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.


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

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

Purim in Israel

If you’re lucky enough to be in Israel during Purim you will enjoy the festive atmosphere, parties, fancy dress and parades. Purim is perhaps the most joyous Jewish holiday. Purim in Israel occurs in March or April – the date changes each year as it is determined by the Hebrew lunar calendar and not the Gregorian calendar. Although Purim is a Jewish holiday it is not observed like a Shabbat in Israel and businesses and attractions have regular open hours. Purim is a normal working day in Israel although it is a school holiday. Purim in Israel is celebrated by secular and religious Jews alike.What is Purim?Purim Purim celebrates an event in Jewish history which is told in the Biblical Book of Esther. In about 357 BC the king of Persia, Ahasuerus scoured the land for the most beautiful women to make his wife. The woman chosen was Esther, cousin and ward of Mordechai. Esther was forced to marry the king but she hid the fact that she was Jewish. Shortly afterwards Mordechai heard of a plot to assassinate the king and he had it reported and stopped.Meanwhile the villain of this story, Haman was appointed Prime Minister and he undertook to get rid of all the Jews. He had them draw “lots” (Pur in Hebrew, hence the name of the holiday) to decide the day of their annihilation. Hearing of Haman’s plansMordechai sent a message to Esther asking her to appeal to the king for mercy for the Jewish people.That night the king could not sleep and so he sat up reading from the Royal Chronicles. Here he read of the time Mordechai saved him from an assassination attempt. In the meantime Haman had decided to haveMordechai hung for not bowing before him. So Haman had gallows erected and went to the king to ask permission to hang Mordechai. The king asked Haman how such a loyal man should be honored. Haman, thinking the king was referring to him said the man should be dressed in fine clothes and led on horseback through the streets. The king ordered Haman to give Mordachai this honor. Although furious Haman had no choice but to follow the king’s orders.How is Purim Celebrated in Israel?Next Ester appealed to the king, told him of Haman’s plan and asked for mercy on her nation. The king ordered Haman hung from the gallows that had been built for Mordechai and Mordechai was made Prime Minister. Although the king’s decree could not be rescinded he gave the Jews permission to defend themselves. The Jews killed their enemies on the 14th of Adar and on the 15th they rested and celebrated. A holiday was established in memory of this historic victory.The religious community fasts on the day before Purim. At the end of the fast, after nightfall Jews gather in synagogues to hear the reading of the Book of Ester. After synagogue and the following day there are celebrations, parties and parades. The parades take place in almost all Israeli cities and are often before the actual day of Purim or a few days later, depending on the weather and day of the week.Purim Traditions in Israel Purim Foods- Hamantaschen (also called oznei Haman or the ears of Haman in Hebrew) are triangular cookies filled with poppy seeds, jam or chocolate. In Israel you will see these delicious cookies on sale at every bakery and supermarket.Gift Giving- It is traditional to give food hampers (mishloach manot) to friends, family and those less privileged than ourselves. These hampers usually hold wine, cookies, chocolate, nuts and other goodies.Fancy Dress- Kids and adults in Israel dress up in fancy dress during Purim. There are Purim fancy dress parties in bars, pubs, night clubs and private venues. The symbolism of the costumes is to show that God was behind the Purim miracle but his involvement was masked.Getting Drunk- Believe it or not it is even a Purim tradition to get drunk! This originates from a passage in the Talmud which states:” A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he does not know the difference between “cursed by Haman” and “blessed by Mordechai.” So it is a “mitzvah” or good deed when you drink too much during Purim!Things to See and Do in Israel during PurimThere are many special events in Israel during Purim. Purim is one of the most exciting holidays for nightclub. There are many fancy dress parties held in top nightclubs across the country. The main attraction during Purim is the Adloyada or Purim Parade. Parades are held in most cities but the most famous Purim parade takes place in Holon, a short drive from Tel Aviv. The parades include parade floats, costumed performers, dancing and music. Be’er Sheva also holds a great Purim event in the streets of the Old City.Purim in Tel AvivThe main Purim event in Tel Aviv is a street party held in Kikar HaMedina. It is a huge event with live musical performances, market stalls, dancing , singing and great food. Tel Aviv is also the site of the Purim Zombie Walk. Locals (and visitor) dress up as zombies and walk through the streets starting on the corner of Ben-Zion Blvd and King George Street.Purim in JerusalemPurim is celebrated a day early in Jerusalem and other “walled” cities but the celebrations continue throughout the Purim week. To enjoy Purim in Jerusalem head for Safra Square for family-friendly events like circus acts, a costume competition and arts and crafts workshops. There will be performances by top Israeli musicians and TV stars. In Jerusalem’s Sacher Park there will be a fun event with food stalls, music and live shows from 10am. Special Purim events are held at a number of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv museums including the Israel Museum, Bloomfield Science Museum and the Tower of David Museum. Although most of the Purim parties have yet to be announced you will probably find Purim fun at Jerusalem’s Nachalot Street Party. This street party is on Nisim Bachar Street, Jerusalem and entrance is free.
