Signs of Jewish Life, and Death, Discovered at the Ancient Capital of Rabbinic Scholarship

In an oft-retold talmudic story, Yoḥanan ben Zakkai, a leading rabbi at the time of the Second Temple’s destruction, negotiated with the soon-to-be-emperor of Rome, Vespasian, for the preservation of the village of Yavneh, along with its sages. Thus Yavneh, located about 15 miles south of Tel Aviv, became the center of rabbinic learning and the seat of the high rabbinic council known as the Sanhedrin for the next 60 years. Archaeologists have, for the first time, excavated a house from this era of the town’s history, writes Aaron Reich:

The findings of this excavation . . . indicate that the occupants of this home kept kosher and other Jewish purity laws. This was evidenced by the presence of “measuring cups,” vessels identified with Jews in the late Second Temple era that were used to retain ritual purity.

But another impressive find was found just 230 feet away: a cemetery dating back to the same period. On top of these tombs were over 150 glass phials.

The excavation directors add that, . . . “With all due caution, the historical records and archaeological finds raise the possibility that these are the tombs of the city’s Jewish community. If this hypothesis is correct, then at least some of the tombs, perhaps the most elaborate, may belong to the sages of Yavneh, contemporaries of Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai, Rabbi Akiva, and Rabban Gamliel.”

The city of Yavneh has a rich Jewish history, and was a vital point in the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid empire in the story of Hanukkah.

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Ancient Israel, ancient Judaism, Archaeology, Rabbi Akiva, Sanhedrin, Yohanan ben Zakkai

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy