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Mourning and Gratitude

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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.

A Day in the Life: Passover

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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.

Top 10 Topics from 5777

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I can’t believe that another year has passed. As Rosh Hashanah approaches, I want to take a minute to look back at the crazy year we have had. To be honest, we have had a lot of ups and downs, but through it all, our biggest strength has been our supporters. Your generosity and messages of encouragement have helped us to continue our important work and have helped us climb those mountains of bad news that have faced us this past year. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

So let’s take a look at the past year! I went through our English Facebook Page (follow us if you haven’t already!) and tallied up the posts that made the most impact: most likes, shares, views, and comments. From finds, to videos, to urgent appeals for support, you have stood by us and shared this with us.

10. Early Islamic Artifacts

This post talked about some Early Islamic Period artifacts and linked to our blog post about the possible destruction layer we uncovered.

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Golden Mosaics from the Dome of the Rock

9. Evidence of the Greeks on the Temple Mount

This post celebrated the holiday of Channukkah and talked about Greek finds on the Temple Mount including a coin with the face of Antiochus Epiphanes IV who is the villain of the Channukkah story. Check out the whole story HERE.

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Greek coin with the face of King Antiochus Epiphanes IV

8. Archaeologists Restore Temple Mount Flooring from Waqf’s Trash

This was an article about our reconstructed Second Temple floor patterns published by Haaretz. Our floors have always been a popular topic. 🙂 Here is a link to the whole article: http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/archaeology/1.740548

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7. Lost and Found: A modern day bracelet

We found a modern day 10K gold bracelet and are (still) trying to find the owner. It has an Israeli girl’s name written in English letters. It is very small and may have belonged to a child. It was lost on the Temple Mount before 1999. Share the story and help us find the owner!

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6. Our video asking you to “Join Us” in our Annual Appeal.

Thank you to everyone who liked, shared, and donated in our Annual Appeal. Knowing that we have consistent supporters really makes us feel like you are part of our Sifting Project Family. Don’t forget, it’s an annual appeal so you will be hearing from me again ;).

5. Six-Day War Artifacts in the Temple Mount Soil.

Machine gun magazines, bullets, Jordanian coins, and uniform badges were found in sifting the soil from the Temple Mount. The artifacts tell the story of the unification of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War. Check out the whole article in the Times of Israel and watch the video we put together in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Unification of Jerusalem.

4. Evidence of the Jewish Temples on the Temple Mount

Last October, UNESCO adopted a biased and political resolution that disregarded Judaism’s historic connection to the Temple Mount, cast doubts regarding the Jewish connection to the Western Wall, and protested against the Israel Antiquities Authority’s attempts to supervise construction work on and around the Temple Mount in order to preserve the antiquities and other archaeological data. In response to this resolution, we wrote a blog post that outlined a lot of the archaeological evidence that we have of the Jewish temples on the Temple Mount. This was widely shared and is one of the most important posts we have written. Please read and share because the Temple Denial Movement is real and we have to know how to respond to it with educated answers. Click here for the full text of the post.

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Artifacts from the First and Second Temples

3. The Most Powerful Video about UNESCO and the Temple Denial Movement

This video was put out by Channel 2 News here in Israel. Seen in Hebrew by more than 1 MILLION people on Facebook alone, we added English subtitles so that it could be shared with people around the world. It is important to respect the narratives of people today, but this needs to be in addition to, and not at the expense of, real history. It is also easier to find common ground when relating to each other through facts and history than solely through hard-won respect for beliefs and narratives. Please watch and share.

2. Our Temple Mount Tour videos

Over the past few weeks, we have posted 11 (so far) videos touring the Temple Mount with Dr. Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira and talking about different features on the Temple Mount. All of these videos have been very popular and we promise to keep making them. Here is a link to the whole playlist on YouTube.

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1. Closing the Sifting Project

When we were forced to stop sifting the Temple Mount material this past April, we were all in shock. How were we going to move forward? How were we going to continue our research? We turned to you and let you know about the situation. You shared the video hundreds of times and it reached more than 34,000 people. We were able to raise over 200,000 shekels and because of that we were able to continue our research this year while we try to come up with the funding to resume the sifting. We cannot thank you enough for your support. At our darkest hour, you made such a difference to us and to our project. Government help takes a long time to initiate and we aren’t in the clear yet, but knowing that we can count on you makes all the difference.

The Doric Survivor

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Doric Capital

An intriguing category of finds from our project is building fragments and special stones. For example, our “Find of the Month” for November 2016 was a small piece of a Crusader period column. We have found many small fragments of stone that originated in elaborate buildings and columns. We can identify architraves, bases, capitals and column drums. Some of these may even have originated from the Temple structure itself.