By Petal Mashraki

Hanukkah in Israel

Each year Jews celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah which is often called the “Jewish Christmas” because it occurs in December. If you happen to be in Israel during Hanukkah you will be lucky enough to share in this special celebration. Unlike Christian holidays the date of Hanukkah changes each year because of the Jewish lunar calendar. In Israel Hanukkah is a week-long school holiday but there are no days observed like Shabbat so all top attractions in Jerusalem and other cities as well as stores remain open as usual. There are many special events put on to keep Israeli school kids busy and to entertain locals and visitors alike.Hanukkah menorah against the background of Tanach page. Photo byDiana PolekhinaonUnsplashWhat is Hanukkah?The Hanukkah holiday celebrates an event that took place in the 160 SBC. During that time Palestine was ruled by Greek-Syrians and Jews were persecuted. Jews were forbidden to worship, many were murdered, scrolls were burnt and the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was desecrated. A small group of Jews rose up against their oppressors and fought back in the “Maccabean Revolt.” The Jews were victorious and proceeded to restore the Temple and rededicate it. Part of rededicating the Temple was lighting the Menorah (a seven-lamped candelabra which had to remain lit eternally. When the Maccabees came to light the Temple’s Menorah they found that only a small jug of the required pure olive oil remained. The oil should have been sufficient only to light the lamp for one day. However, a miracle occurred and it remained lit for eight days by which time more oil had been found.To commemorate the events of Hanukkah Jews light candles on an eight-armed candelabra (called a Hanukkia). On the first night of Hanukkah one candle is lit and each successive night an additional candle is lit until all eight are lit. In addition, there is the 9th candle in the middle of the Hanukkiah which is used to light the others. The symbols of Hanukkah are light, oil, the hanukiah, and the dreidel – a spinning top.Two Hanukkah menoras with lit candles. Photo byshraga kopsteinonUnsplashHow is Hanukkah Celebrated in Israel?Bearing in mind the symbols of Hanukkah you will see a lot of fried foods (commemorating the miraculous oil) in Israel during Hanukkah. The most famous Hanukkah food is the doughnut or sufgania. This is a round doughnut with no hole in the middle but instead, it is filled with jam. Every café, restaurant, and kiosk will be selling sufganiot. These days there are many different kinds of sufganiot, from chocolate to alcohol flavored! An estimated 24 million sufganiot are eaten in Israel each Hanukkah. The symbol of light and the hanukkiah can be seen in Israel during Hanukkah. Each Israeli household displays a hanukkiah on the windowsill.Special Events in Israel during HanukkahHanukkah ShowsDuring the Hanukkah holiday in Israel, there is a plethora of theatrical productions, musical shows, concerts, and dance productions geared towards families. The most famous of these Hanukkah shows is the Festigal, a spectacular extravaganza of bright costumes, comedy, music, and dance. Top Israeli performers often appear in the Festigal. The Festigal is held annually in Tel Aviv. A more recent addition is Motek Shel Festival which is the same idea but geared towards a younger audience.Hanukkiah with 5 lit candles. Photo byRobert ThiemannonUnsplashHanukkah ToursSpecial walking tours of Jerusalem and the religious city of Bnei Brak are organized so that you can see the many hanukkiot displayed in the windows of private homes. This kind of Hanukkah tour takes place at night and includes walking through neighborhoods where many hanukkiot are displayed.The lighting of the HanukkiahEach city has a large hanukkiah set up in a public square. The hanukkiah is ceremoniously lit on the first night of Hanukkah. On the subsequent nights of Hanukkah, the city’s hanukkiah is often lit automatically. The most famous candle lighting ceremonies you can see take place next to the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. Each year on the first night of Hanukkah a torch Relay starts in the city of Modi’in and travels to the Western Wall in Jerusalem where the giant hanukkiah is lit.Museums during HanukkahMost museums hold special themed