Home

Mourning and Gratitude

No Comments

The three weeks of mourning are in full swing and Tisha B’Av, the fast day dedicated to remembering the destruction of the Jewish Temples, is fast approaching. It is a time for reflection about what the Temples and the Temple Mount means to the Jewish people, but can also be a time to be grateful for what we do have today: the State of Israel, access to the Western Wall, and (limited) access to the Temple Mount. We have the freedom to be Jewish in our homeland, and we here at the Sifting Project have the blessing to every day work with artifacts from the Temple Mount. We want to take this opportunity to thank all of the people who have already given in this year’s Annual Appeal for helping us continue to do this important and meaningful work and share it with you. Click here to donate to this year’s appeal and quadruple your impact.

We also want to take this opportunity to thank a very special community. Last May, we had the pleasure of being invited to the Hampton Synagogue in West Hampton Beach, New York. This was at the height of our insecurity about the future of our project, and long-time supporter Mr. David Sterling, and Rabbi Marc Schneier of the Hampton Synagogue, made an appeal on our behalf. The congregation treated us with warmth and were so welcoming and generous, and we left the community with enough pledges to help us secure the funding we needed to complete last year’s research and the ability to focus on our goals and continue our research. This year, Dr. Barkay returned to the Hamptons and again received a warm welcome and promises of help.

We have great respect and gratitude for all of our donors, and some of you have really become like members of our TMSP family. Some of you have been with us from the beginning in 2004 and some of you are newer to our project. We are moved that our message of archaeological conservation and cultural heritage preservation affected you enough to come on board and join us in our mission.

However, never before has an entire US community of people come together to make such an impact on our project, and we want to take this moment to say thank you.

The Temple and the Hamptons

Gratitude Plaque at the Hampton Synagogue with Soil and Ashes from the Temple Mount

If you find yourself in the New York area, you should take a look at the unique plaque that we created for the Hampton Synagogue. This plaque represents our gratitude and friendship, and also includes an ewer of Temple Mount soil from our sifting. We’ve written before about the unique earth that we have been sifting through and its high content of ash, originating from the destruction of the First and Second Temples

We learn from the tenth-century Rabbi Sherira Gaon that when Israel was exiled after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE, the smiths, craftsmen, and prophets among them, were brought to the city of Nehardea in Babylonia. Jehoiakhin the king of Judah, and his entourage built there a synagogue and used for its foundation earth and stones they had brought with them from the [ruined] Temple [in Jerusalem] to fulfill the intention of Psalms 102:14. They named the synagogue Shaf ve-Yativ, meaning the Temple journeyed and settled here.

Dr. Gabriel Barkay and Rabbi Marc Schneier with the Gratitude Plaque at the Hampton Synagogue

Well the Temple has now journeyed and settled in the Hampton Synagogue, the first modern synagogue in the world to hold the ashes of the Temple itself. The plaque we created to accompany the soil explains this and reads, “This olive wood plaque is dedicated to the congregants of the Hampton Synagogue in recognition of their support for the Temple Mount Sifting Project; as people who embody Psalms 102:14 For your servants have cherished her stones, and have redeemed her dust. May the congregation find great meaning in this soil from the Temple Mount, containing ash originating in the massive conflagration that destroyed the Second Temple… Like in Babylon, may this earth serve as a reminder of our connection to Jerusalem and the Temples. May it be a symbol of the bond of friendship with the Temple Mount Sifting Project in the pursuit of the protection and preservation of Jewish heritage and Jerusalem.”

* The Temple Mount ashy soil is the property of the nation of Israel and the world. We don’t see ourselves as the owners of this earth, with its rich meaning and history. We want to share it with you, our family of supporters. Congregations interested in a similar plaque and lecture series can contact development@tmsifting.org

 

Ashes for Joy and Sorrow

Bowl of ashes used at wedding.

The destruction of the Temples is remembered by Jews in so many different ways, and at so many different occasions. Jews remember the destruction in daily prayer, grace after meals, when building a new home, and at weddings in order that we commemorate the ongoing feeling of pain over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. We have had many people, grooms and the grieving, asking us for this ash so that they can use it at weddings and funerals.

Yemenite Jewish custom is to put ash on the groom’s forehead during the marriage ceremony when this destruction is recalled and Psalm 137:5-6 is said. “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.” In recent years this custom has been adopted also by non-Yemenite Jews.

Others, like secular Israeli Yishai Rosenbaum from Oranit, believe that the juxtaposition of remembering the destruction of the Temples at happy occasions highlights our ability to bring joy out of sadness. Rather than tempering our joy with a moment of sad remembrance, it uplifts our sadness with the present joy and hope for the future.

Our director, Zachi Dvira, also used Temple Mount ash at his mother’s funeral. There is a tradition that the children place a little ash on the closed eyes of the deceased, while reciting the verses “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” (Genesis 3:19) and “Joseph’s own hand shall close your eyes,” (Genesis 46:4).

Most recently, we sent Temple Mount soil to be sprinkled in the burial of one of our biggest supporters, and we know that it brought comfort to the grieving family to have him resting in earth from Israel and the Temples.

It is amazing how something as simple as soil or ashes can fire our imaginations or make us connect with history, our heritage, or the divine. May these three weeks of mourning be also a time of reflection, gratitude, and giving. Despite recent actions, may we never again witness destruction on the Temple Mount.

Our New Mobile Sifting Program

2 Comments

Students Sifting in the Community

The Mount Comes to You

Hello everyone, we have some news to share with you. The Temple Mount Sifting Project is renewing its activity outside the lab! For the first time in the history of archaeological research in Israel –the site will be coming to you. We will be bringing the antiquities-rich soil that was illegally removed from the Temple Mount in the late 90s to various communities and institutions throughout Israel. Students and volunteers will be able to sift through this material and take part in the important work of recovering the ancient artifacts within. A sifting activity was undertaken yesterday in the Yeshurun School in Petach Tikva – but this is just the beginning! We’ve already started taking requests from other communities throughout Israel.

This new archaeological program focuses on sifting the remaining earth from Solomon’s Stables that was illegally bulldozed from the Temple Mount in the late 90s. We’ve always encouraged our volunteers to take an active role in the salvage of artifacts buried in this soil, and over the years we’ve involved an unprecedented number of volunteers in our work. Because it is a sifting project, which can accommodate larger crowds than a traditional excavation, over 200,000 people have participated – a world record in archaeological research both in Israel and worldwide. Now, our project has been transformed into a mobile activity which can traverse the country and engage various schools, institutions, and communities.

As Zachi said, “we want to make Temple Mount heritage accessible to the entire Israeli public. In this new program, we now aim to reach the parts of the public who found it difficult to come to the sifting site in Jerusalem.”

The mobile sifting is accomplished by loading the soil onto a truck in large sacks which are then brought to the community’s site where sifting stations and a water system are set up. Each group or class participates in an activity that lasts for 2 hours (1.5 in the schools) and includes an educational presentation of the archaeology of the Temple Mount and the story of the Sifting Project. Then, the volunteers sift through the soil, collecting all the archaeological finds, which fascinates young and old alike.

Temple Mount soil being sifted in the city of Petach Tikva by Yeshurun High school students Photo Credit: Inbal Dasberg

Yeshurun High school principal, Rabbi Yaniv Cohen, expounded on the importance of the activity: “The sifting activity touches upon the past, and allows us to meet ourselves in the present, while showing a commitment towards the future. The act of sifting, while seemingly an act of separation, in fact enables us to come together and be a part of the unfolding story of Jewish history. This is doubly felt in Petach Tikva, with its strong commitment to Jerusalem.”

Students find ancient coin in community sifting. Photo Credit: Inbal Dasberg

“Seeing the students fascinated by the tangible interaction with the Temple Mount artifacts is exciting.” says archaeologist Haggai Cohen. “The students keep asking for a detailed explanation about each artifact they find, and with this hands-on experience, they are getting a deep education about the heritage of Jerusalem, its history, archaeology, and the cultures that formed it.”

As one student said, “We are having a lot of fun! We feel like we are taking part in a really important project finding old and important artifacts.”

We hope to reach every sector of society – Jews, Christians, and Muslims, religious and secular. The history of the Temple Mount shows that the Mount was an important center of activity for all the monotheistic religions for over three millennia.

We hope that we will receive the promised government funding soon. However, we will most likely need to set up some sort of matching program to continue with this mobile sifting program. If you would be interested in helping to sponsor a school or community, please be in contact with development@tmsifting.org.

BONUS: Finds in Honor of Jerusalem Day

Yehud coins from the Temple Mount. A barn own is depicted next to the lettersיהד (yhd) in ancient Hebrew script. These are both the first coins to be minted in Jerusalem and the first coins minted by Jews anywhere. Photo Credit: Zachi Dvira

In addition to resuming the sifting, in honor of Jerusalem Day, we’ve agreed to share with the public some of the special finds that they are currently researching. The sifting yielded a collection of over 6000 ancient coins, some of which were the first minted in Jerusalem, and by Jews. These rare coins were minted in Jerusalem in the end of the fourth century BCE, when Jerusalem served as capital of the semi-autonomous “Yehud” province of the Persian Empire. The coins were modeled after the most popular coin of the time – the Athenian Obol. The Jerusalemite coins copied the barn owl from the Greek coin, but changed the Greek letters ΑΘΕ, short for the name of the city of Athens, to the ancient Hebrew letters יהד – a short form of the name of the province Yehud Medinta. These coins mark the transition in trade from the use of gold, hacksilber (silver pieces), or other commodities to using a monetary system regulated by the authority which minted the coins.

Three of these Persian Period coins were found in the sifting of the Temple Mount soil, and another two tiny silver coins, too worn to read, are suspected to belong to this type as well. These coins are very rare. Not including those found by the Sifting Project, in the history of excavations of ancient Jerusalem, only five other such coins have been found. The relatively high number of such coins found by the Sifting Project is a result of the wet-sifting methodology perfected by the project, and the fact that the Temple Mount functioned as an administrative and commercial center during the early days of the Second Temple in addition to being the site of the Temple itself.

A Day in the Life: Passover

No Comments

Dear Diary,

After a long trek, we finally made it to Jerusalem in time for Passover. There were streams of people on the roads and there is a festive feeling in the air. It is always an exciting time to come into Jerusalem. I can see the Temple at the top of the hill, and I must say that I am so grateful that we come to Jerusalem three times a year, if only because I get to see this magnificent building dedicated to the Almighty.

At twilight time, we will begin the festival that we all came for. The city is now crowded almost to bursting with Jews who have come for the Passover festival. Tonight we will eat together the food of a nomad so that we can remember that we were once slaves in Egypt, that we left their elaborate lifestyle behind, and that we traveled the desert for forty years before finally crossing into Israel.

Prickly lettuce (milk thistle) still native to the land of Israel.

We will have matzah, the simple flat bread that is very thin and flexible. We will have the maror, the bitter herbs that remind us of the bitterness of slavery. We collected some of the wild greens that we passed on our way here. It is now spring and because there is less water, the herbs are very bitter. Many of us favor the prickly lettuce, but I prefer to avoid it. It is so bitter, and it puts me to sleep so I’m afraid I won’t be able to stay awake until the end of the story. We will also have the Passover offering and eat the roast lamb together with our neighbors. It is made in a simple nomad style; just roasted on the fire, but we are grateful that G-d spared us when he killed the first born of all the Egyptians. The meal can only be eaten from clean pots and the pots cannot be used again, so when we are done, we will break them. I wonder what people in the future will think about finding all of our broken cooking pots in Jerusalem.

We will spend the night hearing from my grandfather and father the story of how we were slaves in Egypt and were redeemed by the Almighty. I keep thinking that someone ought to write down the order of what we do and how we tell the story, but with everyone chiming in with details and helping tell the story, there is no chance of forgetting anything, so I suppose we don’t really need a written version.

Next year in Jerusalem.

 

Cooking pot rim from the Second Temple Period recovered by the Temple Mount Sifting Project

Now, that is just a story that I made up, but we do have a lot of evidence of people coming to the Temple in Jerusalem on pilgrimage for the three major holidays of Judaism, the shalosh regalim: Chag HaMatzot (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost), and Sukkot (The Feast of Tabernacles). In our own research here at the Temple Mount Sifting Project, we have discovered a huge number of cooking pots from the Second Temple period in particular, and our researchers think that these cooking pots may be from the pilgrims who came to the Temple for these three holidays. We also have a large number of cow, sheep, and goat bones. They haven’t been dated yet, but when we look at the percentage of bones that have been burnt, the cow, sheep and goat percentage are 90%! While we know that lamb was eaten on Passover, cows, goats, and sheep were often used in sacrificial meals. Our researchers are now tackling questions like: could these burnt bones have come from sacrificial meals on these three major holidays?

One of the oldest surviving haggadas. Click for more info.

So where did our modern format for Passover come from? One of the oldest, if not the oldest, surviving Haggadah comes from the Cairo Geniza and is dated to about 1000 CE, over 900 years after the Second Temple. Another damaged Passover Haggadah from about the same time has actually just been digitally scanned and is being presented as part of the “Scribes of the Cairo Genizah” project. Where it had been passed down orally, as Jews spread throughout the diaspora, an effort was made to write down the customs and laws of Judaism, and this included the traditions of Passover. As more time passed, traditions meshed with local culture and we can see how different, for example, are Ashkenazi and Sephardi customs regarding legumes and things like rice and beans. Interestingly, Yemenite Jews retained the soft, flat, burrito-like matzah that was most likely used (or something similar was used) at the time of the Temple.

Though customs change and vary, whether you eat rice or you won’t eat gebrochts, the meaning behind the Passover seder and the story that we tell of the Exodus from Egypt remain the same. It is the story of freedom from bondage, redemption from slavery. It is a story that is relatable in every era and is something important to remember. Lift up the fallen and do your best to free the enslaved. Our director, Zachi Dvira, believes that Passover is also the freedom from the enslavement of cultural life by dedicating some time to go back to the most simple food, but not going back to raw food as in Eden. Whatever your tradition is this Passover, we wish you a meaningful and happy holiday spent with loved ones. As the last line of the Haggadah says, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” and know you are always welcome to visit us here at the Temple Mount Sifting Project.

International Women’s Day 2018

6 Comments

Lab staff of the Temple Mount Sifting Project

Girl Power at the Sifting Project!

Today is International Women’s Day and I want to gloat about the amazing women working for the Temple Mount Sifting Project. We really have a special workplace because we have such a high percentage of women working here. With a lot of talk recently about women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), archaeology can sometimes be overlooked because many people associate it with the humanities. However, as someone who was required to take statistics for my archaeology major at Boston University, I can tell you that archaeologists regularly use the left side of the brain. What makes archaeologists so special is their ability to integrate the hard science and logic aspect of the field with the understanding of people, social structures, and the humanity side of the field.

Women working as archaeologists are power houses and I am honored to call some of them my colleagues. Though many doubt us, we women can handle the rough days of field work getting dirty and processing finds, and the long days of research and analysis, the complex statistics and categorization of finds. My coworkers are creative and precise and manage to be some of the most genuine and kind people I’ve met.

Frankie Snyder with an example of a floor pattern from the Second Temple

People who know our project know that our researcher Frankie Snyder is amazing. She is a mathematician and actually taught math in America. When she moved to Israel, she started volunteering at our project. Almost 10 years later, and she has come out with some groundbreaking research on our opus sectile tiles. Using geometry, material analysis, and comparisons with other Herodian sites, she was able to recreate the possible patterns of the floors of the Second Temple complex. She discovered what we call “Herod’s triangle” whose base is equal to its height, like a triangle constructed inside a square. This triangle with the unusual corner angles of 52°-64°-64° was very common in Herodian patterns but was rarely seen in floors elsewhere in the Roman world. When used in a pattern, the “Herod’s triangles” cause adjacent tiles to also have unusual, but mathematically recognizable corner angles. With math, ingenuity, and creativity, Frankie made one of the most amazing discoveries in Jerusalem archaeology in a decade.

Razia Richman making a scale drawing of an artifact

Dorit Gutreich sorting pottery

Frankie is just one of our many amazing women at the Temple Mount Sifting Project. We have had many female managers at the sifting site and we have a lot of female researchers and staff as well. Razia Richman does all of our detailed to-scale drawings of special finds. Nili Ahipaz is researching all of our coins dating from the Persian period (4th century BCE) to the time of the Arab Conquest in the 7th century CE. She is interested in how the symbols and inscriptions on coins can teach us about the beliefs and aspirations of the people who minted and used them. She is an inspiration to us, reminding us why we are studying these things, and not just identifying what they are.

Dorit Gutreich took over the study of Crusader and Medieval period pottery from another fantastic female: Giulia Roccabella. Dorit is also researching all of our ancient glass. I was talking to her about International Women’s Day, and she said that the best advice she could ever give is to, “believe in yourself and your abilities. Always follow your heart. I studied archaeology just because it interests me. I never thought I would be able to find work in it afterward, but you know what? I have been practicing archaeology for more than 12 years now.”

Me, Jenn Greene showing off some mosaic tesserae at the sifting site.

Working with all of these amazing people, I feel like you can’t ever let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do something just because you are a woman. There are so many opportunities now for further education and experience and the biggest, hardest step is always the first step. I moved to London for my MA program at University College London and then moved to Israel and got my citizenship.  Even though it has been difficult and completely foreign to everything I’ve done before, I have not regretted that first step for an instant.

So women: Be brave. Be strong. Be yourself.

*Note: We are currently looking for researchers in a number of different categories. Both women and men are welcome to apply and join our amazing team. Contact me at development@tmsifting.org.

 

New Year for the Trees, New Life for Ancient Forgotten Beams

No Comments

Happy Tu B’Shevat! Today is the Jewish new year for the trees which is celebrated annually on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. Customs vary, but many Jews will eat a new fruit they haven’t tried before or eat one (or all!) of the seven species described as plentiful in the land of Israel (wheat, barley, grapes (vines), figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates (honey) (Deut. 8:8)). Growing up in America, my family often sent money to plant trees in Israel through our synagogue and I’m pretty sure we read, “The Lorax” every year as well.

To celebrate this fun holiday with all of you, we at the Sifting Project thought we would share with you some interesting research about wooden beams found on the Temple Mount.

The Ancient Beams of the Temple Mount

The restoration of Al-Aqsa Mosque in the 1930s and 1940s included the removal of dozens of wooden beams that predate the mosque’s construction. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority Scientific Archives.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque has been renovated a number of times throughout its history. Notably, after a massive earthquake caused major structural damage to the mosque in 1937, a lot of work was done to strengthen the building, and a number of wooden beams were removed, many of which are now in the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem. In the 1970s, more wooden beams were removed from the Temple Mount and some were sold to a merchant in Ramallah. Some Israelis actually purchased these beams and sent them for Carbon 14 and dendrochronological (tree ring) dating at the Weizmann Institute. Most of the beams were found to be from cypress trees or cedar trees from Lebanon and some were oak from Turkey. While the vast majority of tested beams dated to the Byzantine period (6th century CE), some of the beams date much earlier. There are two beams in particular that date to the First Temple Period, one of cypress dating to around the 7th century BCE, and one of oak dating to around the 10th century BCE according to the C14 tests.

So how did these early beams end up in the Al-Aqsa Mosque? Wood was expensive in ancient times, so builders would use what was available to them. Many of the beams measured over 14 meters and were made well and of strong wood. Consequently, they were used over and over again. One of the beams from the Al Aqsa Mosque carbon dates to the early Hellenistic period but also has a Greek inscription from the Byzantine period. It seems this beam was in at least tertiary use in the mosque, and we are grateful that this reuse of material preserved it for us to study now.

The beams offer a fascinating historical record of Jerusalem, including Byzantine buildings, early Muslim houses of prayer and, not inconceivably, the ancient temple complex itself. Unfortunately, the several hundred existing beams have never been studied in depth, and many are in danger of decay and disintegration.

Destruction through Negligence?

Beams (left) near the Golden Gate on the Temple Mount. Photo: Matti Friedman/Times of Israel

We have witnessed first hand how beams remain open to the elements on the Temple Mount without any cover or protection. Though Jerusalem may have hot and dry summers, the climate is not conducive to the preservation of wooden artifacts. These beams are pretty unique because they were so well preserved due to the fact that they were sheltered within the Al-Aqsa Mosque for so much of their history. The fact that such negligence is being practiced and that these beams are not being preserved is truly unfortunate. Our researcher, Peretz Reuven, is doing his PhD on all of the known beams, and upon closer inspection of the uncovered beams on the Temple Mount, he saw carvings and markings on one of the beams that show correlation to Roman motifs and styles. You can see carved leaves, pomegranates, and even a rope pattern widely appearing in 2nd and 3rd century CE monuments. This beam is most likely a late Roman period relic from one of the monumental buildings of Roman Jerusalem.

Peretz’s article in the BAR. Photo: Peretz Reuven

Needless to say, much more research is needed on the beams from the Temple Mount. We at the Sifting Project can do our small part on the small wooden beam fragments covered with bits of gold-colored paint, but the more comprehensive research will have to include all of the full length beams that can be accessed by researchers. Our research will be presented in volume four of our planned publication, and we can’t wait to see what Peretz uncovers while completing his PhD.

For more information about these beams see:

The Times of Israel

Biblical Archaeology Review Here or Here

Video of Gaby explaining starting at 2:30

Pictures in Arutz Sheva

Israel HaYom

Older Entries