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

June 20 2018

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

The U.S. Is Trying to Seduce Israel into Accepting a Bad Deal with Iran. Israel Should Say No

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its quarterly report on the Iranian nuclear program. According to an analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security, the Islamic Republic can now produce enough weapons-grade uranium to manufacture “five nuclear weapons in one month, seven in two months, and a total of eight in three months.” The IAEA also has reason to believe that Tehran has further nuclear capabilities that it has successfully hidden from inspectors. David M. Weinberg is concerned about Washington’s response:

Believe it or not, the Biden administration apparently is once again offering the mullahs of Tehran a sweetheart deal: the release of $10 billion or more in frozen Iranian assets and clemency for Iran’s near-breakout nuclear advances of recent years, in exchange for Iranian release of American hostages and warmed-over pious Iranian pledges to freeze the Shiite atomic-bomb program.

This month, intelligence photos showed Iran again digging tunnels at its Natanz nuclear site—supposedly deep enough to withstand an American or Israeli military strike. This tells us that Iran has something to hide, a clear sign that it has not given up on its quest for a nuclear bomb.

Meanwhile, Antony Blinken today completes a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he is reportedly pressing the kingdom to enter the Abraham Accords. This is no coincidence, for reasons Weinberg explains:

Washington expects Israeli acquiescence in the emerging U.S. surrender to Iran in exchange for a series of other things important to Israel. These include U.S. backing for Israel against escalated Palestinian assaults expected this fall in UN forums, toning down U.S. criticism regarding settlement and security matters (at a time when the IDF is going to have to intensify its anti-terrorist operations in Judea and Samaria), an easing of U.S. pressures on Israel in connection with domestic matters (like judicial reform), a warm Washington visit for Prime Minister Netanyahu (which is not just a political concession but is rather critical to Israel’s overall deterrent posture), and most of all, significant American moves towards reconciliation with Saudi Arabia (which is critical to driving a breakthrough in Israeli-Saudi ties).

[But] even an expensive package of U.S. “concessions” to Saudi Arabia will not truly compensate for U.S. capitulation to Iran (something we know from experience will only embolden the hegemonic ambitions of the mullahs). And this capitulation will make it more difficult for the Saudis to embrace Israel publicly.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Antony Blinken, Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship