora. For example, in [the Aegean island of] Delos, a large commercial center and a thoroughfare to eastern Mediterranean countries, a synagogue existed in the 1st century BCE which remained in use until the 2nd century CE. Ancient literary sources mention synagogues in . . . Lower Egypt, Asia Minor, North Africa, and Rome.

The building in Gamla was destroyed together with the entire town when the Romans crushed the Jewish Revolt in the year 67 CE. . . . [This] basalt structure, [measuring] 17 by 25.5 meters, is oriented to the southwest. A small vestibule with a tripartite entrance leads into the hall. All the walls were lined with rows of three to five benches, leaving wide passages behind the rows. . . . A little building to the south of the synagogue contained a mikveh (ritual bath).

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: ancient Judaism, Archaeology, Golan Heights, History & Ideas, Josephus, Synagogues


Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict