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Friday, November 11, 2011

Ancient Mikve Unearthed in Israel

Nadene Goldfoot
An ancient mikve over 2,000 years old was unearthed west of Beit Shemesh from the time of  the 2nd Temple period.  A pipeline company needed to build some underground pipes near Kibbutz Tzora and discovered it.  Archeologists continued the excavation that is still in process.  Pablo Betzer, inspector for the Israel antiquities authority also discovered underground tunnels most likely used by Bar Kochba during the revolt.  The mikve was thought to be destroyed after this had happened, which would have been the year 132 -135CE.
A mikve is very special in Judaism.  It is a ritual bath.  It is used mainly by women after the menstrual period.  There are specifications about having running water entering the pool at all times.  The water is clean and pure and so are the people after using it. This means that women were cleansed once a month at a time when people in other countries bathed once a year if they were lucky, except for Japan, where bathing was a cultural experience.  The Romans also had bathing, but neither used bathing  for religious purposes.

Most cities with a Jewish population will have a mikve, though usually it is today usually only used by the orthodox.  I finally was able to go to the mikve when I lived in Israel, where I found that all my friends went there.  It was a wonderful experience.  One enters the pool nude, and there is a female attendant who makes sure that you have no fingernail polish on, or anything else. One showers and uses soap before entering the mikva.   I felt very well cleansed upon leaving. 

 Men will also immerse themselves on certain occasions but at a separate time, perhaps before a holiday. 

Leviticus in the Torah describes what women are to do during their mentrual period starting with 15:1-24.  This is still followed.  During this time husband and wife do not cohabit.  The period ends with the woman going to the mikva.  This is a mitzva known as the purity of the family. 

Bar Kokhba was actually named Simeon and he died in his revolt.  He was reported to be of Davidic descent and was revolting against Hadrian (Roman Emperor from 117-138).  Rabbi Akiva had  thought of him as the Messiah, but he was alone in thinking that.  He was a leader who had great personal strength, and was autocratic and irascible.  Letters from him were discovered near the Dead Sea.  The revolt most likely took place as the Romans were rebuilding Jerusalem as a Roman colony to be named for Hadrian and they had prohibited circumcision, which was an attack on a fundamental rite of Judaism.  Bar Kokhba's forces had captured Jerusalem but they couldn't overtake the Roman legion.  The Romans counterattacked with an army of 35,000 under Hadrian and the commander was Julius Severus.  Judea then became a consular province called syria-Palaestina and the ruins of Jerusalem were rebuilt as a pagan city with a statue of Hadrian erected on the site of the Holy of Holies that had been the center of the Temple. 

Our first Temple had been built by King Solomon and was a shrine for the Ark.  The inner sanctum was called the holy of holies which was 32.5 X 32.5 feet.  This is where the ark was kept.  When the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE a Roman temple was later built on the site and in the Moslem Period the  Mosque  of Omar was built over it.  Bar Kokhba had good reason to try to stop the Romans, but they were just too powerful for him and his small force.  His failure to drive out the Romans after 65 years of a Roman occupation caused the whole community to be affected with  many taken prisoner as slaves and carted away.  I'm just surprised that the bath-loving Romans didn't think to continue using the Mikve. 

New Jewish Encyclopedia

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