Category Archives: Jewish

The Foundation Stone of the World

The Foundation Stone is the name of the rock at the heart of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Jews traditionally face it while praying, in the belief that it was the location of the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Muslims believe that angels visited the site 2,000 years before the creation of Adam, the place to which Muhammad traveled in the Night Journey and it’s the place where Israfel, the angel of the trumpet, will sound his horn on Resurrection Day. Map.

Foundation Stone
Foundation Stone

Many sages from the Talmud were mentioned about the Foundation Stone.

  • God took the Foundation Stone and threw it into the depths and from it the world expanded. It’s the center point of the world and the first part of the Earth to come into existence.
  • Also it was close to the Foundation Stone, that God gathered the earth and created Adam.
  • It was on this rock that Adam—and later Cain, Abel, and Noah—offered sacrifices to God.
  • Jewish sources identify this rock as the place mentioned in the Bible where Abraham fulfilled God’s test to see if he would be willing to sacrifice his son Isaac.
  • It is also identified as the rock upon which Jacob dreamt about angels ascending and descending on a ladder and consequently consecrating and offering a sacrifice upon.
  • When (according to the Bible) King David purchased a threshing floor owned by Araunah the Jebusite (Canaanites), it is believed that it was upon this rock that he offered the sacrifice mentioned in the verse.
  • He wanted to construct a permanent temple there, but as his hands were “bloodied”, he was forbidden to do so himself. The task was left to his son Solomon, who completed the Temple in c. 950 BCE.
  • Situated inside the Holy of Holies, this was the rock upon which the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the First Temple.
  • During the Second Temple period when the Ark of the Covenant was not present, the stone was used by the High Priest who offered up the incense and sprinkled the blood of the sacrifices on it during the Yom Kippur service.
Foundation Stone
Foundation Stone

The rock itself is 90-million-year-old and quite different compared with rocks surrounding it. The southern side of the Foundation Stone forms a ledge, with a gap between it and the surrounding ground; a set of steps currently uses this gap to provide access from the Dome of the Rock to the Well of Souls beneath it.

Foundation Stone
Foundation Stone

The rock has several human-made cuts in its surface, created by the Crusaders. Flat sections on the stone indicates foundation trenches on top of which the walls of the original temple were laid.

Foundation Stone
Foundation Stone

The Mysterious Well of Souls, the Holy of Holies

The Well of Souls is a partly natural, partly man-made cave located inside the Foundation Stone under the Dome of the Rock shrine in Jerusalem. For Muslims, the spirits of the dead can be heard awaiting Judgment Day. For Christians, the site is known as the Holy of Holies and is venerated as a possible “site of the annunciation of John the Baptist”. The Well of Souls has also other names: Pit of SoulsCave of Spirits, and Well of Spirits in Islam.

There was never an archeological investigation because of political and diplomatic sensitivities. And that means that the mystery only gets more mystified!

Well of Souls
Well of Souls

For Christian Pilgrims it’s one of the places to visit. It’s not for nothing the Holy of Holies. It’s also the place covered in mysteries …

The Well of Souls, located on Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, may contain the fabled and elusive Ark of the Covenant. This is the sacred vessel that, according to biblical account, contained the original Ten Commandments tablets that God gave to Moses at Mount Sinai as the ancient Israelites wandered the desert.

The Well of Souls is purportedly located below a natural cave under the rock upon which Jewish tradition says Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac. Islamic tradition indicates Muhammad ascended to heaven from this same stone.

No one knows with absolute certainty whether the Well of Souls—or the Ark of the Covenant—actually exists. Though knocking on the floor of the cave under the Muslim Dome of the Rock shrine elicits a resounding hollow echo, no one has ever seen this alleged chamber. The Temple Mount itself is rife with a network of some 45 cisterns, chambers, tunnels, and caves.

Well of Souls
Well of Souls

There has never been any proper archaeological exploration of the site, which is under control of the Waqf Muslim religious trust.

The famed 19th-century British explorers Charles Wilson and Sir Charles Warren could neither prove nor disprove the existence of a hollow chamber below the cave. They believed the sound reportedly heard by visitors was simply an echo in a small fissure beneath the floor.

Well of Souls
Well of Souls

Shimon Gibson, senior fellow at the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem, published a definitive review together with colleague David Jacobson called Below the Temple Mount in Jerusalem: A Sourcebook on the Cisterns, Subterranean Chambers and Conduits of the Haram Al-Sharif. “Since the 19th century, no Westerner has been allowed access to the subterranean chambers on the Temple Mount,” Gibson said.

The Temple Mount and the natural cave below the Dome of the Rock are periodically open to tourists, depending upon the local security and political situation.

History

Well of Souls
Well of Souls

Both Jewish and Muslim traditions relate to what may lie beneath the Foundation Stone, the earliest of them found in the Talmud in the former and understood to date to the 12th and 13th centuries in the latter.

The Talmud indicates that the Stone marks the center of the world and serves as a cover for the Abyss containing the raging waters of the Flood.

Muslim tradition likewise places it at the center of the world and over a bottomless pit with the flowing waters of Paradise underneath. A palm tree is said to grow out of the River of Paradise here to support the Stone.

Noah is said to have landed here after the Flood. The souls of the dead are said to be audible here as they await the Last Judgment.

Well of Souls
Well of Souls

The Crusaders recaptured Jerusalem in 1099 and converted the Dome of the Rock into a church, calling it the Templum Domini, or the Temple of the Lord.

They were cutting away much of the rock to make staircases and paving the Stone over with marble slabs. They enlarged the main entrance of the cave and probably are also responsible for creating the shaft ascending from the center of the chamber. The Crusaders called the cave the “Holy of Holies” and venerated it as the site of the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth.


Reference

  • The earliest reference to a “pierced rock” (the shaft in the cave’s roof) may be that in the Itinerarium Burdigalense by the anonymous “Pilgrim of Bordeaux” who visited Jerusalem in 333 AD.
  • References to the “Well of Souls” under the Foundation Stone date back at least to the 10th-century Persian writer Ibn al-Faqih who mentions it as an Islamic sacred site.
  • The 11th-century Persian writer and traveler Nasir-i Khusraw related the traditional story of the origin of the cave in his classic travelogue Safarnama:

They say that on the night of his Ascension into heaven, the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, prayed first at the Dome of the Rock, laying his hand upon the Rock. As he went out, the Rock, to do him honor, rose up, but he laid his hand on it to keep it in its place and firmly fixed it there. But by reason of this rising up, it is even to this present day partly detached from the ground beneath.

  • The 16th-century rabbi David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra attested to the existence of a cave found under the Dome of the Rock and known as the “Well of Souls”.
  • The definitive modern review of the Well of Souls, along with other underground openings beneath the Temple Mount, is in Shimon Gibson and David Jacobson’s Below the Temple Mount in Jerusalem: A Sourcebook on the Cisterns, Subterranean Chambers and Conduits of the Haram Al-Sharif.

 

Beit Alpha Synagogue

No one was more surprised than the members of Kibbutz Heftzibah when they went out to dig an irrigation channel in 1928 and uncovered a stunning, Byzantine-era (6th-century) mosaic floor. Map.

Beit Alpha Synagogue
Beit Alpha Synagogue

Further excavation revealed the rest of the Beit Alpha Synagogue, whose extraordinarily mosaics are among the most evocative of ages past ever found in Israel. The three mosaic panels depict traditional Jewish symbols such as a Torah ark, two menorahs (seven-branched candelabras) and a shofar (ram’s horn) alongside a spectacular, 12-panel zodiac circle, a pagan element if there ever was one.

Beit Alpha Synagogue
Beit Alpha Synagogue

At the bottom, above inscriptions in Aramaic and Hebrew, Jacob (holding a knife) is shown about to sacrifice his son Isaac, alongside the ram that God (represented by a hand from heaven) sent to be sacrificed in the boy’s stead; each character is labelled in Hebrew. A 14-minute film (in six languages), projected above and onto the mosaic, provides an excellent introduction. Wheelchair accessible.

