The Artwork of One of the World’s Oldest Synagogues

In ancient times, the city of Dura-Europos, located on the Euphrates River in modern-day Syria, was an important stop for Mesopotamian Jewish pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem. Thus this Roman frontier city was home to a magnificent 3rd-century synagogue, most of which is now preserved in a museum in Damascus. The archaeologists who discovered it, fortunately, brought a careful catalogue of their findings back to the U.S. Lawrence Schiffman describes this lost place of prayer:

The shul contains a forecourt and prayer area with painted walls depicting various figures and events from Tanakh. The last phase of construction was dated by an Aramaic inscription to 244 CE, making it one of the oldest shuls in the world. It is unique among the many ancient shuls that have emerged from archaeological excavations in that the structure was preserved virtually intact.

All four walls were covered with exquisitely beautiful wall paintings in tempera, a permanent, fast-drying painting medium made of colored pigments mixed with a glutinous material such as egg yolk. These paintings were rich in content, drawn from Tanakh and from what then was a body of still orally passed-down tradition.

The illustrations of this shul were arranged in three horizontal layers to enable inclusion of many scenes. Here are a few examples of some of these: the Exodus and crossing of the Red Sea, Solomon receiving the Queen of Sheba, Hannah and [her son the judge and prophet] Samuel, the Ark in the hands of the Philistines, Jerusalem and the First Temple, the Tabernacle and the kohanim, and several scenes pertaining to Elijah, Mordecai and Esther, Ezekiel, and the fall of Babylon. Scholarly books and articles are full of debate about which interpretations of Tanakh underlie the details of these illustrations.

Read more at Ami Magazine

More about: Archaeology, Jewish art, Jewish history, Synagogues, Syria

Israel’s Retaliation against the Houthis Sends a Message to the U.S., and to Its Arab Allies

The drone that struck a Tel Aviv high-rise on Thursday night is believed to have traveled over 2,000 kilometers, flying from Yemen over Egypt and then above the Mediterranean before veering eastward toward the Israeli coast. Since October, the Houthis have launched over 200 drones at Israel. Nor is this the first attempt to strike Tel Aviv, only the first successful one. Noah Rothman observes that the Houthis’ persistent attacks on Israel and on international shipping are largely the result of the U.S.-led coalition’s anemic response:

Had the Biden administration taken a more proactive and vigorous approach to neutralizing the Houthis’ capabilities, Israel would not be obliged to expand to Yemen the theater of operations in the war Hamas inaugurated on October 7. The prospects of a regional war grow larger by the day, not because Israel cannot “take the win,” as President Biden reportedly told Benjamin Netanyahu following a full-scale direct Iranian attack on the Jewish state, but because hostile foreign actors are killing its citizens. Jerusalem is obliged to defend them and the sovereignty of Israel’s borders.

Biden’s hesitancy was fueled by his apprehension over the prospect of a “wider war” in the Middle East. But his hesitancy is what is going to give him the war he so cravenly sought to avoid.

In this context, the nature of the Israeli response is significant: rather than follow the American strategy of striking isolated weapons depots and the like, IDF jets struck the port city of Hodeida—the sort of major target the U.S. has shied away from. The mission was likely the furthest-ever carried out by the Israel Air Force, hitting a site 200 kilometers further from Israel than Tehran. Yoel Guzansky and Ilan Zalayat comment:

The message that Israel sent was intended to reach the moderate Arab countries, the West, and especially the United States. . . . The message to the coalition countries is that “the containment” had failed and the Houthis must be hit harder. The Hodeida port is the lifeline of the Houthi economy and continued damage to it will make it extremely difficult for this economy, which is also facing significant American sanctions.

Read more at National Review

More about: Houthis, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy