Kibbutzniks Are Fighting to Preserve a 2,000-Year-Old Ritual Bath

July 15, 2020 | Rossella Tercatin
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Over the past century, Israeli archaeologists have discovered several ritual baths, or mikva’ot, from the Second Temple period and the subsequent centuries—important testimony to the antiquity and continuity of Jewish ritual. When one such ancient mikveh was recently discovered in the Lower Galilee near Kibbutz Hannaton, archaeologists expected to document it and then allow it to be covered up by the highway now under construction. But some of the locals objected, as Rossella Tercatin writes:

[S]ome Hannaton residents are hoping to be able to transfer the whole structure to the kibbutz and to create a small archaeological park around it. The mission especially resonated with them also because Hannaton is already home to a very special ritual bath, the only one in Israel that is open to anyone . . . regardless of religion, sex, or age.

Archaeologists could date the mikveh to the Second Temple period thanks to the grey plaster coating the pool and the width of the staircase leading into it. [They believe] that the area was then [used either for the cultivation of] olive trees or for vineyards, producing the high-quality oil or wine used in the Temple. For this reason, the ritual bath could have been used by the farmers, who needed to immerse themselves regularly in order to avoid making their produce impure. Similar cases are discussed in the Mishnah, the foundational text of rabbinic Judaism, which would be compiled in the nearby city of Tzippori (Sepphoris) some 200 years later.

[The] two archaeologists carrying out the excavation which uncovered the ancient ritual bath are Israeli Arabs—one Christian, one Muslim.

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