All of a sudden the days are getting shorter and Shabbat begins earlier, so my posting times for my Good News Friday posts will be earlier than they’ve been these past few months (I hope!).
I start this week’s installment with two fascinating items of archeology news.
The first, and most astounding in my opinion, is the discovery in Jerusalem of a rare Cohen Gadol’s (High Priest) stone weight from the Second Temple period:
A routine archeological excavation of an Old City synagogue destroyed by Jordanian troops during the War of Independence turned into much more, after the burnt remains of rare relics from the Second Temple period in 70 AD were revealed several meters below ground level.
Among the artifacts unearthed in the 2013 excavation in the Jewish Quarter included a rare stone scaled weight inscribed with the name of a priestly family, covered in millennia-old ashes from the fire that Roman soldiers used to burn Jerusalem to the ground.
The synagogue in question, Teferet Yisrael, which was built during the mid-19th century, and served as one of the two main synagogues of the Jewish Quarter, along with the Hurva synagogue, was bombed in May of 1948 by the Jordanian Legion.
Despite its historic import, the process to rebuild the synagogues did not begin in earnest until 10 years ago, said Israel Antiquities Authority archeologist Dr. Oren Gutfeld on Thursday, noting that antiquities laws require excavations before construction of any kind.
“After we cleared all the ruins from 1948, we started in the basement of the synagogue and uncovered its ritual bath [mikveh], heating system, and parts of a chandelier,” said Gutfeld, who oversaw the dig with Hillel Geva, director of the Israel Exploration Society.
“Immediately after we took out the floors we arrived to a very, very massive and deep conflagration layer from the year 70 AD, when the city was burned to the ground,” he said.
“It was so massive, that every day after finishing the work we were all black [from the ancient soot], like firemen.”
Upon removing the burnt layer of debris, Gutfeld said a mikveh from the Second Temple period was found next to a storage facility filled with fragments of pottery, stone vessels, animal bones, and ancient coins.
“During the fire and destruction, something blocked it, and it stayed frozen in time for 2,000 years,” he said.
“While I was digging in the burnt layer, I found a stone weight covered with soot, and only one of the 600 stone weights uncovered from the Second Temple period had a Hebrew inscription. So, I looked at it and smiled to myself thinking maybe it’ll have an inscription, and when I put it in a bucket of water and took it out I started to shiver.”
I have to say, I started to shiver too as I read this incredible story. The importance of something tangible, that was held in the hands of the Cohen Gadol in the Bet Hamikdash, being uncoverd and verified, cannot be overstated.
The article continues:
“The lower line had the name of the family of a high priest named ‘Katros’ written in Aramaic, but we could not understand the meaning of the upper line until recently, which is why we delayed publication of the find until now,” he said.
After years of analysis, Gutfeld said it was recently determined that the first line also was inscribed with the family’s name, but in ancient Persian.
“It was used to measure weight on a scale – maybe even for objects in the Temple,” he explained. “So it makes sense that the family name was inscribed on the stone.”
Kol hakavod to Dr. Gufeld, Hillel Geva and all the archeologists and researchers on their discovery and verification of this incredible find. It deepens our connection to Jerusalem and of course also confirms that the Bet Hamikdash was no historical invention.
Not quite as meaningful on a national scale, but certainly of huge historical import, a mis-labelled epitaph in Egypt turns out to have been of a Jewish woman living in Egypt:
The limestone tablet had been labeled as a Coptic artifact for years until it was translated by Lincoln H. Blumell, an associate professor at Brigham Young University, who published his findings this month.
“In peace and blessing Ama Helene, a Jew, who loves the orphans, [died]. For about 60 years her path was one of mercy and blessing; on it she prospered,” the epitaph reads.
This document is unusual, because it describes the woman, Helene, as a Jew, but also uses the honorary title “Ama” which was normally only used to describe nuns and other distinguished Christian women in ancient Egypt, according to Blumell.
“I’ve looked at hundreds of ancient Jewish epitaphs,” Blumell said, “and there is nothing quite like this. This is a beautiful remembrance and tribute to this woman.”
The epitaph has been dated to some time in the third century CE. Although older obituaries have been discovered, this one is unique in mentioning Helene’s religion, and in the use of the title “Ama.”
Another unusual feature of this document is Helene’s longevity. Based on other inscriptions from the period it seems that the average life expectancy of women at the time was about 25 years. Helene reached the age of 60.
According to census documents from that time, Helene was one of only 6 percent of Egyptian women from this period who lived to this age. More than half of men also died before the age of 30.
What a beautiful and touching eulogy for someone who must have been a very righteous woman. Kol hakavod to Lincoln Blumell who successfully translated the epitaph after so many years. May Helene rest in peace now that we know something of her life.
Turning now to something completely different, a story of an “ugly Israeli” has a very happy ending with many many beautiful Israelis who went out of their way to correct a wrong.
A chocolate shop in Jerusalem, Yaar Ha’Kakao (the Cocoa Forest) was swindled by someone who paid with a forged NIS 100 note. The owners posted a Facebook video about it – and Beautiful Israel swung into action (via Hadassah). The post below tells us the happy ending (my free translation):
Dear Forger – chapter two:
You didn’t pay me back NIS 100, but because of you I received:
10 kg of chocolate from Mr. Cake, offers from 2 photographers to take free photos of my pralines;
An offer to build a website for free;
A boy and a girl who want to work for me on a volunteer basis;
NIS 500 shekels as a holiday gift for my 5 wonderful workers;
A morning TV interview on Orli & Guy (in the video here);
At least 20 private orders
An order of 86 packs of pralines for the workers of GVC Co.
An order of hundreds of pralines for the workers of Gichon;
Several other gifts for workers in a number of companies; a suggestion from the Director of Cisco to his workers to come and buy from us on Thursdays when I’m here;
Several dozen people who offered to give me the NIS 100 as a gift (of course I refused);
And at least 9700 likes, 2,400 shares, tens of thousands of moving comments.
May you turn into a Hassidic story dear forger.
So many sweet people who wrote warm words and came yesterday and today to the Tahana shopping center.
Thank you dear forger,
Thank you to the Almighty who sent you.
I hope you don’t end up in jail or that i’ll have to testify against you after all the good that you did for me.
Because I have no choice and it’s my legal and ethical dut to report you tot he polcie.
May you and all of us have a Happy Sweet New Year, and may we all discover our inner truth even if the path towards it sometimes seems forged.
Here is the post and video in Hebrew:
This is the most wonderful sweet story I’ve read in a while. It really brings a big smile to my face as it restores my faith in humanity, particularly in the much-maligned Israeli character. Kol hakavod to all those fantastic people who came through to help, and a huge kol hakavod to Yaar Ha’Kakao for their positive attitude and their steadfast faith in G-d.
And now to finish off this week’s installment, here is a bittersweet item.
Yesterday, 13th Elul, Yagil Henkin, the brother of Etam Henkin who was murdered along with his wife Naama almost a year ago, completed the writing of a Sefer Torah dedicated to their memory, and it was then inaugurated in Neria, where the Henkin’s lived (via Hadassah).
Scroll through the photos to witness the joy at the new Sefer Torah, even as it revives the memory of the Henkins, whose loss is felt by the entire nation.
No Sefer Torah, however precious, can bring back the dead, but it can keep their memory alive and help to teach future generations about the Henkins’ wonderful character, and how much they achieved in their short lives.
May the families be comforted with the addition of this new holy Torah scroll.
And with this food for thought I wish you all Shabbat Shalom!