The Synagogues of Ancient Israel

When Gentile archaeologists and explorers began attempts to excavate the ancient sites of the Land of Israel in the 19th century, their primary interest was in finding artifacts from the era of the Hebrew Bible. It was only when Jewish archaeologists began their work in the 20th century that the remnants of the later eras came to light. Among their findings were ancient synagogues, which Lawrence Schiffman describes:

So far, in Israel alone, some 78 ancient synagogues have been excavated and another 54 are known, bringing the total of those discovered to 132. This is in addition to the ancient Diaspora synagogues that have come to light, and we can certainly expect more to be discovered and excavated.

The 6th-century Beit Alfa synagogue, located near Beit Shean [in northern Israel], displayed virtually all of the features that would be observed in numerous late Roman- and Byzantine-period synagogues. In antiquity, this synagogue was a colonnaded two-story building and included a courtyard, entrance hall, and prayer hall—the actual shul. The first floor of the prayer hall consisted of a central chamber, and on the south side was the apse that served as the resting place for the [ark] and the bimah, [a raised lectern]. The building was aligned southwest, in the direction of Jerusalem. Two inscriptions graced the synagogue. An Aramaic inscription indicated that it was built in the time of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I (518 to 527 CE) and paid for by communal donations. A Greek inscription thanked the artisans who had built it.

Three scenes were beautifully preserved on the [synagogue’s] mosaic floor: (1) the binding of Isaac; (2) a zodiac with the sun, seasons, and constellations labeled in Hebrew; and (3) on the southern side facing Jerusalem, in front of the ark, a representation of an ark with two menorahs on each side and a variety of other Jewish ritual symbols. . . . While zodiac scenes were also found in Graeco-Roman art, for Jews, the clear meaning was that God created and rules over the orderly progression of time.

Read more at Ami Magazine

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, Jewish art, Synagogues

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy