Israel for Jewish travelers

Israel is the Jewish Homeland, where Old Testament events took place, and where the Jewish people settled, after centuries wandering in the diaspora. A Jewish tour of Israel should include biblical locations but also modern Israeli culture. The highlight of any Jewish itinerary is the Western Wall that was once part of the Holy Jewish Temple on Temple Mount. Wandering through the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, Jewish travelers can encounter 18th-century synagogues and archaeological remains from the Second Temple Era. A Jewish itinerary could include King David’s Tomb on Mt. Zion, and the excavated ancient city of King David. Go beyond Jerusalem and visit the Sea of Galilee, the Golan Heights, the Negev, and Mount Carmel. Travel south to Masada, and north to Safed, the center of Jewish mysticism. In Tel Aviv experience the markets, beaches, street food, graffiti art, café culture, and dynamic nightlife. The Israel Museum, ANU Diaspora Museum, and the Tower of David Museum help shed light on Jewish history, and culture. No trip to Israel is complete without visiting Yad VaShem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. One of the best ways to connect with your roots is on a Jewish heritage tour in Israel. These tours cover top Israel Jewish sites and world-class attractions like the Dead Sea. In this section you will discover Israel from the Jewish perspective. You will find here lists of kosher restaurants and holy sites, practical tips and our recommendations.


Rosh Hashanah - The Jewish New Year

If you’re visiting Israel after the long hot summer months (which, by the way, is a wonderful time of year to be in the country, climate-wise) you may be around for a very special event - the Jewish New Year. Israel is home to three major world religions - Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. All of them have their own festivals and celebrations but for Jews, this is one of the biggest. The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is the first of a number of holidays that are often called ‘the High Holy Days’ (‘Yamim Noraim’ in Hebrew).Rosh Hashanah honey bowl with a wooden honey dipper and apples.Photo byIgal NessonUnsplashThis year, the Islamic New Year (which runs according to a Muslim lunar calendar) took place at the end of July. The Christian New Year is always on 1st January. But this Jewish festival always comes about in the Fall. Why that is (and many other questions) we’ll be answering below in a brief guide to the whats, wheres, and hows of this special holiday! The fact is that whatever your background, and whether you believe in God or not, Israel is a fascinating place to be at these times of the year. Christians flock to Israel at Easter, Muslims regard Ramadan as sacred and for Jews, Rosh Hashanah is a chance to catch up with those close to them, as well as enjoy good food, wear some new clothes, and generally look forward instead of back.In case you’re invited to someone’s home, or get chatting with a local, here are a few pointers for you. Enjoy! What is the name of the Jewish New Year in Hebrew? Its name is Rosh Hashanah which, in the Hebrew language, means ‘Head of the Year’ or ‘First of the Year’. Why do Jews celebrate their New Year in September or October?This is a good question and one that is often asked! Well, all Jewish festivals and holidays are set according to the Hebrew calendar. The first day of this calendar is the 1st Tishrei - it begins on the day of the new moon which can be seen around 354 years after the 1st Tishrei of the previous year.This is why the Gregorian date for this Jewish holiday is different every year.Fresh pomegranate isolated on black background. Photo byTamanna RumeeonUnsplashHow old is the world, according to the Jewish faith?If you estimate things according to the Jewish faith, the world is currently in the sixth millennium. Jews and Israelis start counting the beginning of time in the year 3761 BCE. Why? Because of an incredibly important Jewish philosopher named Maimonides, who lived in Egypt hundreds of years ago. Amongst his many writings, he established this as the biblical date of creation.When is the Jewish New Year in 2022? And how long do the celebrations last?This year the Jewish New Year begins on the evening of Sunday 25th September and lasts for two days. In Israel, almost all stores will be closed, as well as street markets. It’s also important to know that public transport will also come to a halt, so if you don’t want to stay in one place for these 48 hours you could look into car rental, which is surprisingly affordable. If you are in Tel Aviv, however, you are in luck because it’s a more liberal and secular city. You’re likely to find coffee shops open during the day and even a few Tel Aviv restaurants open at night.How do I say ‘Happy New Year’ in Hebrew?Traditionally, there are two ways of addressing someone with this greeting. The first is ‘Shanah tovah’ (‘Good year’) but, if you want to be more formal, then you can say ‘L’Shanah tovah tikatevu’ (‘May you be inscribed for a good year’). It’s also popular to say to people in Israel ‘Shanah tova u’metuka’ (‘a good and sweet new year’). In Yiddish, which is a language spoken by some religious Jews, you might hear ‘Gut yontif’ (‘happy holiday’). A headshot of a man blowing a shofar during Rosh Hashanah. Photo via www.freeimages.comWhat foods are customarily eaten at the Jewish New Year?Jews love their food and Rosh Hashanah is no exception - you might want to skip lunch (and breakfast too!) As well as old favorites, such as matzah ball soup, roast chicken and potato kugel, you’ll see certain things on the table that indicate it’s the start of a new year. These include: Apples dipped in honey - this is a tradition (rather than a religious commandment) and involves dipping slices into honey, whilst praying for a sweet and fruitful new year.Challah bread - this yeasty bread is eaten every Shabbat in Israel and the New Year is no exception - just that this time it’s round instead of long - to symbolize the circle of life. Pomegranate seeds - these are symbolic of righteousness in Judaism since it’s said to have 613 seeds (each representing one of the Jewish commandments of the Torah). Tzimmes - made with carrots, or other sweet root vegetables, again it’s eaten because it’s sweet.A group of men/boys praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Photo byshraga kopsteinonUnsplashWhat is the atmosphere like in Israel around the time of the Jewish New Year?It’s very festive. In the days leading up to it, friends, neighbors, family, shopkeepers (and sometimes even strangers in the street!) will all want to wish you ‘shanah tovah’. If you’re in Jerusalem, the atmosphere will be even more noticeable, since this really is a holy city.The shops and markets will be very busy, because people are stocking up on food for lunches and dinners, and gifts for close family and friends. There’s also a lot of traffic on the roads in the lead-up to the festival, because Israelis will be traveling around the country to meet up with family and friends.Over the two days of this particular Jewish festival, secular Jews might go to the beach, hike in national parks in Northern Israel, meet up with friends, and generally enjoy their time off. Traditional religious Jews will attend services at the synagogue and Orthodox Jews will refrain from work, writing, driving, and using any objects that require electricity.Ceramic pomegranates, symbols of Rosh Hashana, Jerusalem.Photo byNixx StudioonUnsplashWhat happens at the synagogue during the Jewish New Year?For two days, there are services in the synagogue and the liturgy (the form of worship) is incredibly beautiful. Rosh Hashanah remembers the creation of the world and is the start of a ten-day period that culminates in Yom Kippur. These ten days, for religious Jews, are about introspection and eventual atonement - there is a focus on humility as well as rejoicing.The prayer ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ (‘Our Father, Our King’) is sung throughout the morning and at the culmination of the service, a shofar is blown. The shofar is a ram’s horn and is blasted out at different intervals. The shofar is a symbol of the Jewish prophets who called on people to improve themselves spiritually - many Jews regard it as a ‘wake-up call’ from God. What is the ritual of tashlich, which is performed at the Jewish New Year?Carried out on the first afternoon of Rosh Hashanah (usually after the lunchtime meal), the ritual of tashlich involves the symbolic ‘casting off’ of sins. Jews walk to a body of flowing water (a stream, river, lake, or sea) and throw crumbs (or sometimes pebbles) into it - as they do this, they recite a prayer asking God to lift their troubles from their shoulders because last year is ‘washed away like crumbs in the current.’If you’re visiting the Holy Land over this period, or at any time for that matter, and are interested in taking a guided tour or day trip around Israel, don’t hesitate to contact us by email or phone or take a look at our blog for more ideas about places to see and things to do. We’ve been in business for over 35 years and with our knowledgeable guides and experienced and friendly staff, we guarantee you a holiday to remember. Shanah tovah!Pomegranates on a tree.Photo byLavi PerchikonUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

Glatt Kosher Hotels And Restaurants in Israel

It's high season now in Israel and the country is expecting tens of thousands of guests in the next few months, all looking for fun days out, comfortable budget accommodation and great food. And Israel’s really come a long way in the last 20 years - the food scene here is booming, whether you’re a meat eater, a fish-lover, a committed vegetarian or an aspiring vegan.Kosher pizzeria. Photo byNick ClementonUnsplashWhether you’re in the mood for street food (falafel, sabich, shawarma), the great Israeli breakfast - in the form of eggs, jachnun or shakshuka - freshly caught St. Peter’s fish from the Jaffa port or a juicy steak in the Golan Heights, rest assured you’re going to find it in Israel. Jewish dietary laws in the land of IsraelHowever, one thing you should note, if you’re not familiar with Jewish law, is that many hotels and restaurants in Israel operate standards of kashrut - that is, laws that pertain to food. If these hotels and restaurants abide by rules, they will be given a ‘kosher’ classification by the Israeli rabbinate. Not all of these restaurants have this certification but the fact is that Orthodox Jews will always adhere to the Jewish dietary laws which, at their most basic, prohibit the mixing of milk and meat foodstuffs, as well as the prohibition of pork, shellfish and any other animal that does not chew the cud. This means that when looking for somewhere to eat out, they want to be sure the kitchen and foodstuffs are in line with Jewish law, hence this certification.White kippah for Yom Kippur / Rosh Hashanah. Photo byJoey DeanonUnsplashGlatt kosher - what does it actually mean?Just as there are different kinds of Christians, Muslims and Hindus, there are different kinds of Jews. Some Jews in Israel (and in the diaspora) are secular, some are Masorti (traditional) and others are ‘Orthodox,’ ‘modern Orthodox or ‘Haredi.’ Depending on how observant (religious) they are, they may want an even stricter certification than normal, which is where ‘glatt’ comes in.Glatt - more widely referred to as ‘Mehadrin’ in Hebrew and Yiddish - means ‘smooth’. However, when you’re talking about kosher meat, it is an indication that the lungs of the animal are completely unblemished and free of defects - thus adhering to a more stringent level of observance. Do you have to be Jewish to eat at a glatt kosher restaurant?Today we’re looking at glatt hotels in Israel that conform to rigorous standards and display a ‘Mehadrin’ certificate on their premises. If you visit one for lunch or dinner (or to stay) you will probably see a fair number of observant Jews (who live their lives according to the regulations contained in Jewish sacred texts) - from the head covering, to black frock coats and fur hats) there.The good news is that you definitely have to be Jewish (or even a believer in God!) to eat at these restaurants. They are open to the general public - all you need to do is decide, beforehand, if you’re in the mood for meat or dairy, because you will never have both in the same place. Here are a few of our recommendations for glatt kosher hotels and restaurants in Israel…Freshly baked challah bread.Photo byShraga KopsteinonUnsplashGlatt kosher hotels and restaurants in JerusalemOf all the cities in Israel, it’s Jerusalem where you’ll find the kosher hotels in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Eilat and Northern Israel and thebest restaurants which adhere to the strictest standards. These include (but aren’t limited to):Prima Kings, 60 King George - Close to both the Great Synagogue and the Old City, this 213- room hotel is a comfortable and budget-friendly experience, with chef-prepared kosher meals.Jerusalem Gardens Hotel and Spa, 4 Vilna Street -Located on their 12th floor, this small, intimate restaurant offers both panoramic views of the city and terrific kosher food. Not cheap, but a true ‘Manhattan-style’ meat restaurant, with artful presentation and excellent service.Caesar Premier, 208 Jaffa Street - In the heart of the city, this European-style hotel offers comfortable accommodation and a restaurant that can also cater for large events. They pride themselves on their welcoming family atmosphere and their rooftop swimming pool offers separate hours for men and women. Kosher sandwich. Image byBINYOUSSOFfromPixabayThe Waldorf Astoria Hotel, 26-28 Agron Street - This unabashedly luxurious hotel is just 500 metres from the Jaffa Gate, in Jerusalem's Old City, and offers light bites, afternoon tea and gourmet cuisine, all under the supervision of the Jerusalem Rabbinate. They also offer a lavish Shabbat buffet lunch (pre-payment necessary).Rimonim Shalom Hotel, 24 Shakhrai Street - Formerly the Rimonim, the Shalom hotel is close to Ein Kerem and the Malka Mall and offers budget-friendly accommodation. Not only does it have a good restaurant, serving buffet meals, but it also boasts a semi-Olympic-sized swimming pool and a convention centre.The Inbal, 2 Jabotinsky Street - This five-star hotel, located in the very heart of Jerusalem, boasts the ‘O2’ - a meat restaurant which specialises in defining and reinventing Israeli cuisine, courtesy of Chef Nimrod Norman.Leonardo Plaza, 1 Rabbi Akiva Street - For gourmet food lovers, visit here and enjoy fabulous cuisine in one of their three restaurants, each inspired by different traditions. ‘Primavera’ is essentially Italian, ‘Cow in the Roof’ gives you a taste of French classics and ‘Cardo’ is where they serve their breakfast treats. They also host Friday night dinners and an enormous Shabbat buffet, along with fine wines. All supervised by the Jerusalem rabbinate.People praying at the Western Wall. Photo byOndrej BocekonUnsplashLittle House in Rechavia, 20 Ibn Ezra - This newly-renovated stone house in a green peaceful neighbourhood offers a Mehadrin Israeli breakfast and also offers a full Friday night kosher dinner and Shabbat lunch (these have to be pre-ordered).Red Heifer Steakhouse, 26 King David Street- Close to the King David hotel, this upscale meat restaurant offers everything from burgers and meat pizzas to high-end cuts and steaks such as filet mignon. All of their beef is hormone-free and steaks are aged for a minimum of 28 days, on-site.Tzuba Hotel, Kibbutz Tzuba, Jerusalem Hills- Nestled in the Judean hills, just 20 minutes from Jerusalem, this kosher kibbutz hotel in central Israel offers guests both rich buffet lunch (quiches, local farm cheeses, pastries and desserts) and also caters to larger events, such as bar mitzvahs. Fun fact: they actually run chocolate workshops!The Four Sephardic Synagogues, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.Photo credit: ©ShutterstockGlatt kosher hotels and restaurants in EilatEilat welcomes tourists from around the globe but particularly at Passover and Sukkot, many religious Jews vacation here, and are looking for ‘glatt’ options within their hotel accommodation and when dining out. These include:Dan Panorama,the Northern Beach, Eilat- At this luxury hotel, world-class chefs will prepare you all kinds of culinary delights, including rich breakfasts, varied salads and tasty barbecue meats. Choose from the Dolphin dining room, Marina lobby or Bambou bar. Herods Palace, theNorthern Beach - Meals are a delight at Herods, with not just wow-factor breakfasts (four omelette stations and a dedicated juice bar) but the ‘Four Winds’ dairy lobby restaurant. For dinner, try their gourmet restaurants Tamarind and Tzaparim, which serve delicious, international fusion food. Hilton Queen of Sheba,8 Antibes Street - You have a choice of three restaurants here - all good. The Ebony is a pool restaurant and bar that serves grilled meats and cocktails. Makeda serves rich and yummy breakfasts. And their fabulous Japanese restaurant Yakimon, on the 12th floor, offers not just top-quality Asian fare but stunning views of the Red Sea.Mosh Beach, Derekh Mitsrayim, Eilat, Israel.Photo byYoad ShejtmanonUnsplashIsrotel King Solomon, the Northern Beach - Choose from three restaurants here - the ‘I Cafe’ which offers salads, pastas and deserts, the ‘King’s Table’ which offers tasty buffets and active preparation stands and Angelina, a wonderful Italian restaurant, serving fabulous focaccia, antipasti and pizza.Toy Bar restaurant, 1 Kamen Street - Dairy fare here includes arancini (Italian fried rice balls), delicious focaccia, a range of pasta dishes and cheesecake for dessert. Friendly, personalised service and diners recommend their themed cocktails.Cafe Cafe at the Ice Mall - This kosher dairy restaurant is great both for snacks and main meals, and diners love their Thai noodles and choice of cakes. This particular branch is right next to an ice rink, so you can stop for a milkshake or pizza after you’ve worked up an appetite, zipping around the rink.Antrikot Steak Houser at the Ice Mall - Well-priced burgers and steaks go down a treat here, and the side dishes (particularly the cauliflower) and tahini are raved about. Tasty food and helpful, friendly owners.Eilat's Dolphin Reef, Israel.Photo byMor ShanionUnsplashGlatt kosher hotels and restaurants in Tel Aviv and Central IsraelRegina, HaTachana The Station - Nestled in a 19th-century building, full of original features and beautifully preserved, sits Regina. This kosher meat restaurant, in the heart of HaTachana (the old Train Station), serves tasty and appealing food in a charming setting. Starters include beetroot carpaccio, meat hummus and smoked salmon bruschetta. If you’re in the mood for fish, there is salmon or tilapia (with roasted beans on the side) and carnivores will love the house burger and veal kebab. And fear, not vegans, they have meat-free shawarma and burger made from seitan too. To make the evening go with a swing, order one of their famous cocktails - maybe a ‘Jaffa Special’ or a ‘Regina in the Forest’. Not cheap, but tasty.Lehem Basar, Hanger 14, Tel Aviv Port - This steakhouse is located at the Tel Aviv Port (Namal in north Tel Aviv) close to the sea. Dishes include roasted eggplant, lamb stew, salmon fillet and a range of steaks. Enjoy a delicious sorbet for dessert whilst overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Alter Nativ - 10 Dubnov Street - Under the supervision of the Hatam Sofer, in Petach Tikva, this kosher dairy restaurant is a great place to grab breakfast, tuck into some fresh fish or enjoy a sizzling hot pizza. Even better, they offer free parking to their guests in the evening.HaTachana (the old Train Station) in Tel Aviv.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinPankina, 39 Gordon Street (corner Dizengoff) - In the heart of Tel Aviv, the dairy restaurant Pankina is so good that eaters there say it’s on par with places in Rome. Dishes include tuna tartar, eggplant con mozzarella, Caprese salad and Fettuccia al Porcino e tartufo. The desserts are magnificent - you can’t go wrong with the tiramisu, semifreddo or millefoglie. What’s their secret? Well, apparently, not only do they import many of their ingredients from Italy, but nearly all their staff are Italian too! Don’t miss it.Papagaio - 2 Ha Shunit, Herzilya Pituach - This Brazilian-style table restaurant has an unlimited meat=tasting menu, as well as a regular a-la-carte menu. Located in Herzliya Pituach, inside the Arena mall and close to the boat marina, it’s a good option for those who are staying just outside the White City.Fresh Kitchen - 2 Ha Shunit, Herzliya Pituach - This kosher dairy restaurant is also in the Arena mall. Recommended dishes include salmon, red shakshuka and chocolate cake.People eating at a restaurant in the street in Tel Aviv. Photo byYaroslav LutskyonUnsplashGlatt kosher hotels and restaurants in Northern IsraelAresto, Caesarea Harbour - This upscale dairy restaurant lies next to the Mediterranean and offers spectacular food in beautiful surroundings, overlooking the ruins of Caesaria. Their focaccia - topped with mozzarella and garlic - is delicious, their salads are bountiful and their eggplant roll is to die for. Pasta lovers will adore the lasagna and gnocchi and the red tuna and Denis filet will satisfy any pescatarian. A little costly but worth ditching the diet for.Shaltieli, 6 YohaiBenNun Street, Haifa - The only kosher restaurant on the beach in Haifa, there are plenty of meat dishes on the menu, with a few vegetarian and vegan options besides. The hamburger and chicken come recommended and Shaltiel also screens sports matches and offers hookahs. Despite its casual vibe, you will, however, need a shirt and shoes to gain entry!Nir Etzion Kibbutz Resort, Carmel Mountains - This kosher kibbutz hotel near Mount Carmel has a lobby bar Shirat Hayam, which serves a dairy menu (sandwiches, salads and cakes) and hot, cold and alcoholic beverages. The meat restaurant itself is under the supervision of Rabbi Nachsoni and also boasts a private dining space.A cow in the Mount Carmel National Park, Israel. Photo byYoav NironUnsplashSin Chan, 10 Shimon Dahan, Tiberias - If you’re in the Sea of Galilee area and in the mood for Chinese, then head to Sin Сhan. This excellent Asian restaurant serves great food at prices that are half of what you’d pay in Tel Aviv. The Chicken Szechuan and Pad Thai dishes come highly recommended! Oh, and come with an appetite because the portions are enormous!Kinar Galilee, Moshav Ramot - Boasting plenty of food, breakfast and dinner are buffet style. All meat dishes have the Mehadrin supervision label on them. There are also fish and vegetable options and plenty of healthy food. Lunch is not served here but there is a bar selling light meals and after an enormous breakfast, that may be all you need.Yosko Hummus 23 Ha-Nadiv Street, Zikhron Yaakov - Enormous portions are de rigueur with this family business - order one plate for two people. Try the mushrooms and eggplant varieties!ltos Steakhouse, Golan Heights - With four different meat dishes on offer, as well as plates with grains and vegetables for the non-carnivore, this family-style eatery is close to the Golan’s capital, Katzrin, and a fine place to eat steak. It’s even better if you pair it with one of the local wines on offer.Sea of Galilee, Israel.Photo credit: © Oksana Mats
By Sarah Mann

The Twelve Tribes of Israel

There are many things to love about Israel - months of endless sunshine, a beautiful Mediterranean coastline that boasts pristine beaches and clear waters, endless nature reserves and national parks, art galleries and museums, Crusader fortresses, boutique vineyards, and plenty of opportunities for adrenalin lovers, in the form of kayaking, jet-skiing, surfing, and rappelling.The farm of Netiv HaAsara, Israel. Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplashOf course, Israel is also one of the world’s top destinations for pilgrims. Home to a diverse population that includes Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze, there’s no shortage of places of worship to visit. Jerusalem’s Old City is, in itself, a place you could spend days, if not weeks, exploring.Packed full of historical sites including the Western Wall (the last remaining wall of the Second Temple, which was destroyed in 70 AD), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (built where Christ was crucified, buried, and resurrected), and the Dome of the Rock (which Muslims believe Mohammed flew over, en route to Mecca) each step you take is a journey back in time.A Land of HistoryAnd for history lovers, Israel is an incredible holiday destination. Whether you’re curious about the Israelites, Roman, Crusader, Mamluk, or Ottoman period in this country’s history, you won’t run out of things to see. What we’re looking at today is just a tiny part of this history, but something extraordinary in its own right - the story of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, which is told in the Bible in the form of the extraordinary story of Jacob (son of Isaac, and grandson of the patriarch Abraham).Whilst the time period of this story is ancient - circa 1200 BCE - the impact of it cannot be underestimated because, today, Orthodox Jews still consider themselves to be descendants of these tribes. There are also many other communities across the world, including Christian Assyrians, Afghans, Mormons, Ethiopians, and American Indians who also claim to be descendants of ‘lost tribes’ too. Yes, it’s really quite a story!Mount Arbel, Israel. Photo byDave HerringonUnsplash.The Hebrew Bible and the 12 Tribes of IsraelAccording to the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible, as some Jews call it), the twelve tribes of Israel were the descendants of Jacob, one of the three great patriarchs of the Jewish religion. Jacob who (as we said above) was the grandson of Abraham (‘the father of the faith’ ) bore twelve sons, through his two wives, Leah and Rachel, and his concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah. It would be these sons who - collectively - formed the tribes.What were the names of the 12 tribes of Israel?The names of the men who formed the twelve tribes of Israel were (in order of age): Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. Unfortunately, Jacob was known to show favoritism - the most beloved of his sons was - without a doubt - Joseph, and this favoritism would set the scene for the extraordinary family saga that is told in the first book of the Bible, Genesis.The Jordan Valley, seen from the top of Mount Sartaba. Photo by Eddie & Carolina Stigson on UnsplashThe 12 Tribes of Israel in the BibleJealous and consumed with rage at the favorable treatment meted out by their father to his second youngest son, things came to a head when Jacob gave Joseph a resplendent coat of many colors. His ten elder brothers could bear it no longer so sold Joseph into slavery, returning home to tell their father that he had been killed by a wild animal. In the meantime, Joseph was taken to Egypt and, after a cruel twist of fate, imprisoned, where there he languished until he became known for his ability to interpret dreams. Summoned by the Pharaoh and able to explain Egypt’s current prosperity (and, furthermore, predict seven upcoming years of famine) he was appointed to a high place in court. From beloved son to slave to prisoner to viceroy, Joseph had survived. Even more astonishing, when his brothers appeared in Egypt, years later, searching (like all of those around them) for grain in the midst of a famine, Joseph chose not to take revenge but to forgive them. Joseph stayed at court (at this time, the Israelites were not in slavery).In Genesis, it is said that when he was about to die he asked those around him to promise him that after God took them out of Egypt, they would take his bones with them and bury them in the Promised Land. Many centuries later, his wish came true when his remains were buried in Shechem (also known as Nablus). It really is one of the most unforgettable stories in the Hebrew Bible. No wonder Andrew Lloyd Webber made a musical out of the story!Mini model of ancient Jerusalem. Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplashAn Israeli family tree - partitioning out the landAfter the Israelites fled Egypt, were saved by God, who parted the Red Sea, then wandered in the wilderness for decades, they finally arrived in the Promised Land. Each of the twelve tribes (descendants of Joseph) was assigned a section of land by Joshua, who had assumed a leadership role after the death of Moses. The tribe of Judah settled in the area south of Jerusalem and, with time, became the most important and powerful of all the tribes. From Judah would come the great King Solomon and then King David. Moreover, it was also prophesied that the Messiah would come from this tribe. The tribe of Levi also produced some notable descendants, including Moses, his brother Aaron, Miriam, Samuel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Ezra, and Malachi. As well as the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, some modern Jews are classed as Levites, to indicate their connection with the religious functionaries who, at one time, were High Priests in ancient Israel. Here’s a map of the twelve tribes of Israel to give you an idea of which parts of the land they all inhabited.The Dead Sea aerial view, Israel. Photo bySergey MazhugaonUnsplashThe 12 Tribes of Israel in Jewish and Christian TheologyAs stated above, according to Jewish theology, the Messiah - when he comes - will be descended from the Davidic line and David came from the Tribe of Judah. For Christians, there is no less importance attached to this particular tribe - Jesus was descended from the tribe of Judah and, indeed, is often referred to as ‘the Lion of Judah’.According to the Christian Bible, where the twelve tribes of Israel are referred to in both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus anticipated that when the Kingdom of God was established, his disciples would “sit on thrones, judging the twelves tribes of Israel.” The imagery of the 12 Tribes - The Chagall Windows of JerusalemIf you are in Ein Kerem, a green and leafy part of Jerusalem (which was home to John the Baptist), and curious about art, then it’s worth making a detour to the hospital there, named Hadassah. In the facility’s Abbell synagogue there’s something quite astonishing - and that is twelve stained-glass windows.View of the Western Wall, Jerusalem. Photo byIlanit OhanaonUnsplashDesigned by the acclaimed artist Marc Chagall these windows depict what some consider to be ‘heraldic symbols’ for each of the twelve tribes. According to Jewish Kabbalists (Kabbalah is an esoteric school of Jewish thought, which evolved in Safed in northern Israel, in the 16th century), the prayers of the Israelites will reach the gates of heaven (also 12 in number) according to the original tribe of each worshipper. So, if you hold fast to this mystical theory, Chagall’s stained-glass windows represent these twelve gates and when individuals pray in this synagogue in Jerusalem, this will give them direct access to heaven.After you’ve seen the windows, you can stroll around Ein Kerem itself. Meaning ‘Spring of Vineyard’ in Hebrew, it’s a tranquil oasis, nestled in a valley, which is incredibly beautiful. Visit the Franciscan church of John the Baptist (built on the site where it is thought he was born) and Mary’s Spring, and if you’ve got the energy continue onto Bethlehem, which is just 12 km away (about a 25 minutes drive).Family of religious Jews dressed in black walks through the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo byMaayan NemanovonUnsplashANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel AvivTelling the original and ongoing story of the Jewish People, this fantastic museum in Tel Aviv gives visitors access to interactive exhibits, displays of rare artifacts, and cutting-edge history-telling. Established to connect Jewish people with their roots and reinforce not just personal but also collective memory, ANU Museum of the Jewish People presents a 4,000 old story - the story of the Jewish people, told through their faith, culture, deeds, theology, and humanity.Recounting the incredible story of the Jewish people back to ancient times, here you can find out much about the Tribes of Israel. ANU is also an excellent museum to learn more about Jewish migration, centers of Jewish life that sprung up around the world (London, Paris, New York, Buenos Aires), the history of Jewish literature, art, and culture, the rebirth of the Jewish people after the Shoah (Holocaust) and the establishment of the State of Israel.A camel in the Negev Desert. Photo byCole KeisteronUnsplashDid the 12 Tribes actually exist? From where did they even originate?The modern scholarship really has no one opinion about the origin - or even the existence of the Twelve Tribes. Many different schools of thought exist, all purporting different theories. That they were a group of independent, nomadic desert tribes, united for political or military reasons? Were they a confederation of Israelites that existed between the period of the Judges and Monarchy? Or were they simply groups of people named after different locations in the Land of Israel? As to their origins, many historians even argue that there is no conclusive proof that any of these tribes, were actually the sons of Jacob and Leah.For sure, It is hard to answer the above questions and no doubt controversy will continue as to how they came to be. And yet, as a concept the ‘twelve tribes of Israel’ is very much alive in Jewish and Israeli identity. Religious Jews feel connected to them through the Hebrew Bible. And although secular Jews may not believe in God, many still feel connected to the tribal idea, since it is heavily bound up in Jewish history, folklore, art, literature, politics, and geography.A Jewish boy visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel.Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient Hebrew/Jewish manuscripts, discovered in the Judean desert, inside the Qumran Caves, in 1947. Historians are confident they date back to the last three centuries BCE and the first century. Written also in Aramaic (a Semitic language that was commonly spoken in this period and often used in the writing of holy scriptures) their contents include the second-oldest known surviving manuscripts that were later put into the Hebrew Bible. The majority of the scrolls were written on parchment, with some on papyrus and one on copper.The Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockHistory of the Dead Sea ScrollsThe Dead Sea Scrolls are, of course, of enormous significance - historically, theologically, and archaeologically - since they give us enormous insight into the daily religious practices at the time of the Second Temple. Because of the poor condition of some, less than half of them have actually had their texts identified to date.Of those that have been studied, scholars agree that about 40% relate to the Hebrew scriptures, roughly 200 books from the Hebrew Bible. Another 30% are related to the Hebrew Bible but not canonized. These include commentary on the Bible and apocalyptic proclamations. Finally, the remaining 30% relate to apocryphal manuscripts, containing books not included in the Jewish canon - either previously undiscovered or known only through translations. So how were the Dead Sea Scrolls actually found? In fact, it is an astonishing story.Qumran and the Discovery of the ScrollsThe story of the discovery dates back to 1947 when a shepherd boy and his cousin were out tending their flock. On realizing that one of them was missing, they wandered into the nearby Qumran Caves (close to the Dead Sea) to search for the animal. There, they stumbled upon seven scrolls, all of which were buried in earthenware jars. Burying worn-out Hebrew manuscripts was a common Jewish practice at that time, since - in Judaism - it has always been forbidden to discard them casually. Not knowing the importance of this discovery, they took the scrolls back to their Bedouin camp. There they remained for some time, whilst their family began looking for a dealer to whom they could sell them. How they later came to be recognized for the extraordinary items they actually were is, again, a fascinating story.The Dead Sea Shore.Photo credit: © ShutterstockDetective Story Behind the Discovery of the Dead Sea ScrollsEventually, not knowing their true value, the Bedouins sold all seven scrolls to two antique dealers - three to a man named Salahi and four to a man called Kando (who then resold his to Archbishop Samuel, head of the Syrian Orthodox Monastery of St. Mark, in Jerusalem). Professor Chaim Sukenik, an archaeologist working in conjunction with the Hebrew University, tracked down Salahi and, after seeing the scrolls and, in his own words, trembling with excitement, acquired them.In the meantime, because of the 1948 War of Independence, Archbishop Samuel smuggled his four scrolls out of Israel (to keep them safe) and shipped them to New York. In 1954, having decided to sell them, he placed an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal. This very advertisement was seen by Yigael Yadin, the son of Professor Sukenik, back in Israel. After having raised $250,000, he purchased them, through a middleman, on behalf of the State of Israel, and - once they were back in Jerusalem - reunited them with the other three. A true detective story!What Can We Learn from the Dead Sea Scrolls?The scrolls give us enormous insight both into history and biblical texts. Many of the words in the fragments found are quite different from the words of the same passages in the Greek Old Testament. This shows that the ‘sacred words’ of the Bible have changed over time, even after the Romans conquered the region.Obviously, there is an enormous debate between academics as to their origins and how they came to be placed in this cave. Many scholars believe they were put there by the Essenes. The Essenes were a sect in ancient times who were regarded as being extremely pious and who - it is believed - had deliberately left Jerusalem for the wilderness of the Judean desert. The Judean Desert.Photo credit: © ShutterstockWho Were the Essenes?The Essenes, essentially, were priests, many of whom practiced a monastic existence. They regarded Jerusalem as a city of corruption and, in comparison, regarded themselves as the ‘sons of light’. In the desert, they worked communally, eschewing private property. They were alone (they had left their families behind) though still kept Jewish law, although they ate no meat and carried out no sacrifices. They worked hard in their fields and not for profit, rather for basic survival. Their lives were disciplined, admission to their group was not easy, and, once a member, an Essene divulged nothing to the outside world. One of the professions in which they excelled was scribe, which is perhaps why the scrolls at Qumran were so well looked after. As well as having been placed in earthenware jars (which were water-resistant and practically airtight) most had been written on the hide (skin) of animals, which is known to be a long-lasting material. The cool, dark atmosphere of the caves acted as a deterrent against humidity.Not all academics, however, believe it was the Essenes who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some believe the scrolls were abandoned by refugees fleeing the Romans, after the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Others believe that it could also be possible that they were placed there by a number of individuals, over a longer period of time. After all, these caves were used for shelter by all kinds of people, for hundreds of years.The truth is, we will never be entirely sure who wrote them. Without a doubt, however, the Dead Sea Scrolls have provided scholars with a unique window into a time in Jewish history that was extraordinarily complex.The Qumran Caves, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockWhere are the Dead Sea Scrolls Today?The Scrolls today are held in a building erected especially for them, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Named “The Shrine of the Book” it is by far and away one of the most popular attractions there and visited by tens of thousands of visitors each year. This Shrine holds all seven scrolls - Isaiah A, Isaiah B, the Thanksgiving Scroll, the Habakkuk Commentary, the Community Rule, the War Rule, and the Genesis Apocryphon. Save for the last (written in Aramaic), all are written in Hebrew. The Isaiah and Copper ScrollsThe most impressive of the Dead Sea Scrolls is, perhaps, the Isaiah Scroll - the only one from Qumran that is completely preserved. At almost 735 centimeters long, it is the oldest of its kind - academics estimate that it was written around 100 BCE. This stands in the center of the hall, beneath the Dome itself.The Copper Scroll also has a fascinating backstory - it is, in many respects, a ‘treasure map’ because it lists 54 different underground places where caches of silver and gold were hidden. Unfortunately, none of these hoards have ever been recovered (historians believe they may have been pillaged by the Romans (or, if you are more cynical, never existed at all). Since it was not made of parchment, the Hebrew and Greek letters of this scroll were actually chiseled onto it.The galleries of the building are also worth exploring - the upper section tells the story of the people who lived at Qumran and the lower gallery center of the 10th-century Aleppo Codex, which is the oldest-known complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible.Israel Museum, home to the Dead Sea Scrolls.Photo credit: © ShutterstockDesign of the Shrine of the BookThe Shrine of the Book was designed by two architects - Frederick Kiesler and Armand Baros. Built in 1965, with funds detonated by the David Gottesman family (a Hungarian philanthropist) its magnificent design is structured to represent one of the earthenware jars in which the scrolls were found.The building itself is contemporary, and striking because of its use of black and white. Some have referred to it as an abstract modernist’s dream. The white dome of the building is shaped like the lid of the jar, with a black basalt war standing nearby. This contrast is deliberate and mimics the theme of the struggle between the forces of light and dark (i.e. good and evil) mentioned in the texts.A Modernist Design for a Building Symbolising SpiritualityTwo-thirds of the building is actually housed underground - the entrance is beneath the basalt wall - and walks through a passage that has been designed to imitate the actual caves in which the scrolls were discovered. Inside are many glass cases that contain pages of scrolls. However, it is the central display, which resembles a giant spindle, along with a handle, that really catches the eye. More pages of the scrolls are displayed here, and spun around (rotated) regularly so that no one section is ever at risk of deterioration from being ‘over-displayed.’ The building took seven years to complete and its location, is a reflection of the national importance that is placed on these ancient texts and the extraordinary building which is now housing and preserving them. Today, the building is regarded as an icon of modernist design. The symbolism of the building has also been taken, by many, to show the Shrine of the Book as a kind of sanctuary, in which deep spiritual meaning can be found. Not accidentally, a corridor links it with the Second Temple of Jerusalem model, emphasizing that these two buildings, together, are an invaluable source of learning for anyone seeking to understand that period in history.View of the Dead Sea from Masada fortress.Photo credit: © ShutterstockVisiting Qumran and the Israel MuseumQumran, which is set in the Judean Desert, not far from the Dead Sea can be seen from afar during any day trip to the Dead Sea and Masada. Alternatively, individuals with a particular interest in history and archaeology can choose to travel to the archaeological park alone, or take a trained guide, as part of a private tour of the Dead Sea area. Approximately 20 miles from Jerusalem, it takes around 50 minutes to reach there by car.The Israel Museum is one of the country’s most prominent museums and world-renown, not just for the Dead Sea Scrolls but also for its fine art collection, Model of the Second Temple, sculpture garden, reconstructions of synagogues that once existed in Venice, Curaçao, and Cochin and engaging exhibits (both permanent and temporary) relating to Jewish culture, art and life.The Israel Museum is situated 2 km from the Central Bus Station and is close to the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament). It can be visited alone, as part of a guided tour, with aJerusalem Private Tour, or with a Jerusalem New City Jewish Private Tour. Parking is available and buses numbers 14 and 15 run there from the city center.The Israeli Museum is open seven days a week and offers discounts for students, senior citizens, and the disabled. A number of guided tours take place each day, in different languages, most of which are free. Audio guides are available and can also be downloaded onto your smartphone. Tickets can be booked online at a price of 59 NIS/18 USD (regular) ad 39 NIS/12 USD (discount).The museum also boasts an excellent shop, which sells beautiful jewelry, sculptures, small statues (including the replica of the famous ‘Ahava’ statue there), art books, and Judaica (menorot, hannukiot, and wine cups) made by established Israeli and international artists. Visitors can also purchase refreshments and meals in its two eateries, both being kosher, with one serving dairy products and the other a meat menu.The Judean Desert vegetation.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

Jewish Calendar

There are many things that non-Jewish visitors to Israel find fascinating and also perplexing - the list is long but can include kosher dietary laws (why can’t you mix milk and meat?), Shabbat laws (why doesn’t public transport run from Friday night to Saturday night?), Yom Kippur (why does the whole country shut down for 25 hours, even the airport?!) and the nature of the state itself (if the state is ‘Jewish’ then do Christians and Muslims have the same rights as Jews?)Sevivon, a spinning top, played during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.Photo byRobert ZunikoffonUnsplashThese are all good questions, and deserving of good answers, but there’s another question too, that many people ask, again and again, which we’re going to discuss today. That question is ‘Why is the Jewish calendar different from calendars used in most of the West today?” Well, let’s take a closer look at the historical events in Israel and the history behind Jewish dates, and why the Hebrew calendar (‘Ha Luah Halvri’) differs in any respect from the Gregorian one.Hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll even be able to tell locals what Hebrew month your birthday falls in, and why Jewish holidays such as Pesach, Rosh Hashanah, and Hanukkah fall on different ‘Western’ dates each year. Put simply, the date of these Jewish holidays doesn’t change i.e. it's celebrated on the same day of the Jewish calendar each year, but because the Jewish year works on a different basis to that celebrated by most of the world, the date will always shift on the ‘Western’ (civil) calendar.Matzoh-crusted chicken for Passover. Photo bySheri SilveronUnsplashThe Biblical PeriodFrom the earliest of times, peoples and countries in West Asia, including the Israelites, made use of the Babylonian calendar. This was ‘lunisolar’ in nature - it consisted of 12 lunar months, each of which began at sunset on the day a new crescent moon was cited. Additionally, a thirteenth month was added - as needed - by decree (more of this later). The Babylonian calendar took its shape from the Umma calendar of Shulgi, which dates back to around 21 BCE. By 6 BCE, with the Jews in captivity by the Babylonians, the names of their months were incorporated into the Hebrew calendar. By the Tannaitic period (10-220 CE) an additional month was added every 2-3 years to ‘correct’ (or at least account for) the difference between the solar year and the twelve lunar months. This additional month was usually added depending on agriculture events in ancient Israel.By the 12th century, Maimonides - one of Judaism’s greatest sages - addressed the issue in his book ‘Mishneh Torah’. He ruled that the world was created on October 6th, 3761, according to the narrative of creation in the Book of Genesis. All of his rules for this calculated calendar (with its scriptural basis) are used by Jewish communities throughout the world today.Religious Jews against the background of Jerusalem walls. Photo byArno SmitonUnsplashHow the Jewish Calendar WorksEssentially, the Jewish calendar is based on three astronomical events - the Earth rotating on its axis (one day), the moon revolving around the earth (a month), and the revolution of the earth around the sun (a year). On average, it takes 29½ days to make a month and 365¼ days to calculate a year, which comes out at about 12.4 lunar months.Now, the civil calendar (in use in Europe, North America, Africa, etc) has long since abandoned the idea of correlating the moon cycles and months - instead, the lengths of various months have been set (somewhat arbitrarily) at 28,29,30 or 31 months. However, the Jewish calendar coordinates all three of these astronomical phenomena - its months are either 29 or 30 days (in line with the 29½-day lunar cycle) and years are either 12 or 13 months (in line with the 12.4-month solar cycle).Western Wall, Jerusalem, Israel. Photo byOndrej BocekonUnsplashWhen does the lunar month begin in the Jewish calendar?This begins when the first ‘sliver’ of the moon becomes visible after the sunsets. Historically, this would be determined just by looking at the sky - when Jews saw the new moon, they would notify the Sanhedrin (a kind of ‘Supreme Court’, universally acknowledged by Jews). Once two of its members had listened to testimony from two eyewitnesses, who they deemed to be reliable, they would declare ‘First of the Month’ (‘Rosh Chodesh’ in Hebrew).This shows that the Jewish (Hebrew) calendar is lunisolar, as opposed to the Gregorian (Roman) calendar, which is linear and works around the date of Jesus' birth. The Jewish calendar's months start and finish according to the moon - when the crescent’s center leans right and gets bigger every day, it’s the beginning of the month. By the time it is full, it is the middle of the month and when the crescent leans light and becomes slimmer, this shows that the month is concluding.Of course, the problem with this is that the lunar calendar is slightly shorter than the solar calendar, so the year ends up becoming shorter. (Actually, according to the Lunar calendar in Islam, holidays such as Ramadan can be held in winter one year and in summer a couple of years later). However, because the Jewish calendar places great emphasis on nature and agriculture, it is deemed important that the holidays fall in the same seasons each year.The star of David with Blossoms on a fruit tree in spring. Photo byDavid HolifieldonUnsplashThe Months of the Jewish calendarHere are the 12 months of the Jewish calendar: Nissan (March - April), Iyar (April- May), Sivan (May - June), Tammuz (June - July), Av (July - August), Elul (August - September), Tishri (September - October), Cheshvan (October - November), Kislev (November - December), Tevet (December - January), Shv’at (January - February), Adar (February-March), Adar II (every 3 years),February - March.In Jewish leap years (which occur seven times in a 19-year cycle, which amounts to approximately once every 3 years) an additional month of Adar is added (Adar II). This ensures that the lunar months align with the solar year and that the Jewish holidays continue to fall in their proper seasons.When do Jewish days actually begin?In the west, a new day begins at midnight. But that’s not the case in Judaism. According to Jewish law, the day begins with the appearance of three stars in the sky. This is because, in the first book of the Hebrew Bible - Genesis - in the first chapter, which describes the creation of the world, it is said: “And there was evening and there was morning…one day.” Thus, Jews argue, first was evening and only afterward the next day. This is why Jewish holidays always begin at sundown - and why the Jewish Sabbath ‘’Shabbat’) begins Friday evening and ends Saturday evening. According to Western culture, each day begins at midnight.Freshly baked (challah) bread. Photo byshraga kopsteinonUnsplashWhy does the Jewish New Year Begin in September or October?The Jewish (Hebrew) calendar begins with Rosh Hashanah (which means’ First of the Year’) and this always falls on the first day of Tishrei (the seventh month), which is some time in September or October. Fun fact: the Jewish calendar actually has several ‘New Year’. Nissan 1 - for the purpose of counting the reigns of Kings and months), Elul - for the tithing - voluntary contribution/taxing - of animals, Shevat 15 - for trees, determining when the first fruits of the season can be consumed. Tishri 1 - the new year for years. The Jewish Year - Why is it Only in the Five Thousand?The Jewish calendar’s specific year number represents how many years have passed since creation. It’s important to remember that for the most part, Jews do not use the terms ‘AD’ and ‘BC’ to refer to the years in the civil calendar. This is because Jews do not believe Jesus is Lord, ergo would not want to use terms such as ‘Before Christ’ and ‘Anno Domini’ (Latin for ‘In the Year of our Lord’). This is why Jewish scholars will always use the terms ‘BCE’ and ‘CE’ which refer to the Common Era, before and after respectively.An Orthodox Jew against the background of the red wall. Photo byCarmine SavareseonUnsplashSo what year is it in the Jewish calendar?Currently, the Roman year is 2022 because, according to them, Christ was born 2022 years ago. However, because Jews do not believe that Jesus was the son of God, they, therefore, count the years from what they believe was the creation of the world.This means that, according to Jewish calculations, the year 2022 is currently 5782. The years of the Hebrew calendar are always 3,750 or 2,761 greater than the Gregorian calendar - and why this discrepancy? Because the number of the Hebrew New Year always changes at Rosh Hashanah, in the Autumn/Fall, rather than on January 1st.Of course, this leads to a huge debate between theology and science, since most scientists regard the beginning of the universe as commencing with the ‘Big Bang’. Roughly speaking, that is around 13.8 billion years ago! How do Orthodox Jews account for this disparity? It’s a good question and the fact is that many will freely admit that the first ‘six days’ of creation did not necessarily occur in 24-hour periods (particularly because, according to Genesis) the sun was not created until the fourth day!)As a result, they say, these ‘days’ of creation were actually much longer periods of time. They could have been ages or even periods lasting billions of years. As some Jews remark, “A billion years to man might be like a mere day to God.” This is a way, perhaps, to get around the current discrepancy between the Bible and science, although no doubt the debate will continue to rage.Weekly Torah reading. Photo byEran MenashrionUnsplashAre there any other Jewish calendars in use?This is an interesting question and the answer is ‘yes’. Outside of mainstream Judaism, there exist smaller groups who use calendars based on the above practices, but with some differences.The Karaite calendarKaraite Judaism differentiates itself from mainstream Jewish beliefs in that it recognizes only the written Torah as the basis for religious law (Halachah). Karaites believe that all of the commandments that God gave Moses on Mount Sinai were recorded in the written Torah alone. Therefore the Oral Torah (which takes its form in the Talmud) and other interpretations of Jewish law are not considered binding by Karaites.The Karaite calendar uses the lunar month and the solar year, but there are two major differences. The first is that the beginning of a new month - Rosh Chodesh - is contingent on the sighting of a new moon so, if for any reason, it is not sighted, then it will be put back a day. Karaites also differ from the mainstream in that they calculate the leap year - Adar II - by the ripening of barley at a certain stage, which means they can occasionally end up one month ahead of their counterparts.Star of David.Photo byBenny RotlevyonUnsplashThe Samaritan calendarThe Israelite Samaritans trace their lineage back 127 generations within the Holy Land, adhering to the laws of the Torah and reading the scriptures in ancient Hebrew. Rather than a rabbi at their pulpit, they usually have a ‘High Priest.’ Their calendar is similar to the Jewish one, with the main difference being when its starting year is. Traditionally, it was calculated on observations of the moon, as mentioned earlier in this article. However, whilst mainstream Judaism takes the day of creation (as told in Genesis) as its first day, Samaritans count day one as the day the Israelites entered the Promised Land with Yehoshua Bin-Nun. Consequently, they are not completely synchronized, and, as a result, after a cycle of 19 years, the Samaritan festivals take place one month after the mainstream Jewish festivals.The Qumran calendarThe Dead Sea Scrolls (discovered accidentally by a shepherd boy, in Qumran, in 1947) make several references to a calendar used by the people who lived there in ancient times - the Essenes. It seems that they used a Mesopotamian system of twelve 30-day months, and then added on four days at the solstices and equinoxes. This amounted to 364 days in a year, in all, which meant that after a few years their calendar would have been seriously out of sync with the seasons. No one really knows how the Essenes dealt with this - whether they regulated it or simply ignored it!We hope you’ve got something out of this article, and now understand a little more about Jewish festivals and why they fall when they do in Israel. If you’re interested in learning more about Jewish history in Israel, why not consider taking one of our Jewish tours, giving you the chance to see important sites and learn more about the heritage of the Israelites.The Qumran caves, Israel.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

What is an Orthodox Jew?

Visitors who come to Israel (especially for the first time) are fascinated by many things about the country - the landscapes, the food, the warmth and hospitality of locals…the list goes on. Something else they’re also fascinated by is the fact that Israel is a country based on Jewish traditions, customs, and laws.People praying at the Western Wall, Jerusalem. Photo byOndrej BocekonUnsplash"You Don't Need to Believe in God to be a Jew…"The calendar is based around Jewish festivals, the main language spoken is Hebrew and half the world’s Jewish population lives here. Visiting holy Jewish sites in Israel, it’s hard not to feel it. But what many don’t understand is that Judaism in Israel (and the world) means different things to different Jews. Some believe in God, and others don’t (“I’m a Jewish atheist” they’ll tell you). Some are essentially traditional, taking comfort in the rituals they learned as children.One Size Doesn’t Fit AllOf those who do believe, there’s a wide spectrum, in terms of their practices…ranging from traditional “candle lighting” on Friday evening and celebrating Jewish holidays to strict adherence to Jewish law in every single aspect of their daily lives. Today, we’re looking at Orthodox Jews, which is an umbrella term for the many sub-groups within it. We’ll try and answer the most popular questions asked, such as “What do Orthodox Jews believe?, “Why do Orthodox Jewish women wear wigs?”, “Why do Orthodox Jews only eat certain foods?” and a few more. Besides, we’ll look at their history, traditions, and even the way they are coping with change in the modern world. In short, we’ll try and make this very complicated subject a little bit easier to grasp. Interested? Then read on…Chanukah candles.Photo by Menachem Weinreb on UnsplashWhat Do Orthodox Jews Believe?Orthodox Jews believe in a strict interpretation of Jewish law (‘halacha’ in Hebrew) which they think is grounded in the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), both oral and written, and the revelation made to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. Something that’s important to state here is that Orthodox Jews are not one group - rather many sub-groups. Arguments rage between them at times, as to how strict interpretation of Jewish law should be. However, they do all adhere to certain core beliefs. As said before, there is a central belief that the Torah was revealed to Moses by God on Mount Sinai who, in turn, transmitted it to Joshua and the Elders. Since then, they believe, the Torah has been passed down in an unbroken chain to the present day. At Mount Sinai, the Jewish people entered into a covenantal relationship with God. This meant, effectively, that God was promising protection to the Israelites if they obeyed the Ten Commandments he had given them. ‘Torah min HaShamayim’ - they believe that this revelation to Moses was a divine event and that the entire text is the literal word of God. God is one and indivisible, the sole creator, first and last (according to the Principles of Maimonides, a 12th-century rabbi and scholar who wrote ‘The Guide for the Perplexed’).The bimah in a synagogue. Photo byLainie BergeronUnsplashGod cannot be subdivided - Jews do not believe in the Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost) and this is something that sets them apart from Christians, theologically speaking. They do believe in a future Messiah, who will be from the line of King David and will restore the Third Temple. Jews do not believe Jesus was the Messiah - their monotheistic outlook means that they cannot accept Jesus as a deity. Of course, Jews do believe Jesus existed - they just do not believe he was the Son of God, and that he died to save the world. However, more modern Orthodox interpretations of Jesus are a little more positive - especially from rabbis such as Irving Greenberg and Jonathan Sacks. Indeed, Rabbi Greenberg theorised that Jesus could be a Messiah, just not the Messiah. Jews do not believe in the concept of salvation because they do not believe people are born in a state of sin. Judaism should be practiced within a community. For example, Jewish sacred texts and prayer books often use ‘we’ and ‘our’ and Jews pray in groups of not less than ten (a minyan). On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, Jews repeat verses that ask for forgiveness as a people, not as individuals.Judaism is a faith of action rather than belief - deeds count far more than words. For many Jews, this includes a belief in ‘tikkun olam’ (in Hebrew 'repairing the world’) which involves contributing to the betterment of your surroundings and fellow humans. This may well be why Jews focus far more on the here-and-now than other religious groups. Jews believe in World to Come (Ha Olam Haba in Hebrew) but have no clear idea, theologically, of what it might entail.Photographer at the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem.Photo byTim MossholderonUnsplashThe History of Orthodox JudaismOrthodox Judaism began in Eastern Europe, in the early 18th century, primarily as a reaction to Reform Judaism. It leaned towards a more traditional approach to Jewish law (as opposed to the Jewish liberalism of the time, which rejected the divine origins of the Torah and argued that obligatory ritual observance was unnecessary). As a result, the term ‘Orthodox’ was taken up by Jews who wanted to show that they were faithful to ritual and tradition, and unwilling to ‘modernize’ their beliefs. That idea still remains true today, with arguments continuing to rage between Orthodox Jews (both in Israel and the diaspora) and traditional/reform Jews, who argue that Judaism needs to be more flexible and adaptable, to deal with the challenges of the secular world. Some of the biggest disputes revolve around ancient Jewish customs - such as circumcision of infant boys, dietary laws, and the biblical prohibition against intermarriage. For Orthodox Jews, these laws are non-negotiable - they are the cornerstone of their faith.Laws, Customs and TraditionsKashrut - keeping kosher is an essential part of an orthodox Jew’s daily life. The dietary laws prohibit the mixing of milk and meat (quoting a passage in the Book of Deuteronomy) and other foods such as pork and shellfish are strictly forbidden. Orthodox Jews also use two sets of plates and cutlery in the home (some even insist on two sinks and two ovens!) Shabbat - one of the central tenets of the Orthodox Jewish faith is keeping Shabbat. This means that from Friday at dusk until Saturday night, no form of work can be undertaken. There is a prohibition on using electricity (phones, TVs, computers are switched off and cars sit idle in the garage), making Friday night blessings throughout the evening, and attending prayer services.A Jewish man choosing etrog (citron) for the holiday of Sukkot.Photo byEsther WechsleronUnsplashPrayer and study - many Orthodox Jews pray 3 times each day (morning, afternoon, and evening) and all Orthodox Jews place great value on religious learning. They will study the Hebrew Bible (to varying levels) and the rabbinical commentaries that accompany them, as well as send their children to Jewish day schools and, if living in the diaspora, on summer trips to Israel.Dress - modern Orthodox Jews cannot be easily differentiated from the general public (apart from the ‘kippah’ that they wear on their head) but ultra-Orthodox Jews are easily identifiable in their attire. Men wear large fur hats (‘shtreimels’) and long black overcoats (‘kapoteh”). This dress was worn by their forefathers, in Eastern Europe, long ago and they continue to wear it as a sign of humility and respect. Women are expected to dress modestly, with no bare arms and skirts below the knee. Some Orthodox women also choose not to wear jeans/pants).Fun fact: shtreimels come in all shapes and sizes, according to the particular sub-sect e.g. wide and velvet indicates a Hungarian Hassid; a rounded felt hat denotes a Gur Hasid and a fedora usually sits on top of a Chabad devotee.A Jewish man holding Canon.Photo byFotozonUnsplashModesty and Purity“Why do Orthodox women wear wigs?” is a question often asked, and the answer is that they consider it to be an act of tremendous modesty (‘tzniut’). The ‘sheitel’ as it is called, is worn by married women, who believe that their hair is a beautiful and special part of themselves that only their husband should see.Married women also attend a ritual bath each month (‘mikvah’) which is designed specifically so that they can purify themselves. In the two weeks before immersion in the mikvah, the man and wife do not have sexual relations but after she has visited the ritual bath, marital relations can resume.In mainstream Orthodox Judaism, men and women will mix both in daily life and at communal Jewish events (although not at prayer, where they sit separately). However, the more Orthodox sects generally discourage such mingling (whether it be separate school systems, segregated musical concerts, and even no mixed dancing at weddings). In some instances, a girl and boy will only have met two or three times before their marriage is arranged by their families - which means that on their wedding day they may not have ever held hands or kissed, let alone had sex.Haredim walk toward the Jaffa Gate into the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplashDifferent Kinds of Orthodox JudaismModern Orthodox - Modern Orthodox Judaism is a philosophy that strives to combine adherence to Jewish law with life in a modern, secular world. Modern Orthodox Jews (both in Israel and abroad) keep biblical commandments (observing Shabbat, the dietary laws, praying regularly at synagogue ) and usually raise their children with this kind of identity, as a way of continuing their heritage.However, modern Orthodox Jews are also a part of the 21st century and enjoy many of its benefits. They will use the latest technology, watch Netflix, socialize with people from other religions and cultures, and travel widely. Whilst they are knowledgeable in matters of Jewish history and law, they also partake in secular education, embracing both the humanities and sciences. The result is that they are well represented in today’s professions - from law and medicine to business and the arts. Open Orthodox - in recent years, the term ‘Open Orthodox’ has become a point of interest, essentially referring to a less ‘rigid’ kind of Orthodoxy. Whilst open Orthodox Jews, like modern Jews, believe that the Torah was given to Moses, by God, on Mount Sinai, they support a greater role for women in synagogues/prayer and aim to be inclusive, non-judgmental, and intellectually rigorous. Religious Zionists - referred to as ‘dati leumi’ (religious nationalists) are Orthodox Jews in Israel who keep ritual Jewish law but are also strong proponents of Zionism. A Jewish man at the Tower of David, Jerusalem. Photo byJoshua SukoffonUnsplashHaredim - in a nutshell, this term refers to Jews who are more strict about their observance than most Orthodox Jews. Also referred to as ‘ultra Orthodox’ (by other Jews) their motto is ‘change nothing’ and this goes for almost every aspect of their lives! As a result of this isolationist approach, Haredi Jews have very little contact with the outside world.In Israel, many Haredi Jews live in tight-knit communities such as Mea Shearim in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak (close to Tel Aviv). Most of them speak Yiddish instead of Hebrew (Yiddish was, historically, the language of the Jews in Poland), wear clothes that modern people find strange (see ‘customs’ above), and generally do not mix either with non-Jews or Jews they feel are not sufficiently pious.Haredi Jews do not have televisions in their home, the internet is always forbidden to children, and cellphones are discouraged. They have large families - often as many as 12 children - and birth control is often forbidden by their rabbis. Because they have had no secular education, they do not work in professions but are more likely to be found in business and the diamond industry. Most Haredi men consider Torah study to be their primary purpose (many regard it as more important than earning money) and the majority do not recognize the establishment of the state of Israel, since it was established by pioneers and not God). Some even openly describe themselves as ‘anti-Zionist’, whilst living in Israel! Some of the many Haredi sub-sects include Bobov, Satmar, Chabad Lubavitch, and Spinka. Three of the most well-known are: Jewish men praying at the Western Wall, Jerusalem.Photo byThomas VogelonUnsplashHasidic - broadly speaking, Hasidic Jews are a subset of Haredi Jews. They place a unique emphasis on the traditions of their forefathers in Eastern Europe (the ‘Ashkenazim’) and are extremely fraternal - men and boys spend a great deal of time together at synagogue. They have a reputation for emotional and spontaneous singing and dancing at public Jewish gatherings (taking the view that Judaism should be about joy) and adhere to their leaders (Rebbes) at all times. Litvaks - Litvaks hail from Lithuania and make up about a third of the ultra-orthodox population in Israel. Historically, they were recognized for their intellectual prowess and today they are truly dedicated to Torah study. The stereotypical ‘Litvak’ is stubborn, skeptical, and critical! Even today, the popular conception of a Litvak is one who is well-educated but a bit of a cold fish!Sephardim - In Israel, the Sephardic ultra-orthodox are a growing community. Of Middle Eastern origin, they are represented by their own political party, Shas (a Hebrew acronym for Sephardi Torah Guardians) and the main difference between them and the Ashkenazi Haredim is that they follow the rulings of their own rabbis, which are rooted in the traditions of Jews who once lived in the Islamic world. When it comes to support for the state of Israel, they are definitely less hostile than their counterparts.Orthodox Judaism TodayToday, Orthodox Jews live not just in Israel but in Europe, both North and South America, Australia, and South Africa. The majority would call themselves ‘modern orthodox’ (see above) but there are small communities of ultra-orthodox Jews, the most prominent of which are in parts of Israel, Crown Heights, and Borough Park in New York and Stamford Hill, in London. We hope this brief introduction has made things a bit clearer for you and if you’re interested in seeing an area such as Mea Shearim, in Jerusalem, why not book a private Jerusalem tour with us, which can be customized to your needs? Looking for a Jewish Tour package, or a Private Jewish Tour? Then feel free to contact us.Kippahs on sale in Safed, Israel.Photo credit: ©Dmitry Mishin
By Sarah Mann

Jews and their Sacred Texts

There is a famous saying that stretches back into time immemorial - that Jews are the People of the Book. This is also one of the things modernIsrael is know for. Now if you ask many people why this is, they will tell you that the saying arose because Jews, historically, have been so committed to learning and reading. And of course, whilst this is surely the case, what many don’t realise is that the expression originated in the Koran - the Muslim’s holy book!Old scrolls of the Jewish Bible and Menorah.Photo byDiana PolekhinaonUnsplash‘The People of the Book’In Arabic ‘Ahl Al-Kitab’, ‘People of the Book’ (in this case, not just Jews but also Christians) were those who lived in Muslim lands and followed monotheism (a belief in one God). Although they were regarded as ‘infidels’ they were also accorded a special status - People of the Book (since they possessed a book that described a revelation from God). As a result, they were tolerated and allowed to practice their own belief system (albeit keeping a rather low profile!)Today, many people associate the term with the idea that Jews have a great love of literature and prize learning above all other things. And whilst this is definitely the case (think of how many Jewish Nobel Prize winners there are, not to mention authors, screenwriters, and scholars) in its strictest sense ‘People of the Book’ refers to the Jews’ relationship with their holy books; their sacred scriptures. What do these sacred texts contribute to Judaism?The sacred texts of Judaism cannot be underestimated and their importance goes far beyond their religious teachings and messages. They refer not just to religion in Judaism but the long and rich history and culture of the Jewish people. Moreover, In Hebrew, there is a term ’Or Lagoyim’ which, basically translated, means ‘light unto the nations’. Originating from the prophet Isaiah, it essentially implies that Jews have a moral and ethical obligation to behave according to the highest standards, in order to set an example. In essence, it is a way of encouraging Jews to act in a way that presents the most positive aspects of Judaism (i.e. justice, compassion, and charity).Father and son praying at the Western Wall. Photo byAnton MislawskyonUnsplashBooks on Jewish Customs and TraditionsIn Israel itself, the majority of citizens are Jews but not all of them consider themselves religious (i.e. believers in God). Their collective outlook is wide-ranging - from secular to traditional and orthodox to ultra-orthodox. However, if you ask many secular Jews if they feel they have a connection to the scriptures, they will say yes, because whilst they do not believe every word that is written in the Bible, they still take the view that it embodies many of the historical, cultural, social and philosophical stories of the Jews over the ages. So, yet, many traditional Jews (i.e. those who do not adhere to strict Rabbinic law but maintain an appreciation for the history and culture of Judaism) have a relationship to the Hebrew Bible. These teachings often have a deep impact on them - however secular they might feel in day-to-day life. This is why, on the major holidays in the calendar, you will see Jews not just in Israel but across the diaspora visiting synagogues, partaking in ancient traditions, and reading from their holy Jewish books. Whatever their private belief systems, they feel bound together by something bigger than themselves, and the stories of Judaism they have learned as children are a big part of this.Kipas for sale at a stall in Safed, Israel.Photo credit © Dmitry MishinThe Books of the People of the BookThere are many kinds of Jewish holy books and Jewish prayer books, used by Jews at prayer in the synagogue and for study in their homes or dedicated ‘yeshivas’ (Jewish seminaries). Today we are going to look at a few of them - how they came to be written, what they mean to Jews, when (in particular) they are read, and what they offer both the scholar and the layperson, in terms of a guide to religion and life itself. Whether it is the Hebrew Bible, a specific prayer book for a holiday festival, a commentary, or an analysis, these texts cannot be underestimated - they are the alpha and omega of the world’s oldest monotheistic faiths.Sacred Texts of JudaismEssentially the most important one - and that which is more read by Jews than any other - is the Hebrew Bible (referred to by Christians as ‘The Old Testament'). How many books are in the Jewish Bible?The Hebrew Bible is organized into three main sections - Torah (‘the Teachings’). Neviim (‘the Prophets’) and Ketuvim (‘the Writings’). This is often referred to by Jews as Tanakh - an acronym derived from the first letters of its three divisions (Ta, Na and Kh). This is what is known as the Hebrew Canon (coming from the Greek-Hebrew word ‘measuring rod’, referring to a sacred body of scripture). The open Tanakh. Photo by © Ri_Yavia PixabayThe TorahThe Jewish Torah is composed of five books - Genesis (Bereshit), Exodus (Shmot), Leviticus (Vayikra), Numbers (Bemidbar), and Deuteronomy (Dvarim). Also known as ‘the Five Books of Moses’ it deals with some of the Bible’s earliest major stories, many of which are incredibly well-known around the world, and read to children at a young age. These include:-God’s creation of the world, in seven days.-Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and their expulsion, as punishment for disobeying God.-Cain and Abel - two brothers who fought, leaving one dead and Cain as the Bible’s first murderer.-Noah and the Ark - when God sent a flood to punish his people, it was Noah who was spared, along with his family and animals, the human race was rebuilt.-Abraham’s journey to the Promised Land (and the Covenant he made with God) and the subsequent ‘Akedah’ (‘Binding of Isaac’)-Moses and the Burning Bush - an extraordinary moment, where Moses stumbled on a bush that was burning but not consumed - the moment Moses was chosen by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.-Plagues, Pharaoh, the Exodus from Egypt and the Parting of the Red Sea - the extraordinary story of the Israelites’ slavery, the cruelty of the Pharoah, the ten plagues sent by God and the Jews’ flight, in which the Red Sea parted to let them through on their journey to the Promised Land.-The giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses from God, on Mount Sinai-Battle of Jericho - the story of Joshua and his army encircling the city of Jericho and, subsequently, with God’s help seeing the city walls fall.Divided into different ‘portions’ (parashot) they are read throughout the year, in the synagogue. There are 54 of these weekly Torah portions and together they span the cycle of the Jewish year. When the reading is complete, Jews celebrate the festival of ‘Simchat Torah’ which is a ‘Rejoicing of the Law.’A person reading the Book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible.Photo byEran MenashrionUnsplashProphets and WritingsAs well as the five books of Moses, there are the Prophets and Writings, which include famous stories such as Jonah and the Whale, Samson, and Deliah and David and Goliath. These are part of a ‘Masoretic text’ - a Jewish canon. Altogether, there are 24 books in this canon and between them, they make up the entire Tanakh.This Masoretic text was copied and distributed by a group of Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes between 7-10 CE. It is considered, today, to be the authoritative traditional Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible. For sure, it was meticulously assembled and codified. Mesorah refers to markings of the text of the scriptures and concise notes in the margins of the manuscripts. Today, in the Jewish community, there is a stream of Judaism named in this vein - ‘Masorti’ which means ‘traditional’.Among the Dead Sea Scrolls found in Qumran are the most accurate manuscripts of the Masoretic texts of the Hebrew Bible. These are the oldest surviving biblical texts.Qumran Caves, Israel.Photo byKonrad HofmannonUnsplashThe TalmudMeaning ‘teaching’ these are ancient scriptures within which are Jewish ideas, stories, and sayings and this includes the Mishnah and Gemara. The Talmud contains the history of Judaism as well as specific laws and beliefs and religious Jews regard it as a basic tool for learning. One could also say that it is a huge collection of sayings, arguments, and counter-arguments relating to every aspect of life.Talmud means ‘learning’ in Hebrew and many orthodox Jews devote their entire lives to studying it. Scholars believe the Talmud was completed approximately 1700 years after the written Torah was received. Two of the most famous commentators were Hillel and Shammai, who lived in Jerusalem at the time of the reign of King Herod. They became famous for their Talmudic disputes - indeed, the Talmud records over 300 areas of disagreement between them. Today, all over the world, Jewish centers on university campuses are named after Hillel, welcoming students from all backgrounds.Talmud Complete Volume Set. Photo by © Shatishira via PixabayMishnahThe Mishnah is the first major written collection of the Jewish oral traditions and also the first major work of rabbinic literature. Made up of writings and teachings by sages who lived in the period at the end of the Second Temple (and in the 100 years that followed the destruction of the Temple) it is also referred to as the ‘Oral Torah’.The Mishnah is divided into six sections (‘Orders) which are-Zeraim (‘Seeds’) - laws dealing with agriculture.-Moed (‘Seasons’) - laws concerning the observation of the Sabbath and festivals.-Nashim (‘Women’) - laws regarding vows, marriage, and divorce.-Nezikim (‘’Damages’) - dealing with torts, both in civil and criminal matters.-Kodashim (‘Holy Things’) - the laws of the Temple and dietary laws.-Tohorot - relating to purity and the distinction between clean and unclean.A reading Jewish man at the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem.Photo by ©tdjgordonvia PixabayGemaraFrom the Hebrew verb ‘gamar’ which means to complete or finish, the Gemara is the part of the Talmud that looks at a rabbinical analysis and commentary on the Mishnah. The sages who lived in the Land of Israel and also Babylonia (which we now know in modern times as Iraq) continued to study traditional teachings, including the Mishnah.All of their discussions were preserved (either by memory or written down) and later on edited in a form that included the conversations of sages from across the ages. The Gemara came into being because these sages wanted to blend biblical and rabbinical traditions, by explaining the difference between the two in texts. The Babylonian and Palestinian GemarasThere are actually two works known as “Gemara” — the Babylonian Gemara (referred to as “Bavli” in Hebrew) and the Palestinian (or Jerusalem) Gemara (referred to as “Yerushalmi“). Both of them were written using a combination of Aramaic (the vernacular in Babylonian times) and Hebrew. The Babylonian Talmud is considered to be more complete and authoritative. Shulchan AruchSometimes referred to as ‘the Code of Jewish Law’, the Shulchan Aruch (literally ‘prepared table’ in Hebrew) is probably the most influential Jewish book of law, presented in a very straightforward way. Written by Joseph Caro of Safed in Galilee (who came from a Sephardic family expelled from Spain), it is truly a compendium of areas of halacha (Jewish laws). Today, observant Jews will refer to it when deciding how to conduct themselves in many areas of daily life - such as honoring parents, renting an apartment, dealing with illness, and death.Yahrzeit (memorial) candles against the background of a Torah.Photo by ©Ri_YaviaPixabayJewish Books Relating to the FestivalsThere are important books used by Jews on the major Jewish holidays - each one containing a different liturgy and prayers, according to the particular festival. These ‘machzors’ are used on the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement - the holiest day in the Jewish calendar). Many observant Jews also use special machzorim at Pesach (Passover), Sukkot, and Shavuot, which are the three pilgrimage festivals in Judaism.The KabbalahKabbalah, in Hebrew, means ‘reception’ or ‘correspondence’ and today it is regarded as an esoteric and somewhat mystical school of Jewish thought. It sprung up in the 12th century, claiming secret knowledge of the unwritten Torah, and essentially it is divided into three sections - the theoretical, the spiritual, and the magical. It is fair to say that many of these texts are obscure and not easy for readers which are not familiar with Jewish spirituality.The most famous of these texts is the Zohar, a mystical commentary on the Torah written in medieval Aramaic. The Zohar (which means ‘Radiance’ in Hebrew) contains musings on the nature of God and the origins of the universe. According to tradition, the Zohar was revealed by God to Moses at Sinai then passed down orally until Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai wrote it down in 2 CE.However, the general scholarly consensus is that it was written by Rabbi Moshe de Leonard in 13th century Spain. In Kabbalah, letters, numbers, and words are considered to be very powerful and it is clear that the Zohar had a great influence on kabbalah, setting the scene for many subsequent texts. Today, many Jews and non-Jews journey to Safed, in northern Israel, which was historically a center of kabbalah and today is a city of kabbalistic learning.If you are interested in the Jewish sites in Jerusalem and Northern Israel, feel free to join our Jewish tour packages or Jewish-oriented private tours.At the synagogue in the Old City of Safed, Israel.Photo credit © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

Passover - A Guide to the Famous Holiday

The Jewish festival of Passover, arguably is one of the most important events in the annual calendar, up at the top of the ‘must celebrate’ with Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). One of the three biblically-ordained pilgrimage festivals (along with Shavuot and Sukkot), it is widely celebrated, both in Israel and across the globe, by Jews.The word Passover. Photo byAlex ShuteonUnsplashIt has an extraordinary history too - the backdrop for the festival is centered around the story of God, Moses, and the Pharaoh (as told in the Book of Exodus, in the Hebrew Bible) and the Israelites' miraculous escape from slavery in Egypt - possibly the most monumental event in Jewish history. Passover takes place each year on the 15th day of the month of Nissan which, according to the solar-lunar Jewish calendar, falls between March and April. Etymology of Pesach. What is Passover?The origin of the word Passover can be traced back to the Hebrew term ‘Pesach’ which means to omit or to ‘pass over.’ The word ‘Passover’ also refers to the story in the book of Exodus (see below) where God’s tenth plague killed the firstborn son in every home in Egypt. However, Israelites were exempt from this, with God ‘passing over’ their homes. And how did God know whose homes to ‘pass over?’ Because the night before the Israelites fled Egypt, they sacrificed a paschal lamb, then marked their doorposts with its blood, as a sign to God that he should spare their children.In ancient times, in Jerusalem, an animal would always be sacrificed before Passover (either a lamb or a goat) in the courtyard of the Temple. Only those who were circumcised could take part in the ritual and, once sacrificed, the priest would collect the blood. Modern attempts to revive this tradition in Israel have not been particularly successful, especially because of concern about cruelty to animals.In Latin, Passover means ‘Pascha’, which refers to the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ, and - in fact - the Last Supper, held by Jesus in Jerusalem. As he knew that this was the last meal he would ever share with his disciples, he used elements of the Passover meal, which later became symbols of his death.Matzoh-crusted chicken for Passover. Photo by Sheri SilveronUnsplashThe Story of Passover in the Hebrew BibleThe story of the Passover is recounted in the book of Exodus, the second book of the Hebrew Bible. After Joseph (he of the multi-colored coat) went to Egypt, his father Jacob and his brothers moved there to be close to him. However, once Joseph died and a new Pharaoh came to the throne, distrust of the Israelites grew.The Egyptians’ answer to that was to enslave the Jews, compelling them to carry out backbreaking labor. Still, however, their community continued to grow, which is why Pharaoh commanded all midwives to kill newborn Jewish men. When Moses was born, his mother makes a cradle for him out of bulrushes and placed it in the Nile, where it was found by the Pharaoh’s daughter. The upshot? Moses was raised at the palace.However, as he grew older, he came face to face with oppression when he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite. In a moment of fury, he kills him, then flees to Midian. Whilst herding a flock of sheep, he stumbled on a burning bush and it was here that God spoke to him, commanding him to go to the Pharaoh and tell him ‘Let My People Go” and promising Moses that, eventually, he and the Jewish people will find themselves in the Promised Land.After Pharoah turned his heart to stone, God sent ten plagues - including frogs, pestilence, locusts, and boils - to smite the Egyptians, but the Israelites are still not freed. Finally, God ​​instructed the Israelites to make an offering - a slaughtered lamb, whose blood should be sprinkled on every one of their doorposts. The tenth plague - killing the firstborn in every home - was enacted, but the Israelites were spared.Finally, Pharoah relented, telling the Jews to leave, and so they did. But because they left in such haste, there was no time for their dough to rise, which is why they took only matzah. Fleeing, with the Pharaoh and his troops still behind them, they were trapped at the Red Sea. At that moment, Moses lifted his staff and the waters parted, letting the Israelites pass through, en route to freedom. As the waters closed over the pursuing Egyptians, drawing them, the Israelites sang a song of gratitude for their deliverance.The Seder table. Photo byPhil GoodwinonUnsplashPassover Today. How long does Passover last?This is an interesting question and, believe it or not, it depends on where you are in the world. In Israel, Passover lasts for 7 days whereas in the diaspora (all of the Jews who live outside the Holy Land) conservative and orthodox Jews add on an extra day. This is because, historically, the Hebrews’ months began with a new moon. In Israel, this was easy to ascertain but communities further away were always a little more uncertain. Therefore, they adopted the practice of adding another day, just in case their calculations were wrong. What are some of the important rituals involved with Passover?Let’s start with the cleaning of one’s house from top to bottom, to ensure that every last particle of leavened food (‘chametz’ in Hebrew) is removed - from the kitchen to the salon to the bedroom. Any substance which has flour in it has to be discarded - this includes bread, flour, baking powder, cereals, dried pasta, etc.The cleaning out of chametz before Passover is often used as an excuse for a big spring clean, in Jewish homes, and may begin a good week before the festival commences. In orthodox Jewish homes, all existing plates, dishes, and cutlery are also packed away, and others specifically designed for Passover are brought out.Discarding and Burning ChametzIt is common for children to get involved in the whole process, especially on the last night before the festival begins, when - according to tradition - the family carries out ‘bdikat chametz’. Using a feather, a spoon, and a candle, they search for any last crumbs - some very observant Jews place ten small pieces of bread around the house so that the search should have a strategic purpose.The next day, all chametz that has not been thrown away is discarded and, in some communities, burned, whilst reciting a blessing. If you are visiting Israel and in Jerusalem, it is possible to observe this ritual in many Jerusalem neighborhoods, especially the ultra-orthodox area of Mea Shearim.Baking matzah on the day before Pesach. Photo byavitalchn on PixabayUsing special utensils and cutlery over PassoverSpecial utensils are used over Passover - plates that are kept packed away the rest of the year. This is because, in daily use throughout the year, regular pots and pans in the kitchen have absorbed chametz through cooking. Observant Jews will also ‘kasher’ their kitchen before the festival, to make it kosher for Passover.Eating MatzahOne of the most important rituals involved in Passover is the eating of matzah and it is fair to say that this unleavened flatbread forms an integral part of the holiday experience! As the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) recounts, God commanded the Israelites to eat only unleavened bread for seven days during the festival. There is also a symbolic reason for the eating of matzah - it represents redemption and freedom. It is also ‘lechem oni’ (poor man’s bread) and so it teaches Jews to remain humble and not forget the pain of their servitude.Matzah and many other goods that are labeled ‘kosher for Passover’ are all easily obtainable in Israel, beforehand. The day before the holiday begins, all bakeries (and some restaurants) will close for a week and, outside of Tel Aviv, restaurants that remain open will only be serving food that is considered kosher for Passover (i.e. nothing made with flour).Haggadah, the Jewish text that determines the order of the Passover Seder. Photo by Ri_YaonPixabayGreetings at PassoverThere are different greetings you can use in Hebrew, at this time of the year. One is ‘chag sameach’ which means ‘happy holidays.’ (and you can use this for any of the Jewish holidays). The second is ‘chag Pesach kasher vesameach” ’ which means ‘have a kosher and joyous Passover.’Ashkenazi Jews whose parents grew up speaking Yiddish may often say ‘Gut yom tov’ (the last word often sounding like ‘yontif’), meaning ‘have a good day’ or ‘a zissen Pesach’ meaning ‘have a sweet Passover.’The Passover SederThe Passover Seder is a ritual that has been taking place in Jewish communities for thousands of years. It is a holiday that is popular with all - including secular Jews - and, indeed, even in Israel, where many Jews do not identify as religious, the proportion of people attending a seder is as high as 96%.The table is set beautifully, with a special ‘seder’ plate in its center. Seder, as mentioned before, means ‘order’ in Hebrew because the evening is always conducted in a certain order, set out in the Haggadah - a book which instructs you how to proceed, and which everyone has a copy beside them. On any seder plate you will find a few essential ingredients. These include:a hardboiled egg (‘beitzah) - this represents both the circle of life and the coming of spring; a shank bone (‘zeroah’) - this represents the Paschal sacrifice before the Jews fled Egypt.Horseradish (‘maror’) symbolizes the bitterness of slavery; a sweet mix of apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine (‘charoset’) - when eaten with the maror, it balances out the bitterness and symbolizes optimism; vegetables (‘karpas’) - these should be something other than bitter herbs and represent renewal and hope. They are dipped in saltwater before eating, and this represents the salty tears of slavery.4 cups for Passover.Photo bymonove on FreeimagesFrom Oppression to LiberationThe seder is, literally, the recounting of the story of the Exodus, as told above and concepts such as oppression, slavery, and liberation are at the forefront of the narrative. In fact, the word ‘Haggadah’ in Hebrew means ‘telling’ and, according to Jewish law, Jews are commanded to tell this story. Moreover, they are told that, as they read, they are to imagine that they are slaves themselves, back in Egypt, being liberated from oppression. Throughout the meal, four glasses of wine are drunk (if you want to stay sober, fill yours just half full!) with blessings over them. Although there is always someone knowledgeable who will lead the seder, it is customary to go round the table in the course of the ritual and let everyone read a few verses. There is not just reading in the seder but also singing. Traditionally, the youngest person at the table sings ‘Ma Nishtanah’ which asks why this night is different from all other nights. (Click on the link for a lovely rendition of this song, by the ‘Maccabeats’).Another song that is very popular is ‘Dayenu’ which, literally translated means ‘It would have been enough’ and refers to the ten plagues that God inflicted upon the Egyptians, for not letting the Israelites go. After each plague, Jews explain “if God had stopped there, it would have been enough for us.’ The earliest version of this poem is from a 9th-century Babylonian prayer book!The Book of Exodus, the second book of the Bible.Photo byBrett JordanonUnsplashA third that is always a big hit is ‘Ehad Mi Yodea’ which means ‘Who Knows One?’ It talks of all the things important to the history of Judaism, including the two tablets given to Moshe on Mount Sinai, the five books of the Torah, and the eight days before a baby’s brit milah (circumcision).After the first part of the reading from the Haggadah, everyone enjoys a festive meal and once, sated, resumes the reading. The last song of the evening is ‘Chad Gadya’ (‘One goat’) which is a playful song that children love, written originally in Aramaic and telling the story of a father who purchased a goat for ‘two zuzim’.One final tradition that we shouldn’t forget is the one that kids love the most - searching for the ‘afikomen’. Early in the seder, a piece of matzah is broken in two and the bigger piece is hidden somewhere in the house. Every child helps search for it and the winner receives something small, like a piece of candy. It’s also a great way of keeping younger attendees interested in what can often be a long evening!Sculpture of Moses at the entrance of Mt. Nebo, Jordan. Photo byLaura SeamanonUnsplashWhat foods are traditionally eaten at the Passover seder?Every home has their own traditional Passover recipes - Ashkenazi Jews often serve gefilte fish, matzah balls, potato kugel, and brisket; in a Sephardic home, you are more likely to be given seared salmon, lamb shank, and rice with vegetables. Desserts in both homes are often fruit salads or macaroons/biscuits made with almond flour.Activities Offered Over Passover in IsraelPassover is a holiday that lasts a week and whether you’re a first-time tourist in Israel or a local with kids, there’s plenty going on all over the country. And because only the first and last days of it are religious holidays, that leaves the intermediary period (‘chol ha moed’ in Hebrew) for enjoying yourself.Many museums in Israel offer free entrance at this time, there are all kinds of performances for children (music and theatre, both indoor and outside) on offer, endless activities set in nature (hiking trails, waterfalls, treks in the Negev desert) and, of course, the beaches and the Mediterranean Sea to take advantage of. In conclusion, Passover isn’t just an opportunity to remember, it’s an opportunity to enjoy - and if you’d like to take any of our organized day trips or book a private tour of Israel with us, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Passover 2022 falls out at sundown on Friday, April 15. Chag sameach! Happy Passover!Judean Desert, Israel. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

Safed

Safed (Tsfat) is a city in the Galilee built on hilltops surrounded by idyllic countryside. Safed’s high elevation gives the city warm, pleasant summers and cold winters often with snow. Safed is one of Israel’s four sacred Jewish cities.History of SafedSafed is identified with the 1st-century fortified town of Sepph and is mentioned in the Talmud as one of the elevated towns where fires were lit to indicate the new moon during the period of the Second Temple. Under the Crusaders in the 12th century, Safed was the fortified city of Saphet and the Mamluks turned Safed into an administrative center for the region. The Ottomans made Safed their capital of the Galilee and since the 16th century, Safed has been associated with Kabbalah Jewish mysticism.Safed and JudaismSafed street.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinIn the 16th century, Rabbi Isaac Luria (1531-1573) headed the Kabbalah movement in Safed and the city has remained a center of Jewish mysticism and study. The primary Kabbalistic text, the Zohar states that the Jewish messiah will reveal himself in Galilee and probably Safed. Points of Interest in SafedSafed’s Old City consists of meandering stone-paved narrow lanes flanked with stone houses. The Old City is divided into a Jewish Quarter and the Artists’ Quarter. The steep hillside means that stairways are necessary in some places to connect street levels. Window boxes bloom and vines adorn many of the buildings. The ruins of the former Crusader and later Mamluk fortress stand on the edge of the Old City. Safed’s Artists’ Quarter is home to artists who work and sell their creations along the lanes of the Old City. Their work is unique, often inspired by the Kabbalah. Many artists are attracted to Safed by its extraordinary beauty, the tranquil countryside, and the spirituality of Safed.In the Jewish Quarter, you can visit a number of historic synagogues (there are 32 synagogues in this neighborhood) including the two synagogues named after Rabbi Isaac Luria (known as Ari after his initials in Hebrew). Other noteworthy synagogues include the Abuhav Synagogue and Yosif Karo Synagogue named after the author of the book Shulchan Aruch.Abuhav Synagogue, Safed. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Petal Mashraki

Kevrei Tzadikim in Israel (Graves of Pious Jews)

People often go to pious or righteous Jews to ask for their blessing or to ask them to pray on their behalf. This tradition continues after the pious Jew or "tzadik" has passed on. Jews visit the gravesites of pious Jews and famous Great Sages in the hope that they will intercede on their behalf before God. When Jews pray at the graves of pious Jews or "Kevrei Tzadikim" it is not worship of the departed tzadik, but rather worship of God with the tzadik as an intermediary. Burying damaged Jewish prayer books, Mount of Olives Jewish Cemetery.Photo by Zoltan Tasi on UnsplashTraditionally prayer at the graveside of pious Jews is particularly powerful on fast days, holy days, and the anniversary of the passing of a loved one or the tzadik himself. The Gemorah and Zohar emphasize the importance of praying at the graves of tzadikim. Here are the main kevrei tzadikim in Israel but there are many, many more. In Safed, Meron and Tiberias alone there are over 90 kevrah tzadikim!Kever Rachel – BethlehemJacob buried Rachel on the side of the road leading to Bethlehem so that Jews passing by on their way to exile would be able to stop and pray for redemption. Rachel would intercede on the worshiper’s behalf and make their prayers even stronger. The original Kever Rachel was built in 1841, funded by Montefiore but in 1998 it underwent a complete renovation including secure protective walls around the complex.Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair – Tzfat (Safed)This Rabbi was the son-in-law of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and he performed many good deeds (mitzvoth) especially in his love for fellow man. Several times he solved problems by pointing out the mitzvah that the person was not performing correctly. It is traditional to circle his grave in Safed seven times.Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron.Photo byDan RosensteinonUnsplashShmuel HaNavi – Northwest outskirts of JerusalemShmuel HaNavi was a great Torah scholar and in later years became a judge and prophet (navi). He would travel around the country as a judge and never accept payment or gifts for his work. He anointed Shaul as King of Israel on God’s instructions. Shmuel later taught David how to build the Holy Temple and he wrote the biblical Book of Judges. At the gravesite, there is a tall tower which you can climb to get a view across the countryside. Alongside his grave in Jerusalem are the graves of his mother Chana and father Elkanah.Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi) – Mt. MeronThis Rabbi features prominently in the Talmud and was one of Rabbi Akiva’s students and a 2nd-century Mishnaic sage. The Rabbi performed many miracles and wrote enlightened interpretations of the Torah. He is buried next to his son Rabbi Eliezer (bar Rabbi Shimon) on Mount Meron. On the anniversary of his death, the 33rd day of the Omer (Lug B’Omer) crowds of religious followers gather at his graveside to pray, study, sing, and dance. Traditionally on Lag BaOmer bonfires are lit and three-year-old boys are brought to Mt. Meron for their first haircut at the tzadik’s graveside. The Rashbi is connected with the Zohar – the Book of Splendor – the Kabbalist’s sacred book. Also on Mount Meron are the graves of The Tanna, Rabbi Yiba Saba, Hillel Hazaken, Rabbi Yochanan HaSandlar, and Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma.Mount Meron, Israel.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinRabbi Yosef Karo – Tzfat (Safed) CemeteryThis 15th-century tzadik was born in Spain and educated in Turkey where he began writing his interpretation of Rambam’s Mishnah. He also wrote Bais Yosef where he focused on the early sages. He then moved to Tzfat (Safed) in Israel where he wrote the Shulchan Aruch explaining the Halachah laws in a way that the common man could understand without being a great scholar. He wrote other books and was highly regarded as an authority on Jewish law. Karo died in 1575 but his books remain the mainstay of most religious Jewish households.Rambam – TiberiasRambam was one of the greatest Rabbis of all time, he was born in 1135 in Spain and came from a respected family of Torah scholars. His family was expelled from Spain along with many other Jews and forced to wander from country to country. He wrote Pirush Ha’Mishnah L’Rambam and in Egypt, he became known as a brilliant medical doctor. He also wrote Mishnah Torah, Yad Ha’Chazaka, Yud Gimmel Ikrim, and Sefer Ha’Mitzvot. He died in 1204 in Egypt and his body was returned to Israel and buried as well as some other prominent tzadikim in Tiberias. He lies beside his father, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, and his five students. There are 14 pillars lining a path towards his grave each pillar represents a section of the book Mishnah Torah.The Ashkenazi HaAri Synagogue, Safed (Tzfat), Israel. Photo credit: © ShutterstockRabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai – TiberiasRabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai was privileged to see the second Holy Temple of Jerusalem before dying at the age of 120 in 90AD. In his lifetime he served as the leader of Klal Yisroel and studied with Hillel and Shammai. He was buried in Tiberias 1100 years before Rambam was buried alongside his grave.Rabbi Meir Ba’al HaNes – On the Shore of the Sea of GalileeThis tzadik studied under Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Yishmoel, and Elisha ben Avuya (Acher). He was married to Bruriah, the only woman mentioned in the Gemorah as wise and brilliant. He lived through the terrible period of Roman persecution after the destruction of the Holy Temple. He was a brilliant scholar and a Sofer or scribe of holy Torah scrolls. The Rabbi died in Asia but requested to be buried in Israel. His body is buried not far from Tiberias on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is tradition to make a charitable donation to kollelim (places where Torah is studied intensely) in the name of Rabbi Meir Ba’al HaNes. Torah scroll.Photo byTaylor WilcoxonUnsplashYonatan Ben Uzi’el – AmukaVisiting this gravesite traditionally aids those looking for a marriage partner and women come here to pray for fertility. He was a student of Hillel HaZaken and a wise Torah scholar.Hillel Ha’Zaken – MeronVisiting the grave of this ancient tzadik who lived from 110BC to 10AD, 120 years, is thought to aid longevity and good health. He founded the House of Hillel and the school of Tannaim, the Sages of the Mishnah. He lived during the reign of Herod and is remembered for several poignant and wise phrases such as “If I am not for myself who will be for me?”Tomb of the Patriarchs (Ma’arat HaMachpelah) – HebronCave of the Patriarchs in Hebron is where you’ll find the graves of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their wives Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah. These biblical figures are the primary patriarchs of Judaism together with Rachel who is buried near Bethlehem. The site is surrounded by walls dating back to King Herod and the site is sacred to both Jews and Muslims.Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes tomb in Tiberias, Israel. Photo credit: © ShutterstockRabbi Yehuda bar Eliyahu – Ein Zeitim, Near TzfatPraying at this great scholar’s grave is supposed to bring a blessing on your income. There is an olive tree next to the grave and it is traditional to take a leaf from the tree and place it in your pocket. Rabbi Yehuda bar Eliyahu was one of Rabbi Akiva’s last five students. Today a Kollel (house of Torah study) stands over his tomb and his father’s tomb.Ari HaKadosh – TzfatAri HaKadosh (the Holy Lion)'s real name was Rabbi Isaac Luria Ashkenazi and he lived in the 16th century. He wrote an interpretation of the Zohar and began the Kabbalah movement; the mystic branch of Judaism. Visiting this gravesite is a spiritual and mystic experience. In Tsfat you can visit the synagogue named after him.Rabbi Akiva – TiberiasThe great Akiva was a poor shepherd and only at the age of 40 did he learn to read and write. He soon became a wise and respected Torah scholar. He spent the rest of his life studying the Jewish religious scriptures. Visiting this grave gains worshipers the blessing of wisdom and success in their studies. The most popular time to visit the grave is on the eve of Yom Kippur as this is the anniversary of his death.To see the list of Jewish holy sites in Israel feel free to read this article.
By Petal Mashraki

UNESCO Site: Biblical Tels – Megiddo, Hazor, Beer Sheva

Tels are prehistoric settlement mounds predominantly found in the Middle East. Megiddo, Hazor and Beersheba are three of 200 such tels in Israel, which contain significant remains of cities which have biblical connections. Excavation has found large multi-layered settlements which existed over the course of several millennia. The locations were probably chosen as settlement sites due to their strategic positions along important ancient trade routes and because of the available water supplies. The three tels are referred to as “biblical tels” as they appear in the Old Testament.Tel Hazor National Park, Israel. Photo credit: © Yuval Gassar. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityIn 2005 UNESCO declared these mounds as having outstanding universal value according to 4 criteria:1. The tels show an interchange of ideas and values between the east and west through trading, this can be seen in the many styles of building including those of Egypt and Syria;2. The tels offer a rare insight into the living conditions and lifestyle of the Canaan cities of the Bronze Age and the biblical cities of the Iron Age; 3. The development of Levant (Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and eastern Turkey) urban development evident in the tels had a great impact on future historic developments in the region;4. Having been mentioned in the Bible the three tels have spiritual and religious universal value.The findings at these tels show us that there was a centralized authority that controlled the important trade routes through the region. Thankfully the remains at each site have retained their integrity and have been left untouched for centuries. Over the course of time, the tels have become conical-shaped mounds with a flat top. The tels show evidence of sophisticated, geographically responsive, engineering in the ancient underground water systems designed to bring water to the cities. Ruins at Tel Megiddo National Park. Photo credit: © Avi Bahari. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityTel HazorTel Hazor is located in northern Israel near the Sea of Galilee and boasts one of the best examples of ancient ramparts in the Middle East. The ramparts enclosed the city with 9 meter high walls and there were two monumental gates. Its late Bronze Age palaces and temples stand out as some of the best in the Levant and the most complex in Israel. Excavation began at Tel Hazor in 1928 and later in the 1950s the well-known archaeologist Yigal Yadin led further excavations; in 1990 work was once again resumed on the site. A six-chambered stone gate was found which can be attributed to the time of King Solomon. The complex water system involved a 30-meter descending tunnel and a cave with a vaulted corridor. As with the other two tels, Tel Hazor held an important position at a major ancient crossroad. Tel Hazor National Park. Photo credit: © Doron Nissim. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityTel MegiddoTel Megiddo is just 50km southwest of Tel Hazor at the northern point of the Kishon River and has an unparalleled number of temples in its early Bronze Age temple compound, which shows that there was a continuity in the ritual activity on the Tel. This mound was the site of a powerful Canaan settlement that controlled the Via Maris, a route connecting Egypt with Syria, Anatolia, and Mesopotamia.Megiddo is referred to as Armageddon in the New Testament. The site was first excavated in 1903-5, then again in 1925-39, and again in the 1960s – 70s. Archaeologists uncovered around 30 different cities built one on top of the other on at least 20 levels. Another major archaeological find was an 80-meter long aqueduct that brought water from a spring at the foot of the mound up a vertical shaft to supply the city with fresh water.Tel Megiddo Archaeological Park. Photo credit: © Avi Bahari. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityTel BeershebaTel Beersheba is in southern Israel near the Negev Desert and the archaeological findings show an elaborate, oval-shaped and walled, Iron Age town plan unparalleled in the Levant. The well-planned town has a central square and an underwater drainage system as well as a well 69 meters below the ground. Excavation of Tel Beersheba only began in the 1960s. They discovered the remains of a 9th-century Judahite settlement which continued into the 8th century until it was destroyed by a fire during the Assyrian campaign. Among the remains is the Governor’s Palace with three long halls and several ancillary rooms.Tel Beersheba, Israel.Photo credit: © Nadav Taube. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority
By Petal Mashraki

Historical Events in Israel: From Abraham to Bar Kokhba

When visitors arrive in Israel today, they are often surprised to see an incredibly modern country, with gleaming highrises, raved-about cuisine, renowned academic and scientific institutions, and a booming hi-tech industry. Stereotypes about locals riding around on camels and not speaking English are quickly crushed as they realize that Israel is at the forefront of so much innovation, particularly the bustling beach city of Tel Aviv, with its 24/7 action.View of Tel Aviv from Jaffa. Photo byReiseuhuonUnsplashWhat makes this even more amazing is that Israel is an incredibly young country - not even an octogenarian in people terms! Created in May 1948, a huge amount has been achieved in these 73 years and who knows what lies ahead? But what about important historical events in Israel long ago?The fact is that whilst Israel, in many respects, is an incredibly modern country but it’s steeped in extraordinary history - it’s everywhere you go, in its seaports, Herodian cities, Crusader castles, Roman defenses, and Old City walls. Ancient Israel is thousands of years old, and in the time before it took for David Ben Gurion to declare independence in Tel Aviv, a great deal happened.We realize that, whether you’re a first-time visitor to Israel or you’ve been here many times, this can all be a little confusing, which is why we’ve decided to put together some ‘Top Ten’ list covering what we think are some of the most important events in ancient Israel’s long, chequered and glorious history. We are not scholars, so we’ll try and keep it succinct, but - remember! - Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the Land of Israel. Here goes…Part One of our ‘Historical Events’ series, beginning with Judaism’s beloved Patriarch, Abraham.Cows in Shaar HaCarmel National Park, Israel. Photo credit: © Oksana Mats1. Abraham arrives in the Land of IsraelIt was Abraham, the father of monotheism (a belief in the One God) who was the first protagonist in the fateful story of the Jews. Commanded by God to leave his birthplace, he set off on a long and arduous journey to the land of Israel.Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (his son and grandson) would become the three Patriarchs of the Jewish religion and the Hebrew Bible is filled with extraordinary stories about their lives. These include God’s blessing of Abraham (to make him the father of a great nation), the binding of Isaac, and Jacob’s stealing of his brother Esau’s birthright.Jacob would go on to have 13 children, 10 of whom would be founders of tribes of Israel. In the latter part of his life, famine forced the Israelites to migrate to Egypt, where Jacob would finally be reunited with his beloved son Joseph (owner of the fabled coat of many colors).Cave of the Patriarchs (Sanctuary of Abraham), Hebron, West Bank. Photo byDan RosensteinonUnsplash2. The Ten Commandments are given to MosesIn terms of major historical events in Israel, this really has to be up there. It was at Mount Sinai where Moses, Judaism’s most important prophet, received the Torah (which in Jewish terms means the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), including the Ten Commandments. These are considered to be the blueprint for the ethics and worship in Jewish life up until today - they are the laws that Jews (and also Christians) strive to abide.Without a doubt, Moses was an extraordinary hero of the Jewish people, who led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt (famously parting the Red Sea with his staff) and led them, after many years of wandering, to the Promised Land. As he stood at Sinai, he entered into a covenantal relationship with God and, as a result, delivered God’s words to his people. Moses is considered to have been the only person who ever saw God ‘face to face’ (atop Sinai) and his actions are also indicative of a renewing of God’s covenantal relationship with Abraham, long before.Sunset on Mount Sinai. Photo byVlad KiselovonUnsplash3. The Eras of King David and King SolomonThis really was a golden era, by any standards. Named ‘the United Monarchy’ period, it refers to the United Israelite kingdom of Israel and Judah, during the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon, whose story is told in the Hebrew Bible. Scholars estimate that it lasted between 1047 BCE and 930 BCE. Under King David’s rule, the Judean dynasty was founded and all the tribes of Israel were united. Born a shepherd boy, he famously slew the giant Goliath with nothing more than a slingshot, then served at King Saul’s court as an aide. After going into hiding and living as a fugitive and “Robin Hood’ figure, he was anointed King at the age of 30. Following this, he conquered the city of Jerusalem, established it as Israel’s capital, and made the Ark of the Covenant the focal point of the city. David was a talented musician, poet, and lyricist, many of the biblical Psalms are ascribed to him and in prophetic literature, he is the forefather to the Hebrew Messianic Age. In Jerusalem today, there are endless references to David - his tomb, King David’s Tower, and the underground City of David, which is 3,000 years old.King David’s Tomb, Jerusalem, Israel. Photo credit: © Oksana MatsEven the Bridge of Chords (a striking architectural masterpiece, located at the city’s entrance) has been deliberately shaped to resemble his harp (its cables representing strings). After his death at 70, his son Solomon replaced him as King. Known for his ruthlessness in dealing with political opponents, he appointed close friends in positions of government and reinforced his position as King through military means (infantry, cavalry, and chariotry). Solomon was also both a master builder and a sage (hence the phrase ‘ the Wisdom of Solomon’). He was responsible for the erection of the First Temple of Jerusalem, the national and spiritual center of the Jewish people, as well as an enormous building program throughout the entire nation. Deemed wiser than any other sage, the Hebrew Bible's Book of Proverbs tells the famous story of his adjudication between two women, each claiming to be the mother of a baby, and his profound conclusion. Moreover, the ‘Song of Solomons’ - also in the Hebrew Bible - is an extraordinarily beautiful love poem, attributed to him. Today, Solomon is revered both in Judaism and Christianity for his wisdom and is regarded by Muslims as a prophet.Solomons pillars, Timna Park, Israel.Photo byRaimond KlavinsonUnsplash4. HellenismIn 332, the land of Israel was conquered by Alexander the Great, a brilliant Greek leader and a great force in history. He ushered in an era of Hellenism (rule characterized by the culture of ancient Greece). However, the Jews fared better under him than they had done under the Romans and came to an ‘arrangement’ with them. The ‘pact’ they made was that in return for paying taxes and behaving in a loyal fashion towards him, they could remain autonomous.On the positive side, Jews survived (i.e. were not slaughtered en masse, as they had been in Roman times). The flip side of their acquiescence was that the door was opened to Greek culture and a certain level of assimilation. It also led to the creation of a tax system that was so corrupt, the Jews hated it long after Alexander had died.5. The Maccabees RevoltBetween 167-160 BCE, a revolt by the Maccabees took place against Hellenistic influences and the Seleucid Empire. King Antiochus IV introduced a number of repressive anti-Jewish measures, including making the Second Temple a site of a pagan cult. A group of Jewish fighters, led by Judas Maccabeus (Judah Maccabee) and they even had an early victory, capturing Jerusalem.Although Judah was killed in a subsequent battle, eventually the Greeks were expelled from Jerusalem and the Maccabees went on to establish the independent Hasmonean Kingdom, which ignited a sense of Jewish nationalism.Ben Shemen Forest near Modiin, where the Maccabees Revolt started. Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin6. Jewish independence under the Hasmonean monarchy.The subsequent period, which lasted until 63 BCE, saw the Jews living independently in the Hasmonean kingdom. It was an extremely unstable dynasty and the Hasmoneans were not conventionally Hellenistic, rather a ‘national monarchy’. Initially triumphant, Jewish life flourished but eventually, their reign became quite corrupt and within a few decades, Rome’s power began to be felt. Eventually, the Hasmonean dynasty fell, leading to the installation of Herod the Great as King, who made Judea into a Roman client state. 7. The Capture of Jerusalem by the RomansA dark period in Jewish history, in 63 BCE the Roman General Pompey captured the city of Jerusalem and installed a puppet king. Friction ensued and three years later culminated in the First Jewish Revolt. By the spring of 70 BCE, Jerusalem was besieged by General Titus. The Romans cut off supplies to the city by encircling the walls, quickly driving the Jews inside to starvation. By August of the same year, the Romans were inside the Old City, ransacking and burning as they went, and then massacring many of the remaining population. They subsequently destroyed the Second Temple (today, only a trace of it remains, in the form of the Western Wall). The Romans celebrated their victory by building the Triumphal Arch of Titus at the foot of the Palatine Hill, in Rome’s Forum.The Roman rule would continue for hundreds of years, with King Herod (who became one of the most powerful monarchs in the Roman Empire), who remodeled the Temple. After his death, ancient Israel would come directly under Roman administration, and great suppression of Jewish life, culminating in the defeat of ancient Israel's last Jewish outpost, Masada (see below).The Judean Desert view from the top of Masada Fortress, Israel. Photo byDaniel LeeonUnsplash8. Jesus of Nazareth’s Ministry in the GalileeJesus, regarded by Christians as the son of God, spent his formative years in Nazareth but the latter part of his life - between around 20-33 BC, traveling around the Galilee, ministering. After being baptized in the Jordan River, by John the Baptist, he recruited his twelve disciples and began preaching in synagogues, casting out demons and healing people.He is known for miracles such as calming seas and walking on water, feeding a crowd of 5,000 with two fishes and five loaves, turning water into wine at a wedding, and raising a man from the dead. Today, all around the Galilee are places of extraordinary importance for Christians (theGospel Trail), including the Mount of Beatitudes, near Capernaum and Tabgha.Here Jesus gave his famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’, the ‘Wedding Church’ at Kfar Cana and Yardenit baptismal site.Eventually, Jesus left Galilee for Jerusalem, where he was betrayed by his disciple Judas, and crucified by the Roman authorities, before rising from the dead, three days later.Capernaum, established during the time of the Hasmoneans, Israel.Photo credit: ©Dmitry Mishin9. The Jewish Revolt at MasadaThis ancient desert fortress, built by King Herod, located on a plateau in the Judean desert and close to the Dead Sea, was a place that would truly be remembered in history for years to come. Meaning ‘Support’ or ‘Strong Foundation’ in Hebrew, it was at Masada that the Jews there made a last heroic stand against the Romans.In 66 CE, the Jewish leader Eleazar Ben Yair fled Jerusalem (for Masada, to command a group of Judean rebels. Once the Romans had destroyed the Temple, they turned their sights to Masada, the last community (with just under 1000 rebels living there). Led by the military leader Flavius Silva, thousands of Romans built camps at the bottom of the fortress, as well as a siege wall and a ramp, by which they planned to storm through. The rebels held out for two years but in April 73 CE, it became apparent to them that they had lost. Rather than surrender and be captured as slaves, they followed the instructions of Bey Yair and committed suicide en masse. For several centuries, Masada remained uninhabited although, during the later Byzantine period, a group of monks built a monastery there. Two centuries later, when the Muslims conquered the region, the fortress would be abandoned once more. Today, Masada is one of Israel’s most famed attractions and is beloved both by tourists and Israelis.It is a popular site for touring, military commendation ceremonies, and bar mitzvahs (the ritual where a 13-year-old Jewish boy comes of age). Its opulent palaces, storerooms, Roman baths, and extensive water system make it a site of major archaeological importance in Israel and at an emotional level, Jews identify with it as a symbol of courage, resilience, and hope.Ruins of Masada Fortress, Israel. Photo credit: © Shutterstock10. Bar Kokhba’s uprising against RomeThis rebellion by Jews in Judea was led by Simon Bar Kokhba and was fought against the Romans sometime between 132-136 CE. It was the last of three major wars the Jews fought against the Romans. After Emperor Hadrian had spearheaded a series of measures to hellenize the region (including the outlawing of circumcision and the erection of a temple to Jupiter over the remains of the Jewish Temple) Bar Kokhba and his followers stormed the Roman colony of Aelia in Jerusalem. Eventually, the battle between the Jews and the Romans became so fierce that Hadrian himself visited from Rome and ordered 35,000 men to fight the rebels. Gradually, the Jews were worn down and in 135 CE Bar Kokhba, himself was killed, in Bethar, southwest of Jerusalem. The rebels were quickly crushed, Judea was abandoned and the Jews were barred from entering their holiest city.To be continued.A man riding a donkey on the road to Jerusalem. Photo byIva RajovićonUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

Historical Figures in Israel

Whether the connection is religious, literary, biblical or political, many a famous historical figure has come out of the land of Israel - both from the pages of the Bible (thousands of years ago) and more contemporary times. ‘The Jewish People’ - after all - have been around from the time of Abraham, which is some history!David Playing the Harp Before Saul, Mount Zion, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockIsrael is particularly astonishing - when you think about it - because the Jews who live there are speaking the same language, living in the same land, and worshipping the same God from thousands of years ago. No wonder then taking a vacation to Israel is so popular - it is a way of seeing for yourself the continuing of a rich cultural tradition that has passed down through endless generations.Here, we look at some well-known characters that every Israeli child learns about in first grade - both from biblical times and in the history of modern-day Israel. Each one of them, in their own exceptional way, played their part in making an enormous contribution to the country that exists today. That’s also why Israel has a tradition of naming streets, squares, highways, bridges, museums, and even scientific institutes after them. Yes, this is very common and it’s something quite extremely noticeable when you’re traveling in Israel, whether on a tour of Jerusalem, exploring Tel Aviv and Jaffa, or even just wandering around small towns in the Galilee or Negev desert. Without further ado, let’s take a look:Tourist at Mount Scopus observation point, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock1. King David, the legendary great from Israeli historyKing David was the Second King of Israel, who founded the Judean dynasty. Under his rule, all the tribes were united, which is why his rule is often looked back on as a ‘Golden era’. Born to humble origins (a shepherd boy) he killed Goliath with nothing more than a slingshot and a stone and, according to the Hebrew Bible, since being anointed by Samuel was protected from harm by God himself.There are numerous references to David today, in Jerusalem, including the Tower of David, King David’s Tomb, and the 3,000-year-old underground City of David. The Bridge of Chords (which you will see, as you drive into Jerusalem) is an architectural masterpiece, deliberately shaped to look like King David’s harp - the cables being the strings. An excellent way to explore King David's Jerusalem is with a City of David Jerusalem Tour.2. King Solomon, the most famous Israeli historical personalityBoth wealthy and wise, King Solomon came to the throne after his father David, in around 970 BCE. According to the Hebrew Bible, he was responsible for the building of the First Temple in Jerusalem, which he dedicated to the God Yahweh. After this, he is said to have erected many other important buildings in the city, including a Royal Palace.The First Temple was eventually destroyed by the Babylonians, razed to the ground in 587/586 BCE. Today, even after archaeological excavations, little remains (it is probably buried under the Western Wall) but the entire area, including Jerusalem Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock (extremely holy both to Jews and Muslims) can be visited in the course of the Jerusalem Temple Mount & Dome of the Rock Tour.Entrance to King David's Tomb, Mount Zion, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock3. Judas MaccabeusJudas Maccabeus (also spelled ‘Judah Maccabee’) was a Jewish Priest who led a revolt against an invasion by King Antioch IV, to prevent the imposition of Hellenism in what was then Judea, therefore reconsecrating the Temple and helping preserve the Jewish religion. This great military deed of his is remembered by Jews each year when celebrating Hanukkah - the ‘Festival of Lights’.Many things today in Israel remind us of him - the football teams named after him, the Maccabi health fund (which ensures millions of Israelis), and the Maccabiah games - a kind of ‘Jewish Olympics.’ To learn more about Judas, and his brave Maccabean followers, it’s really worth taking a tour of Masada the ancient desert fortress at which the Jews made a last, brave stand against the Romans. 4. JosephusTitus Flavius Josephus was born in Jerusalem in 37 CE to a family of noble lineage - his father was descended from Priests and his mother claimed Royal ancestry. Initially fighting against the Romans in the Galilee, the First Jewish-Roman War, he later defected to the Romans and was granted citizenship by them.Josephus’ most famous work was ‘The Jewish War’ where he recounts in brilliant detail the manner in which the Jews revolted. For scholars, these writings are a valuable insight into first-century Judaism and also early Christianity. They give great context for anyone seeking to understand more about the revolt at Masada and the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as Jewish customs and life inside the Temple. Masada National Park, Herod's Palace Complex.Photo credit: © Shutterstock5. Herod the Great King Herod 1 (also known as Herod the Great) was a Roman King who is known for his enormous building projects throughout Judea, in particular the erection of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Details of his life are recorded by Josephus (see above) and in the Gospel of Matthew, in the Christian Bible, it is said that he was directly responsible for the massacre of thousands of baby boys at the time of the birth of Jesus.Herodian architecture is everywhere in Israel, including famous sites such as the Western Wall, the ancient port of Caesarea, Herodion, the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Masada, and temples dedicated to Augustus (at Sebastia, Caesarea, and Banias). For any history buff or lover of archaeology, you couldn’t do better than to take out In the Footsteps of Herod Private Tour.6. John the BaptistJohn the Baptist was a Jewish prophet, born in 1 BCE and quite possibly a member of the Essene sect. Said to have lived on wild honey and locusts, he preached widely about the final judgment of God and was responsible for the baptism of many ‘repenters.’ Even though Jesuswas technically sinless (as the Son of God) John baptized him and many Christians believe that this ritual filled Jesus with the Holy Spirit.Today, Christian pilgrims flock to Yardenit - Israel’s most famous baptismal site - located on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and next to the River Jordan - to undergo this sacred ritual personally. Bein Harims also offers a tour of Nazareth and Galilee, which is an ideal way to learn more about the life and times of Jesus. There is also the possibility of visiting the more intimate baptismal site of Qasr al-Yahud, as part of a tour of Jericho and the Dead Sea area.The ruins of King Herod's bathrooms in Herodion, West Bank.Photo credit: © Shutterstock7. Jesus of NazarethDoes Jesus really need an introduction? The central figure in the Christian religion, whether you believe he was the Son of God or just a radical preacher who was condemned to death for heresy, he’s a central figure in the Holy Land and reminders of his remarkable life and times surround you, whichever way you turn. Many tourists in Jerusalem choose to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, retracing his steps in the last week before his death, exploring landmarks such as the Garden of Gethsemane, the Via Dolorosa, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It’s also possible to take a tour of Bethlehem (his birthplace) or travel north and explore both Nazareth (where he spent his early years) and Galilee, where he found his disciples and ministered to crowds. You don’t have to be religious to be fascinated by this man’s extraordinary life.Gethsemane Garden, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock8. Pontius PilatePontius Pilate was the fifth governor of the Roman province of Judea, at the time of Jesus’ death. Little is known about his early years, or how he rose to prominence. He is known best for being the official who presided over Jesus’s trial and subsequently ordered that he be put to death, by way of crucifixion. The Christian Bible often represents Pilate as being ambivalent - even reluctant - about his actions in condemning Jesus (pointing to the fact that he asked the crowd their wishes and then washed his hands i.e. absolving himself from his actions). Today, he is venerated by the Ethiopian Church as a saint.The Praetorium (buried underneath an Ottoman prison, the Kishle, next to the Tower of David) is thought by archaeologists to be the place where Pilate made his famous decision and can easily be explored on any private tour of Jerusalem.Kishle, the Possible Site of Jesus’ Trial, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin9. David Ben-GurionDavid Ben Gurion was Israel’s first Prime Minister after it became an independent state widely regarded as one of its ‘founding fathers’ of the state. It was Ben Gurion who proclaimed the Declaration of Independence, in Tel Aviv, in 1948 and who oversaw the absorption of huge numbers of Jews in the early years of Israel’s existence.Ben Gurion served as Prime Minister and Defence Minister of Israel for many years. During this time, he lived in Tel Aviv, in a small unassuming house, which today is a museum showcasing his life. Filled with books, it gives an indication of just how learned he was. In 1970, he moved to the Kibbutz Sde Boker, in the Negev desert, since he had a deep belief that Zionism entailed settling barren areas. He is buried there and his grave in kibbutz Sde Boker and Ben Gurion's house in Tel Aviv can be easily visited. 10. Teddy KollekTeddy Kollek was an Israeli politician who famously served as Mayor of Jerusalem between 1965 and 1993. The old adage about him was that he was ‘the greatest builder in Jerusalem since Herod’ because of his interest in redeveloping and modernizing the city.Kollek dedicated himself to many cultural projects, particularly those relating to the Israel Museum and Jerusalem Biblical Zoo (today, two ofJerusalem’s most visited attractions).Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin11. Theodor HerzlTheodor Herzl was not just a journalist and playwright, but also the father of modern Zionism. Born in Budapest, he moved to Paris at the end of the 19th century, and witnessing the aftermath of the scandalous ‘Dreyfus Affair’ convinced him that the only way for Jews to avoid anti-semitism was to create a Jewish state. From this point on, Herzl devoted himself to this vision, visiting Jerusalem finally in 1898. Herzl never lived to see his dream realized, dying in 1904, but Israel celebrates him annually with ‘Herzl Day’ in the Hebrew month of Iyar. Mount Herzl in Jerusalem whereTheodor Herzl is buried and the town of Herzliya with its beautiful marina are named after him.12. Meir DizengoffMeir Dizengoff was born in Russia in 1881 and was one of the early Zionist leaders of his day. A great advocate of establishing Jewish communities in Palestine, particularly Tel Aviv, he was widely regarded as a great leader at that time and many world leaders (including Winston Churchill) who visited Palestine were impressed by him. He was actually one of the families who founded Tel Aviv, on its sand dunes, in 1909.Dizengoff later became Mayor of the city and kept that office until just before he died. Today, Tel Aviv’s largest street is named after him - running through the heart of the city, Dizengoff Street is famous for its cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and 24/7 activity. His home was the spot at which Ben Gurion made his famous declaration and today is a history museum known as theHall of Independence. It can be visited with some of Tel Aviv tours.The Hall of Independence, Tel Aviv. Photo credit: © Shutterstock13. Yitzhak RabinYitzhak Rabin was a military leader, politician, and statesman, who became famous in Israel as the Labour Leader who signed the Oslo Accords, in conjunction with Yasser Arafat’s PLO, and was, soon after, assassinated by a radical right-wing Jew. Rabin was Chief of the Southern Front in the 1948 War of Independence in 1948, and in 1964 was appointed Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army. In 1994, a year before his murder, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.Tel Aviv’s famous central square was afterward renamed Yitzhak Rabin Square and in 2005, ten years after his death, the Yitzhak Rabin Center was inaugurated. Part of this is a museum that explores the history of Israeli society, using Rabin as a connecting theme.14. Yigal AllonYigal Allon was an Israeli military leader who, after a celebrated career, became a Labour politician. He is well-known as the architect of the ‘Allon Plan’ which was a peace initiative formed by him in 1967, after Israeli captured territories in the Six-Day War. The Yigal Allon Museum, at Kibbutz Ginosar in Galilee, is open to visitors and a major highway in Israel is also named after him.15. Chaim WeizmannBorn in Russia, Chaim Weizmann was the President of the Zionist Organisation and then the first President of the State of Israel. It was Weizmann who was widely acknowledged as being the person who persuaded the USA to recognize Israel, after its establishment in 1948. A biochemist by profession, the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot - is today, a worldwide leader in scientific research and an excellent tribute to him.Tel Aviv City Hall with rainbow flag projection, Rabin Square. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

On the Road in Israel: a Hebrew-English Dictionary for Visitors

So you’re off to Israel on a long-awaited holiday? Firstly, congratulations, you made a fine choice and, trust us, you’re going to love it. Secondly, a small tip. Whilst this is a country where many people (especially the younger generation) speak English fluently, and everyone connected with the tourist industry will be able to help you out, at least to some degree, it’s always useful to know a few phrases. And more than just being useful, you’ll see how appreciated your words are when you utter them - Israelis are proud of their Hebrew language (‘Ivrit’ as it is known), so if you go to the trouble of learning a few words and expressions, you’ll really reap the rewards!Hebrew signs inJudean Hills.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinBefore we start, a little about the history of modern Hebrew because it's actually a fascinating story. Something that really sets Israel apart from other nations is that it has a revived language as its national tongue and that is definitely thanks to Eliezer Ben Yehuda, a Lithuanian immigrant who was the driving force behind its ‘comeback’. Taking the view that the Jews could not become a united people in their own land unless they had a modern language of their own, from the day he and his family arrived in Jaffa (in 1881) he insisted that they speak only Hebrew - a Hebrew that he was going to ‘recreate’ out of the ancient language of the Bible! Ben Yehuda really took the construction of this new modern language seriously. He would not even respond to his children if they did not use the words he was constructing, even when they cried and told him they did not understand! This story is still recounted to every young school child in Israel. He coined all kinds of new words and even put together a dictionary, to promote the use of the language in the fields of journalism, science, and literature. Today, we see the fruits of his labor - Hebrew isn’t just a language of prayer, but a tongue heard on every street corner. What an achievement!Street name sign in three languages in Jerusalem.Photo credit:© ShutterstockWhilst Ben Yehuda clearly had to improvise in many instances (there were no cars or newspapers in biblical times!) you can trace the etymology (origin) of many words easily, as many are referred to in the Bible as geographical places. Jerusalem literally means ‘City of Peace’ (from ‘shalom’) and Jaffa (‘beautiful’) is derived from Japhfet, the name of one of Noah's sons' who built the city after the Flood. Beit Shemesh (in the east) means ‘House of the Sun’ and Mitzpe Ramon (home to Israel’s astonishing crater, with its panoramic views) is ‘lookout’. Many spots are also named after water (‘Ein Gedi‘ means ‘ Spring of the Kid’) or named after species mentioned in the Bible (‘Ein Tamar’ means ‘Spring of the Date Palm’).Jerusalem literally means "City of Peace" in Hebrew.Photo credit:© ShutterstockBut, for now, back to your trip. You’ll need, at the very least, some basic words and phrases whilst touring in Israel ... words like ‘shalom’ (hello, goodbye, and peace) ‘bevakasha’ (please) ‘todah’ (thank you) ‘lehitraot’ (goodbye) and ‘al lo davar’ (you’re welcome) are always helpful, as are phrases to do with how much something costs, where the bathroom is (always an essential!) and how to order something in a restaurant. Here, let’s take a look of this lovely video by Yaara, one of the sweetest Hebrew teachers on YouTube that we know, with her ‘25 top words’ to get you started.Once you’ve mastered the basics, let’s go onto a few words and phrases that will really come in handy when you’re on a tour of the Dead Sea and Masada, discovering the capital's rich history with a City of David & Underground Jerusalem Tour, or thirsty whilst on a tour in the Golan Heights! ‘Mayim’ is a real essential - it means water and you should be drinking lots of it, especially if you’re here between May and October. ‘Glida’ is another favorite - it refers to ice cream and wherever you go in Israel you’ll see it for sale - especially in boutique parlors where you can find exotic Middle Eastern flavors, such as halvah, saffron, cardamom, and star anise.Sliced halvah cake ("ooga")at the Carmel market shop.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinThere’s also ‘yam’ - sea in Hebrew - and ‘tayelet’ - which means promenade (Israel’s beaches have beautiful promenades, perfect for strolling, with the Mediterranean Sea waves lapping nearby) before you head off to sample some Middle Eastern cuisine in a local ‘misadah’ (restaurant). Israel is famous for plenty of dishes besides the ubiquitous falafel (fried chickpea balls served in pita bread) and one word we’d really recommend not forgetting is ‘dag’ (which in Hebrew, means ‘fish’) - because the local catches are wonderful.‘Salatim’ - salads - are also a fine choice and they come in all colors and flavors, using making use of local produce such as ‘hatzilim’ (eggplant) ‘rimonim’ (pomegranates) ‘gvina’ (cheese), and egozim (nuts). Don't forget to drizzle some ‘tahini over your food too - a sesame seed paste that’s delicious and nutritious and which is universally known here. And for dessert, try a couple of ‘sabras’ - they are the Israeli national fruit (spiky on the outside and sweet on the inside - just like the people of the country, as they say).The sea ( ‘yam’) in Acre, Israel.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinA few more words for good measure: ‘Tiyul’ means ‘trip, ‘haaretz’ means ‘the land or Israel’ and ‘madrich / madricha’ are your tour guides (depending on whether they are male or female). So once you’ve got the hang of these words, why not try them out on your ‘siyurim madrichim baaretz’ - guided tours in Israel. Fun fact: Israel is a nation of polyglots, and it’s quite likely that your tour guide will speak more than just Hebrew and English (many Israelis grow up in homes where Arabic, Turkish, French, Spanish, and even Yiddish are spoken!)Bein Harim guide on an tour to Masada.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinFor anyone whose Hebrew is a bit better than basic, we’d really recommend listening to ‘Streetwise Hebrew’ by Guy Sharett. What makes this podcast really special is that Guy takes an innovative approach to learn words and phrases, by using Israeli music (old songs and new), graffiti, and a bit of slang too! Fun fact: Guy’s native tongue is Hebrew, but apart from being fluent in English, he is also familiar with Arabic, Aramaic, Latin, Italian, Dutch, and Indonesian. This podcast is so much fun that you might even be tempted to learn more Hebrew once you’re back home. Go on - have a listen! After learning Hebrew with this original technique, you might also be interested in a Tel Aviv graffiti and street art tour which is certainly a must for all contemporary art lovers.Tourist taking pictures of Tel Aviv graffiti.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinAnd how could we talk about Hebrew words without throwing in a few phrases for when you’re in the local markets, looking for unusual foods, local crafts, and souvenirs for your friends back home. The ‘shuk’ (‘market’ in Hebrew) is a central feature of any town or city and is a must-visit, and if you take a tour you’ll get a lot of history thrown in for good measure. Jerusalem has the fabled Mahane Yehuda, Tel Aviv has the Carmel market, Jaffa has the vintage ‘Shuk Hapishpishim’ (Jaffa flea market, an organized tour recommended), and the Crusader city of Acre has a vibrant Old City market. In all of them, you can wander for hours, and soak up the exotic atmosphere, better with a guided market tour.Spice stall at Tel Aviv's Carmel Market.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinIn terms of what to buy, you’re completely spoilt for choice - spices are always a good choice, not to mention halva, Medjool dates, and Dead Sea mud packs for your face, which are guaranteed to leave your skin invigorated. There are also all kinds of religious artifacts on offer - Judaica (menorahs and Hannukiahs, for placing candles), Shabbat tablecloths and silver mezuzahs (which religious Jews affix to their doorposts) and, for pilgrims on Christian tours of Israel olive wood crucifixes, rosary beads, and even bottles of water from the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Vintage posters from the 1920s, depicting travel to the Holy Land, Armenian pottery, and olive oil are also fun buys. And the good news is that in these markets, you can always haggle (it’s actually expected). So, for starters, try: “Kama ze oleh?” That’s “What’s the cost?” in Hebrew, and is always a good opening gambit. With any luck, you’ll grab yourself a bargain as well as improving your vocabulary. Enjoy your trip to Israel and, as we say in Hebrew, “B'hatzlacha!” (“Good luck!”)Olivesstall at Tel Aviv's Carmel Market.Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
By Sarah Mann
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