exhibits or workshops during Hanukkah. Science museums often hold demonstrations of light experiments. Other museums display artistic variations on the hanukkiah or hold kids' workshops where they can create their own hanukkiah, spinning top, or candles. Savivon, or dreidel. Photo byTetiana SHYSHKINAonUnsplashYou will definitely find special events and activities relating to Hanukkah at the Children’s Museum in Holon; the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv; the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem; the Israel Museum in Jerusalem; the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and at the Tower of David Museum in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Bloomfield Science Museum holds an annual MakeLight exhibition.In addition, there is the Museum of Edible Oil Products in Haifa which naturally ties in with the Hanukkah theme. The Hasmonean Village recreates the Hanukkah story each year; the Ein Yael Oil Festival is held in Jerusalem.Hanukkah Parties in IsraelOf course, the Israelis party whenever there is a good excuse! And Hanukkah is no exception. You will find bars, pubs, and clubs across the country holding Hanukkah parties throughout the holiday.Holiday of Holidays HaifaThe Haifa municipality holds special events on weekends throughout December. The Holiday of Holidays activities and shows celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, and Eid al-Fitr.
By Petal Mashraki

Pesach – The Jewish Pilgrimage

The Jewish religious calendar is full of events and holy days, most of which commemorate historic biblical events. Each religious holiday comes with its own traditions and religious ceremonies. However only three religious holidays require Jews to make a pilgrimage – Pesach (Passover), Sukkot and Shavuot together they are called Shlosh HaRegalim. Of the three pilgrimages Pesach was the most important as it marks the birth of Israel as a free nation.Seder Pesach, aritual feast that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover.Photo byPhil GoodwinonUnsplashIn ancient times the pilgrimage was to the Temple which stood on Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem up until 70CE. Pilgrims would come to the Temple and bring a sacrificial offering. Today, because the Temple no longer stands, prayer has replaced the sacrifices and the pilgrimage is no longer a Torah obligation. However many thousands of Jews choose to make the annual journey to visit the City of Gold during the pilgrimage festivals.As the Temple is no longer standing the pilgrimage is made to the Wailing Wall, the last remaining wall of the Temple where pilgrims come to pray. There is a point within the Wailing Wall Tunnel which is the closest point to where the Holy of Holies of the 2nd Temple once stood. Many pilgrims go to this point to prey. Other less religious Israeli Jews make the pilgrimage during Passover but turn it into a fun day out in the country’s capital without the religious implications.Pesach is a celebration of freedom, from slavery into independence from a foreign land into their own. Pesach lasts for 7 days (8 days outside of Israel) it begins on the 15th Nissan (usually in March and on the eve of 25th March in 2013) with Seder Night, a celebratory meal when the family comes together. At the Seder meal symbolic foods are eaten and the Hagadah, the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, is read.The first and last days of the holiday are observed like a Shabbat so no work is done and most businesses are closed. The intermediate days (Chol-ha-Mo’ed) are like a regular holiday, businesses may open half-day and schools are on vacation. For the entire holiday of 7 days, Jews abstain from eating bread or anything containing fermented grain. This is a reminder of the hasty exit from Egypt when the bread didn’t have time to rise.The Pesach Pilgrimage in the New TestamentChristians will recognize the Passover pilgrimage as an event in the life of Christ when Jesus traveled to Jerusalem with his parent for the Passover pilgrimage. At the time Jesus was only 12 years old, on this visit, his parents lost him and finally found him preaching in the Temple (Luke 4:43). Many years later when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem in the days preceding his crucifixion it was also leading up to the Passover pilgrimage.
By Petal Mashraki

Things to see and do in Safed

Safed (Tsfat or Tzfat) is a quaint city perched on the highest hill top in the Galilee. Safed Old CitySince the 16th century the city has attracted spiritual and religious leaders and is considered one of Israel’s Four Holy Cities. It is also known as the birth place of Kabbalah, a mystical Jewishdiscipline and school of thought.The picturesque city with breathtaking views has attracted many artists who come here to capture the serene scenery and spiritual atmosphere. Wednesday is market day when the streets come alive with an outdoor market. Foodies visiting Safed should find out about wine tasting tours of local wineries like Abouhav, Dalton and Golan Wineries and about tours of the local cheese factories including HaMeiri and Kadosh Cheese.Safed Tourist Board Visitors CenterMake your first stop in Safed at the Tourist Visitors Center here you can pick up maps and details of any special events. You can also see a short film about the history of Safed in Hebrew, English or French. In addition the Center has an excavation site underneath the building. Here you can see several layers of the city which has been repeatedly rebuilt following destruction by war, earthquakes etc. You can walk through a tunnel which was once street level and see rooms on either side including one with an excavated Jewish ritual bath (mikvah).Artists QuarterThe Artists’ Quarter is a network of narrow cobbled lanes with ancient stone buildings on either side; within each of the small entrances to the buildings are stores, artists’ workshops and galleries selling unique Safed art work. The art is primarily paintings, silverwork, weaving, Judaica and jewelry – all handmade. Bet Yoseph Street is the main street of the Artists’ Quarter here you can watch the painters, sculptors and jewelry makers at work. One of the most popular and unique forms of art you will find here is micro-calligraphy. Artists use tiny Hebrew letters (often text from a sacred book or the Bible) to form the shapes of the images they are creating. Using only the letters of the Hebrew alphabet they create a picture. Many of the art in the Artists’ Quarter incorporate symbols of the Kabbalah. Some of the galleries are collectives where the work of several artists is displayed together. These include the Olive Tree Gallery and Soul Art Gallery. The Canaan Gallery displays woven pieces (prayer shawls, scarves etc) made using traditional loom-weaving and brightly dyed yarn. These traditional methods were brought to Safed by the Spanish Jews when they arrived here escaping persecution in Europe.International Center for Safed Kabbalah Visitor CenterIf you are interested in finding out more about the mystical beliefs of Kaballah then you can find all the answers here. The center is in a restored historic building in the Old City of Safed. The center screens audio visual presentations entitled: What is Kabbalah; The Holy Ari; Safed in the 16th Century; The Zohar and Kabbalah in the Modern World. There is a 15 minute film about the history of Safed and the Kabbalah in Safed. The Code of the Universe presentation introduces visitors to positive thinking and the code of Hebrew letters. The center provides arts and crafts workshops about Kabbalah art and ways of expressing yourself through visual arts. From the roof top you can get brilliant views across the region. The center offers meditation sessions, exhibitions of local artists, interactive media stations and the sale of Kabbalah products.Abuhav SynagogueThis 15th century synagogue is named after the Spanish Rabbi Isaac Abuhav from Toledo and the architectural design is according to Kabalistic tenets. Rabbi Abuhav didn’t personally come to Safed but designed the synagogue while still in Spain. His follower and pupil Rabbi Ya’acov Beirav built the synagogue according to the Rabbi’s instructions when he arrived in the city in the 1490s. Beirav became one of Safed’s leading sages. The synagogue suffered damage from an earthquake in 1837 but the southern wall where there are three Arks (where Torah scrolls are kept) survived. The bimah (stage where the reader of the Torah stands) has six steps representing the six working days of the week. One of the synagogue’s Torah scrolls which is kept in the Ark is said to have been written by Rabbi Abuhav and to be the oldest Torah scroll in the city. Another of the synagogue’s scrolls was written by 16th century Moroccan Rabbi Solomon Ohana a Kabbalist from Fez. The synagogue decoration includes frescoes of musical instruments used in the Temple of Jerusalem, the symbols of the 12 tribes of Israel and work by artist Ziona Tagger.Ashkenazi HaAri SynagogueSephardic Jews who arrived from Greece in the 16th century constructed this synagogue in honor of Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572) who was known as Ari. Luria was a leading Kabalistic sage who arrived in Safed in 1570 and prayed at this synagogue. This is considered perhaps the oldest synagogue in the country. During the 18th century East European Jews (Ashkenazi) arrived in Safed and began using the synagogue, hence the name. In 1837 the synagogue was destroyed by an earthquake and only rebuilt 20 years later. The synagogue’s main feature is a colorful Holy Ark (where Torah scrolls are kept). The Ark is carved from olive wood in the style of Eastern European synagogues. The craftsman was a non-Jew and unaware of the Jewish law against creating images of the human form. So he carved a human face on the Ark. To make the Ark “kosher” the face was changed into the face of a lion, in reference to Ari (Aria in Hebrew is Lion).Sephardic HaAri SynagogueThis synagogue is one of the oldest in the city; it was constructed as early as 1522 and was originally used by North African Jews and called the Eliyahu HaNavi Synagogue. The same Rabbi Luria as mentioned above, who was associated with the Ashkenazi Ari Synagogue also enjoyed praying here. He would especially enjoy the view of Mt. Meron from the synagogue window. It is said that the Ari would like to sit in a small alcove in the synagogue studying his Kabbalah and that the Prophet Elijah would appear before him. The name of the synagogue was changed in the 17th century to honor the Ari. Most of the original synagogue was destroyed by earthquakes in 1759 and 1837 but then rebuilt in 1840 thanks to donations by Italian Jew Yitzhak Guetta. During the War of Independence and the siege of Safed in 1948 holes were drilled in the wall of the synagogue facing the surrounding Arab villages. The holes were used of observation and shooting.Stam Center Safed (Otzar Hastam of Safed)According to Jewish law the ritual texts, Torah scrolls, tefillin and mezuzah parchments must be written in a specific way, by a specific person and with specific materials. A Sofer Stam, is the name given to the person trained to write the Holy texts. Stam is an acronym of the words Torah, Tefillin and Mezuzot. There are hundreds of laws related to the writing of Stam texts. The laws dictate the type of ink, shape of each letter, type of quill and even that the scribe must be pure, having just come from the ritual baths (mikvah). At the Stam Center you can learn about the laws related to the writing of Holy texts and even try your hand at writing the text yourself using a 3D practice quill, parchment and ink. There is a multi-sensory audio-visual presentation to give visitors an overview of the Kabalistic properties of the Hebrew letters and the laws and customs related to the writing of Holy texts.Meiri House MuseumFollowing the 1837 earthquake the Meir Mizrachi family from Iran immigrated to Safed and settled in this 16th century house. The family changed their name to HaMeiri and established a dairy in the bottom half of the house. The Meiri family established the first dairy in Israel and this house museum was founded by a member of the Meiri family, Yehezkel Ha’Meiri. Over the years the house was also used as the Beit Din (Rabbinical Court); as an orphanage during WWI and as a non-religious Hebrew school funded by Baron Rothschild. Prior to the establishment of the State of Israel the house served as an arms depot for weapons of the underground Jewish organizations Haganah, Etzel and Irgun. The building was also used to train the underground fighters and as a guard post between the Jewish Quarter and Arab villages. On display are objects related to life in Safed in the 19th and early 20th century. To help get a better understanding of the city’s history there is a timeline of key events in the Safed Jewish community over the years. There are furniture, documents and household items. You can see portraits of key personalities from the history of Safed. Visitors can see the museum displays, recreated rooms and the dairy. During holidays there are guided tours and reenactments.Safed Candle Factory The history of the Safed candle factory goes back more than 18 years. Candles are made here from beeswax and sculptured into artistic shapes and figures. The candles are hand-dipped and some are made into the traditional woven candles used in the Jewish Havdala ceremony and into Hannuka candles and Shabbat candles. The factory also makes paraffin candles which are brightly colored and decorated. The sculptured beeswax candles by artist Chaim Grees are particularly popular. There are candles resembling Biblical scenes and Biblical figures. The candle makers pride themselves on the use of environmentally friendly materials. You can see the candle store next to the Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue.Rozenfeld Doll MuseumThe Doll Museum is located in the artists’ Quarter, here you can see dolls dressed in traditional costumes from around the world and from different eras. The displays are divided into three sections, Jewish costumes, folklore costumes from around the world and European costumes. The owner of the museum hand-crafts the porcelain dolls taking three months to produce each one. She creates them in proportion to a natural human body. She then paints the dolls and puts the doll’s body parts together. All of the dolls’ body parts are movable. The costumes are also hand-made and hand-sewn and trimmed. In all there are about 100 dolls on display at the museum in the Estham building at the entrance to Joseph Caro Street.Citadel (Metsuda)The highest point of Safed is Citadel Hill. There are well maintained walking paths going through Citadel Park which covers the hill and amenities like toilets and playgrounds have been provided. The views from Citadel Hill are breathtaking. It is also an historic site where you can see the remains of a Crusader castle. The remains are now part of an archeological park and excavations are still under way. Archeologists have uncovered a round tower from 1188, a bell-shaped cistern, a Crusader water cistern, a Mamluk gate tower and a hidden passage. Since the Roman era the hill has been a sought after strategic point and ever since there have been several battles between forces fighting for control of the hill. There is a memorial for fighters who died in a battle here during the War of Independence.SarayaAt the top of Aliyah Bet Street is a 300 year old white stone building which was originally built by D’har El Omar, a powerful Bedouin leader when he ruled over the Galilee in the 18th century. He chose to build his residence on this strategically high piece of land. His rule came to an end in the 1700s and the Turkish took possession of the “Saraya” and later it became their headquarters until the British took over. Under the Ottomans the clock tower was added. The Saraya became the British headquarters following WWI and Jews were given shelter here when the Arabs plundered the city. The Saraya became the Arab seat of authority until 1948 when the Lehi organization bombed the building breaking the Arab hold on the region. Following Israeli independence the Saraya was rebuilt and became the Israeli Army Headquarters. Today the Saraya is a community center where there are the Noam Synagogue, a music conservatory, Hebrew language lessons, a museum on Jewish life in Hungary before WWII and a courtyard which is used as a concert venue. The bells in the clock tower have been restored and can be heard across the city every 15 minutes.Karo SynagogueThis synagogue was once the seat of the most important Rabbinical court or council in the country. The only clue we have today of the synagogue’s glory days as a Rabbinical court is the 30cm high step up to the Bamah (stage/platform). The head of the Rabbinical council was Rabbi Karo best known as author of the Shulchan Aruch; a book which lays out Jewish laws for daily living. This book is still the go-to authority for many Jewish households. In the lower part of the synagogue hundreds of students would gather to study Religious texts. Together with other great Jewish Rabbis the religious council would make Jewish laws which were respected throughout the Jewish world. Karo also organized a soup kitchen around the side of the synagogue to feed the poor. The kitchen is used today to provide meals for Torah students. One of the highlights of the synagogue today is the set of Torah books which line the book shelves covering the walls. Many of the books are 100 years old and some date back to Karo himself in the 16th century. The synagogue’s Holy Ark holds three Torah Scrolls from Persia, Iraq and Spain which are on display to the public. The synagogue has many points of interest from the entrance way to the layout of the furniture.Museum of Hungarian Speaking JewsJews from around the world have come to settle in Israel, one of those groups are the Hungarian Jews. For 1,000 years Jews lived peacefully in Hungary; following the Holocaust the Hungarian Jewish communities were devastated. The museum is dedicated to showing Jewish life in pre-war Hungary. It highlights the activities of Jewish resistance movements during WWII and the Soviet occupation. There are photos of Hungarian Jewish communities, artifacts, uniforms, arts and crafts, Judaica and a model of the Dohany Great Synagogue in Budapest.
By Petal Mashraki
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