From the Hellenistic period, corresponding to the early Second Temple period, we have recovered a limestone column capital of the Doric order. The capital was fully preserved, and based on its diameter, we assume that it stood upon a column more than 18 feet high. We plan to put this capital on top of a restored pillar and present it grandly at our sifting site when we eventually resume the sifting.

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Doric capital found by the Sifting Project

The Doric capital has concave bands. Among other attributes, this dates it to the second century BCE. It is one of many such capitals that adorned the eastern, earliest portico of the Temple Mount. This makes it pre-Herodian.

image004This rare relic enables us to begin to reconstruct this eastern portico, on the outside of which is a vertical seam separating two different types of masonry. To the south of the seam is Herodian masonry, and to the north is earlier masonry perhaps from the days of the Hasmonian dynasty and the early Second Temple later expanded by Herod.

This capital is unique. It is one of only a few pieces we have of a complete architectural member – and not just a small find. Because of the bulldozing and the way that the earth was removed from the Temple Mount, most of the artifacts recovered by the Sifting Project are small and broken.

image003Our Doric capital was most likely overlooked and forgotten by the Awaqf who kept the large, nicely cut pieces of architecture from the debris removed from the Temple Mount. There is photographic evidence from the illicit bulldozing of another Doric capital that has since been lost. We looked in the “garden of columns” on the Temple Mount but did not see it there. We may never learn where this and the other large pieces are kept, or where they were discarded, making this find even more important as it is the only one to which we have access.

We hope that you have learned something about the construction of the Second Temple. We are now in the three weeks of Jewish mourning that culminates in the fast day on the 9th of Av to commemorate the destruction of the Temple and many other terrible events in Jewish history. It is a common practice to learn about the Temple construction and laws during this time. We will continue to do our part by providing videos and information from our research about these topics.

Do your part by helping us complete our research on First and Second Temple Period architectural fragments and other artifacts.

Give now at www.half-shekel.org and your donation will be DOUBLED in our current matching campaign.

Aren’t You Dying To Know?

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Find of the Month: January

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Singer Family and the Murex Shell

Aren’t you dying to know what this month’s “Find of the Month” is? Well, if you can’t tell from my bad pun, this month’s find of the month is a murex trunculus: a rock snail shell. It was found by the Singer family from Jerusalem, who were really excited to have found something so special. This shell is another piece to a puzzle we have been trying to put together here for years.

The murex family of snails are medium to large predatory, tropical, sea snails, also known as murexes or rock snails. They have elongated shells with spines of fronds and brightly colored inner surfaces. Aristotle used the word murex, and Vitruvius described the dye made from these shells, making this one of the oldest shell families still known today.

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Modern tzit tzit with blue strings mimicking tehelet

What makes the murex trunculus so special is that they are connected with the ancient process of making tehelet, the blue dye we know from the Bible that was used in priestly garments and the Israelites’ tzit tzit (fringes). This snail family was also used to make the purple dye known in the Bible as argaman.

Making tehelet or argaman requires special skills as well as a lot of snails. Dye can be collected by crushing the snails, or by laboriousy poking (milking) the snails and collecting the excretion. 12,000 snails might yield 1.4 g of dye, which is only enough to color the trim of a single garment.[1] Because of this, this Royal Blue or Royal Purple dye was very expensive, making it an almost exclusive sign of kingship and royalty. Interestingly, the color of this dye becomes more vibrant when left in the sun, and it is possible that different versions of the color can be made by making the dye in the sun or in the shade.

slide1Much of the production of this type of dye we attribute to the Phoenicians. The purple is also known as Tyrian purple (from the Phoenician city of Tyre). Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of dye production at Phoenician sites in Morocco and all across the Mediterranean, including Israel. There is a lot of evidence at Tel Dor for Phoenician dye production in the Iron Age as well as the merchandizing and trading of goods like colored fabrics and wool.

So what was this murex shell doing on the Temple Mount? Any time we find a shell, we know that it was used by humans because Jerusalem is too far from the sea for sea creatures (and their shells) to dwell there. This means that shells were brought to Jerusalem for a purpose. We have discovered over 20 of these murex trunculus shells in the sifting, and it leads us to wonder why. Is it possible that there was a workshop for dye production on the Temple Mount? Perhaps these shells were used to create the dye for fabrics used in the Temple. Maybe it was produced on site for purity reasons.

Unfortunately, we can’t date these shells until we have evidence that would link them to another, datable, artifact such as something else used in cloth or dye production. With more funding, we might be able to carbon date them, but each test costs about $400 and in order to reach statistical significance, we would need to test samples from 20 shells. Regardless, there is a lot of research yet to be completed on this, but these shells certainly raise a lot of really interesting questions.

Just because, check out this video see archaeologists extracting dye from one of these shells.

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[1] Jacoby, “Silk Economics and Cross-Cultural Artistic Interaction: Byzantium, the Muslim World, and the Christian West” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 58 (2004:197–240) p. 210.

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