Beit Alpha Synagogue
Beit Alpha Synagogue

Up the hill from the synagogue, inside Kibbutz Heftzibah, is something unexpected: a lovely little Shinto-style Japanese garden (054 663 4348; tour adult/child 20/10NIS) with a serene koi pond, built by members of the Makoya, a Japanese Christian movement whose members have been studying Hebrew at the kibbutz since 1962. Call for a tour.

Kibbutz Heftzibah
Kibbutz Heftzibah

Israel at a Glance

This article is about Israel at a glance. Many tourists asked me where they suppose to go! Well, here is your oversight depending on your intentions and preferences. Some people love historical sights, others religious, cultures, hiking, family, cities, beaches, deserts and much more. If that is so, Israel is your excellent destination.


Click here for the maps of Israel! Click here for the ancient Christian maps of Israel. Click here for the Biblical maps of Israel.


Jerusalem

Jerusalem by Night
Jerusalem by Night
Jerusalem area
Jerusalem area

Old City – Explore the Old City’s Christian, Armenian, Jewish and Muslim quarters, including the Citadel (Tower of David) and the Via Dolorosa.

Sacred Sites – The Western Wall, Jesus’s tomb, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock: Jerusalem’s many more religious sites could keep you busy for weeks, if not months. Take a look at the 52 churches in Jerusalem to have a vague idea.

Diversity – Ultra-Orthodox Jews wearing shtreimels (fur hats), secular Jews in short shorts and tank tops, Palestinian Muslims on their way to Al-Aqsa Mosque, Christian clergy in long robes, feminist Orthodox Jews, gay-rights activists, free-spirited artists – you’ll run into them all on Jerusalem’s wonderfully diverse streets.

As a tour guide, I led and created many tours in Jerusalem. If they were religious tours, pilgrim tours, Israeli or gem tours, the city is huge and the number of sights are staggering. And Jerusalem hides so much history and excitement from us normal tourists, like secret half hidden caves, ‘cursed sites’, haunted houses, curious neighborhoods, hidden churches, tunnels and caves and grottoes and so much more. And it’s Jerusalem, this city with a history not normal (destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times) and its age is 6,500 years! The Jewish people (King David) sacked Jerusalem from the Canaanite inhabitants in c. 1000 BCE. For sure that there are many stories to tell about this city (source).

Tel Aviv-Jaffa (Yafo)

Allenby street, Tel Aviv
Allenby street, Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv area
Tel Aviv area

Fine Dining – Yes, Tel Aviv has fantastic beaches, but the city’s real passion is food. From felafel stalls and hummus joints to gelato parlours, European-style cafes, sushi bars and restaurants run by celebrity chefs, you won’t go hungry here.

Entertainment – Tel Aviv is the White City, which never sleeps. That’s certainly true, whenever you are awake, Tel Aviv too but never sleeps itself. The entertainment there goes from the restaurants, bars, nightclubs and dancings to the dynamic street life, enough to entertain anyone in this city. If you are looking for free entertainment, or the most fanciest opera or ballet, or rock concert to techno music, it’s there. And we are talking about entertainment for the teenagers, for the elders and everyone between and not to forget the children with their Luna parks, theme- and water-parks and much more.

Boutiques – Tel Aviv has Israel’s best shopping. Shop till your credit card groans in bazaars, modern malls and designer boutiques on Sheinken, Dizengoff and Shabazi streets. And then we have the markets, from the middle eastern styled markets like the Carmel market in the center of Tel Aviv, to the specialized markets like flea-, second hand-, vegetables-, meat- and food-markets.

Exhibitions – Head to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art for Israeli, Middle-Eastern and European art, Beit Hatfutsot and the Eretz Israel Museum for history and culture, and Design Museum Holon for contemporary exhibits and many other museums.

Beaches – Many people are dreaming about white beaches and Tel Aviv has loads of white beaches in an excellent state and they are full each summer day when the tourists are waking up and fill the white burning sand near the cooling water of the sea.

