Tuesday, May 15, 2012

BEIT ALPHA SYNAGOGUE


BEIT ALPHA SYNAGOGUE

The ruins of the synagogue, which dates from the 6th century CE, were discovered
in 1928 by members of Kibbutz Beit Alpha and Kibbutz Hefzi-Ba. It is located in
Kibbutz Hefzi-Ba, at the foot of Mount Gilboa. The site was excavated in 1929 by
E L Sukenik of the Hebrew University.

The mosaic floor is one of the most beautiful discovered in Israel. The synagogue
included a central hall with 2 aisles, that were separated from the hall by 2 rows
of columns. On the southern wall is a semi-circular niche, where the Holy Ark
probably stood. Underneath was a small cavity covered with stone slabs, which
served as the synagogue Genizah. The women’s gallery seems to have been in
the balcony, over the aisles. The structure was covered with a tiled roof, remains
of which were found in the main hall.

On the floor of the main hall is an elaborate, well-preserved mosaic. The part
near the ark depicts Jewish ritual objects – a Holy Ark flanked by lions, birds and



menorot, surrounded by animals, fruit and geometric designs. The central section
of the mosaic contains a zodiac with the symbols for the months, and their names
in Hebrew and Aramaic. In the centre is a picture of the sun god, Helios and in
the 4 corners, figures of women, symbolizing the 4 seasons of the year. The
zodiac was probably used just for decorative purposes, as this was a synagogue
and not a temple for idol worship.

At the base of the mosaic is a depiction of the sacrifice of Isaac, accompanied by
passages in Hebrew. There are 2 inscriptions near the main entrance: “The well
remembered artists who carried out this work, Marianus and his son Hanina” in
Greek and “The mosaic was laid in the year of the rein of Emperor Justinus for the
price of 100 measures of grain donated by the villagers” in Aramaic.

The use of synagogues started in Babylon after the destruction of the 1st Temple.

8 synagogues from the 2nd Temple period have been found in Israel at: Gamla,
Herodian, Messada, Jericho, Modiin, Kiryat Safer, Shvilat Edri and Migdal. Jesus
used to visit the synagogues in each community he visited.

At first, synagogues were used as a kind of community centre for the purpose of
religious learning of Torah and Mitzvot, and for public ceremonies. They were
simple buildings. After the 2nd Temple was destroyed synagogues were also
used for prayer. Older synagogues were decorated with geometric designs and
later it became fashionable to lay elaborate mosaic floors with Greek symbols
(astrological and Greek gods). 250 synagogues from the Byzantine period have
been found in Israel.

Also at Kibbutz Hefzi-Ba is a small Japanese garden, donated by the Japanese
Mokoya cult. These people come to this kibbutz for a period of a year, and built
the garden.


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