Ancient Rome’s Jewish Catacombs

June 28 2022

First discovered in the 17th century by the Maltese scholar Antonio Boso, the subterranean Jewish catacombs on the outskirts of Rome are some of the oldest monuments to the European Diaspora. Additional Jewish burial sites, not to mention many Christian ones, were also unearthed in the 19th century. Saul Jay Singer outlines their history:

Ancient Roman law prohibited burial within the city, so catacombs were established in the soft volcanic rock outside the city walls. These Roman catacombs, which feature about a half-million tombs interred in a complex underground network of narrow passageways and dark galleries, contain the largest body of archaeological evidence on the early Christian and Jewish communities of ancient Rome.

Intriguingly, [modern] radiocarbon dating suggests that Jewish catacombs may have preceded Christian catacombs and that their use may have actually been of Jewish origin, as Jewish immigrants from the Middle East brought their traditional burial practices to Rome and influenced the Romans to abandon their customary cremation funerary practices. Indeed, according to Leonard Rutgers, an archaeologist for Utrecht University and an expert in Roman Jewish catacombs, radiocarbon analysis by atomic-mass spectroscopy shows that Jewish catacombs predate their Christian counterparts by at least a century.

An unsolved mystery, however, is where Jews—who are known to have been living in Rome at least as early as the 1st century BCE—buried their dead before the initial construction of the Jewish catacombs around the late-1st to 3rd centuries CE.

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Read more at Jewish Press

More about: ancient Judaism, Ancient Rome, Jewish cemeteries

Reforms to Israel’s Judiciary Must Be Carefully Calibrated

The central topic of debate in Israel now is the new coalition government’s proposed reforms of the nation’s judiciary and unwritten constitution. Peter Berkowitz agrees that reform is necessary, but that “the proper scope and pace of reform, however, are open to debate and must be carefully calibrated.”

In particular, Berkowitz argues,

to preserve political cohesiveness, substantial changes to the structure of the Israeli regime must earn support that extends beyond these partisan divisions.

In a deft analysis of the conservative spirit in Israel, bestselling author Micah Goodman warns in the Hebrew language newspaper Makor Rishon that unintended consequences flowing from the constitutional counterrevolution are likely to intensify political instability. When a center-left coalition returns to power, Goodman points out, it may well repeal through a simple majority vote the major changes Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition seeks to enact. Or it may use the legislature’s expanded powers, say, to ram through laws that impair the religious liberty of the ultra-Orthodox. Either way, in a torn nation, constitutional counterrevolution amplifies division.

Conservatives make a compelling case that balance must be restored to the separation of powers in Israel. A prudent concern for the need to harmonize Israel’s free, democratic, and Jewish character counsels deliberation in the pursuit of necessary constitutional reform.

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Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Judicial Reform