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Friday, May 19, 2006

Photo Friday (vol. LXIV) [Mikveh edition]

Today the big kids and I went for a short tiyul (hike) just over the far side of the hill opposite our house.  Our destination was an ancient road called Derech Avot (Patriarch's Way), so named because it is thought by many to be the path that Avraham took while bringing his son Isaac to be sacrificed.

Even if it was not the exact route taken by the Biblical Patriarchs, it was certainly a very ancient road that was heavily used during Temple times to approach Jerusalem from the south (meaning from the direction of Beer Sheva and Hevron).

There are a few reason we know this.

First and foremost we know it is an ancient road because there are Roman milestones (the markers set up by the Roman Legion to mark the miles between major cities).  They can be found all over Israel, but this one marks the spot on the road 12 miles from Jerusalem:
BTW, I only know it is the stone marking 12 miles from Jerusalem because right next to it is this marker put up by the Dept of Antiquities (translation milestone 12):

Anyway, after we'd taken a couple of pics of the kids (happy now Val???) next to the milestone we went up the road to see proof that this was the road Jewish Pilgrims traveled from the south in order to reach Jerusalem for the three major Festivals (Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot).    The proof was in the form of two large Mikvehs (ritual baths) sitting off to the side of the road.

[Very] Loosely translated, the sign below says that this mikveh is from the second Temple period and sits along the main route from Hevron to Jerusalem with no paths leading to any nearby town.  It makes note of the large wall between the two sides of the mikveh and points out this was certainly built here for use by pilgrims going up to Jerusalem (feel free to provide an exact translation if you have a moment). 

For those not clear on this concept, before one could go into the Temple grounds or eat any part of a sacrificed animal (such as the Passover offering), you needed to be in a state of ritual purity. Therefore EVERYBODY heading for Jerusalem would either have to visit a mikveh just outside of the Jerusalem, or take their chances on using one once they got there.  This location just south of Jerusalem was likely a very popular spot.

The two mikvehs were discovered by a farmer plowing his field about 10 or 15 years ago and were excavated by the Department of Antiquities.  They are right next to each other and each has a double entrance and a dividing wall down the center inside the cave  (I think this is what the sign is referring to).    This allowed the tameh (impure) to enter on one side... immerse themselves in the water inside... and emerge up the stairs and out the other side as tahor (pure).

Here are the two (in and out) doors to the first mikveh  One would go down the stairs on one side... dunk in the mikveh... and come out the other side.  Can't you just picture the pilgrims lining up?:
Here is what this one looks like inside.  You can see the actual bath is partially filled with rubble but it still has water in it.  Also, the dividing wall inside the cave is mostly gone but you can see where it once stood so you would have to go into the water before emerging out the other side:

The walls were once covered with a plaster or stucco-type coating.  Remnants of it are still apparent in the corners such as here:
And here:

Looking back towards the door(s) looks like this:
And this:

Only a few feet away was the second mikveh's double entrance:


Inside this one was a massive central column carved from the stone:


It's hard to see from the outside, but one of the two entrances (on the right) to the second mikveh was partially sealed up.  This picture from inside makes it easier to see:


On the way out of the mikvehs we ran into a van full of American tourists who were coming to see the mikvehs.  I introduced myself and it turned out they were a group of 10 legislators from the Great State of Georgia on a tour of the holy land.  I shook hands all around and even got a business card from Emanuel Jones, A very nice State Senator from District 10.

Once we were back on the ancient road the kids started talking about the milestone we had seen and asked a pretty obvious question: "If we go a mile up that way (towards Jerusalem) will there be another Roman milestone?"

I didn't know the answer, so we did... and guess what we found:
And to confirm it:

So that's about it for today.  It was really fun to walk on a road that had felt the tread of thousands of Jewish pilgrims and Roman soldiers... and to step inside two mikvehs that had been used by thousands of people on their way to celebrate in the Temple in Jerusalem. 

And to think... all of it is walking distance from our back door.

Shabbat Shalom.

Posted by David Bogner on May 19, 2006 | Permalink


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That was very cool. I liked it. Good Shabbos.

Posted by: Jack | May 19, 2006 8:47:55 PM

very interesting. thanks for the pics of the kids! :)

Posted by: val | May 19, 2006 8:54:56 PM

that was a fantastic blog. Thanks and Shabbat Shalom

p.s. I imagine Ben has not contacted you as yet, otherwise (unless you are anything like my darling husband) you would have told me

Posted by: savta yaffa | May 19, 2006 9:34:27 PM

That is SO fascinating. History in places! It's living!

Posted by: Irina | May 19, 2006 10:36:30 PM

The title really is misleading, boy am I glad this is what you meant.

Posted by: Max Power | May 19, 2006 11:36:39 PM

great story,great pics. Why the sawx cap on Ariella....why do this to your children...I guess they can do teshuvah and become yankee fans on their own when they grow up. Shavua Tov

Posted by: shmiel | May 20, 2006 12:56:24 AM

very cool, but isn't it interesting that the distance is marked in MILES and not KILOMETERS???

...any thoughts on that???

Posted by: EmahS | May 20, 2006 7:01:37 AM

That was great! Are there organized tours there? I would love to go.

Posted by: Rahel | May 20, 2006 11:03:49 PM


I would imagine that the Romans did not use the metric system. They measured space in miles . . . eg marathons are 26 miles . . . and hence the markers are spaced one mile apart . . . and hence the Israeli govt translated how many miles it is.

Posted by: Sarah | May 20, 2006 11:54:30 PM

Thanks SArah., that makes sense, I guess I was thinking of the Israeli modern day use of the metric system. I truly never thought about which system the Romans used....ya learn something new every day! :)

Posted by: EmahS | May 21, 2006 3:27:38 AM

That was just really cool!

Posted by: Faye | May 21, 2006 4:49:53 AM

Jack... Now don't start getting all mushy on me! :-)

Val... Oy! Between you and Jack I may go over my monthly bandwidth budget!!!! :-)

Savta Yaffa... Thank you... and no, I haven't heard from him yet. All in good time, I suppose. :-)

Irina... That's really the neatest part about these little jaunts. Our kids aren't hearing Bible stories or dry history lessons. they are seeing and living side by side with the Bible and their history.

Max Power... You scrolled down pretty fast though, didn't you? ;-)

Shmiel... If the Sox had a farm club in Scranton you'd be a believer. :-)

EmahS... The Romans used miles. :-)

Rahel... I'm sure any tour guide could take you there... or you could simply call your friendly neighborhood beekeeper and as him to take you over. :-)

Faye... Don't thank me, I'm a giver. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | May 21, 2006 4:36:03 PM

The exact translation reads:

This "mikvah" (ritual bath) was quarried in the 2nd Temple period. It's location alongside the main road from Hebron to Jerusalem is not connected to a [permanently] settled area. The large size and rigid partition between the entrance and exit testify that the mikvah was designated for pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem.

Also, the version of discovery that I heard was that some kids from Neve Daniel were poking around, found the top of the archway (the ground level was near the ceiling pre-excavation), and created enough of a stir to get the grown-ups involved, which goes to show what kids can accomplish.

Kol Tuv

Posted by: Dan | May 21, 2006 6:42:50 PM

Thanks again for sharing these wonderful treasures.

Posted by: jaime | May 22, 2006 3:36:30 AM

Very cool. Thanks, as always for sharing. And the photos of the kids are such a nice treat!

Posted by: Essie | May 22, 2006 6:53:46 PM

David, I know I'm a week behind commenting on this, but I'm doing some catch-up reading tonight. I've been meaning to tell you "thank you" for a long time. Before I started reading your blog, I had a hard time understanding what was going on in Israel today and also relating Israel today to what I'd learned from the Old Testament as a kid growing up in a Baptist church. Sometimes I would get frustrated with the news coverage and give up trying to understand it and relate to it. Your blog brings everything together for me and has given me a much better understanding of what is happening over there, good and bad. Thank you.

Posted by: jg | May 30, 2006 7:00:06 AM

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