by Baruch Kraus, NFTY-EIE Principal
It is still unreal that we have had no holidays lately and that we are finally on our routine. Last week a new greeting was going around Israel, Moadim L’shigra — Happy routine times!
Last Sunday, our tiyul took us to the southern Judean foothills where we studied about the Bar-Kochba rebellion which ensued roughly 60 years following the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash. We traveled 20 miles south of Jerusalem and crawled on our bellies through narrow passages which once served as underground fortifications for the rebels. We used primary texts from Christian, Roman, and Jewish sources to understand what might have happened in that rebellion. At the nearby Roman city of Eleutheropolis (Bet Guvrin) we visited the Roman amphitheater and discussed the edicts that emperor Hadean enacted upon the Jews of Judea including the martyrology of the ten most prominent rabbis of the time while using the story of Rabbi Akiva as the focus. This is the same martyrology we read as part of the Yom Kippur service.
On Monday we did a half-day tiyul studying Christianity — its beliefs, tenets and how it began to have an impact on the Roman and Jewish world. As part of our trip, we traveled to Ein Kerem, (Spring of the Vineyard), an ancient village that is now a neighborhood in southwest Jerusalem. According to Christian tradition, John the Baptist was born there, leading to the establishment of many churches and monasteries. We visited the Church of St John the Baptist, a Catholic church built in the second half of the 19th century on the remnants of earlier Byzantine and Crusader churches. Inside are the remains of an ancient mosaic floor and a cave where, according to Christian tradition, John the Baptist was born. From there, we walked to the Church of the Visitation which is attributed to John the Baptist’s parental summer house, where Mary visited them, and Mary’s Spring, which is at the heart of the village as it has been for thousands of years. It is here that, according to Christian tradition, Elizabeth and Mary met when they were both pregnant. After a morning full of learning, the students spoiled their lunch by going to the Chocolate House in Ein Karem before returning to Tzuba for General Studies.
Tuesday and Wednesday were full days of classes. On Thursday, we ventured up to Beit Shearim, just east of Haifa, to continue our studies of the development of the Talmud. This is an important site for studying the development of the Oral Law as the Sanhedrin (Supreme Court) sat here and worked towards codifying the Mishnah (first part of Talmud). The catacombs are always a highlight as we studied not only the academic contributions of the time but their personal and spiritual lives as well.
From Beit Shearim, we travelled to Beit Alpha, the site of a 6th century CE synagogue with striking mosaic floors. The scenes include the zodiac, the “binding of Isaac”, and the Ark of the Covenant. The discussion centered on the mystery of the zodiac being placed here. We also studied Talmudic texts to learn that Judaism did not consider having pictures or statues as idol worship — art can be appreciated as art! We finished the day with a swim in the natural pools at Sachna located near Bet Shean.
With another week full of classes ahead, we look forward to having the parents join our kehillah on Wedneday!