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


How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus