Israeli researcher: Mikvehs show that Galilee cave dwellers were likely kohanim (HAŽARETZ NEWS) By Eli Ashkenazi 04/27/12)
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A fifth mikveh has been found in the caves on the Galilee´s Cliffs of
Arbel, indicating that the people who lived there under Roman rule
were most likely kohanim, Jews of the priestly class, said Yinon
Shivtiel, one of the researchers who found the ritual bath.
"The discovery of mikvehs in archaeological excavations is always a
sign of Jewish life," said Shivtiel, a lecturer at the Zefat Academic
College and Ohalo College who will be presenting his findings at a
conference at Tel-Hai College next week. "The Mishna reinforces the
importance and necessity for this facility, devoting an entire
tractate to the mikveh and the laws of immersion."
The caves in which the purification baths were found were "caves of
refuge," where Jews who lived in the area sought shelter under Roman
rule, particularly during the Jewish revolt that ended with the
destruction of the Second Temple.
According to Shivtiel, the effort needed to build mikvehs under such
difficult circumstances indicates that these cave dwellers were
"These people saw it as an imperative to build a mikveh in their
shelter, in a cave on a steep cliff," he said.
Shivtiel and Vladimir Boslov of the Hebrew University´s cave research
unit have already discovered 500 caves of refuge during the
comprehensive survey they´ve been conducting under the auspices of
the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
To reach this particular cave, the two researchers had to scale a
cliff "with our fingernails," as Shivtiel put it.
"The preparation of mikvaot in these refuge caves, sites that are
difficult to access and are not meant for routine living but for
times of distress, teach us the deep religious need for facilities
for ritual purity," said Shivtiel. "The preparation of mikvehs in
these places is not amazing just because of the physical difficulty
in digging them, but because in doing so one needs to cope with all
the specifics of Jewish law that a mikveh demands, primarily a source
of flowing water and an immersion area that has a specific volume."
The mikveh builders at Arbel assured supplies of natural water by
either building the ritual baths directly under still-dripping
stalactites or by digging tunnels from the mikvehs to outside the
rock wall, so that runoff from rainwater could accumulate.
Three of the mikvehs on the cliffs were documented by archaeologist
Ronny Reich of Hebrew University, but Shivtiel and Boslov discovered
Other findings that they and others have uncovered in the Arbel
region show that these cave dwellers lived at subsistance level and
in crowded conditions. They had water, food and light, as evidenced
by the water-storage pits, niches for candles, and remnants of
cooking pots and pitchers, but no more than that.
Shivtiel, who consulted with rabbis to identify the mikvehs, said
they were distinguished from other water cisterns by three things:
steps heading into the bath, a water supply from a natural source and
enough water to immerse one´s entire body.
"Preparing a mikveh is beyond what is needed to sustain life,"
Shivtiel said. "The Jewish group most likely to see it as an integral
part of their lives would be a group that was part of the mishmarot
kehuna [priests who did shifts at the Temple]."
Previous research has shown that when the priests found refuge in the
Galilee after the destruction of the Second Temple, at least one
group moved to Arbel. (© Copyright 2012 Ha´aretz 04/27/12)
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