Tel Aviv is not an ancient city, but relative young. But it’s combined with Jaffa, and that’s an old, ancient city with a huge often bloody history.

Haifa & the North Coast

Louis Promenade, Haifa
Louis Promenade, Haifa
Haifa and the North coast
Haifa and the North coast

Ancient PortsCaesarea was one of the great ports of antiquity and, 1000 years later, a walled Crusader stronghold. Akko (Acre), visited by Marco Polo on his way to China, is brimming with medieval and Ottoman history.

Spiritual Gardens – Haifa’s incredible Baha’i Gardens are a spiritual highlight for people of all faiths. Elijah’s Cave in Haifa is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims.  The area was once witness of the titan battles between the Jewish and the foreign gods with fire and brimstone and all.

Sea Grottoes – The sea grottoes of Rosh HaNikra feature hues of blue you never knew existed. For stunning panoramas of the Mediterranean, head to Haifa’s eagle’s-eye promenade, high atop Mt Carmel.

Lower Galilee & Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee
Sea of Galilee
Lower Galilee and Sea of Galilee
Lower Galilee and Sea of Galilee

Jesus’s Ministry – Mary is said to have experienced the Annunciation in Nazareth, later Jesus’s childhood home. It is believed that the Transfiguration took place at Mt Tabor, and Jesus spent much of his ministry around the Sea of Galilee. Here you can truly follow the footsteps of Jesus.

Roman Sites – Top excavations include the Roman and Byzantine city of Beit She’an, ancient synagogues at Hamat Tverya, Korazim, Capernaum and Tzipori, and the Belvoir Crusader castle.

World FoodNazareth is known for its East–West fusion cuisine; in Kfar Kisch you can dine the French way or sample delicious cheeses; in Kfar Kama you can try Circassian dishes from the Caucasus.

Upper Galilee & Golan

Yehudiya Forest Nature Reserve
Yehudiya Forest Nature Reserve
Upper Galilee and the Golan
Upper Galilee and the Golan

Wild Trails – Trails for all fitness levels abound, from the alpine summit of Mt Hermon (elevation more than 2000m) to the banks of the Jordan River (elevation less than 200m), and through the cliff-lined canyons of the Banias and Yehudiya Nature Reserves.

Migrations – Half a billion birds migrate through the Hula Valley – you can spot local and migrating species in the wetlands of the Hula Nature Reserve and Agamon HaHula, especially in spring and autumn.

Winery Visits – Many of Israel’s finest wineries, some of them boutique, can be visited at Katzrin, Ein Zivan and Odem on the Golan and on the Dalton Plateau northwest of Tsfat (Safed). But honestly, wineries you can find also in and around Jerusalem, even in the Negev, right in the middle of the desert.

And don’t think that the Golan is some dump nature area, because you are very wrong. The Golan has its own history and can also be called ancient, it knew Israelite settlements before many other cities in Israel (and the world). Ancient civilizations existed here already before the Canaan!

West Bank

Bethlehem
Bethlehem
West Bank
West Bank

Bazaars – West Bank cities revolve around their lively bazaars. Shop for fresh fruit, taste sweets and haggle over handicrafts in the colorful markets of Hebron, Nablus and Bethlehem.

Local Food – Don’t pass up any invitation for a home-cooked meal in the West Bank, where the dinner table overflows with spicy, tangy Middle Eastern delicacies. The best restaurants are in Ramallah.

Holy Sites – For Jews and Muslims the Cave of Machpelah is an important pilgrimage site. Christian sites include the Church of Nativity and the Mount of Temptation. No spiritual exploration of the West Bank is complete without a trip to the Samaritans of Mt Gerizim.

The what is now called West Bank is an area, with a many cultural influences from the Christians to the Israelites. Later it was conquered by the Muslims and since then they stamped their presence all in the area.

 

The Dead Sea

Palace-fortress at Masada
Palace-fortress at Masada
Dead Sea
Dead Sea

Dead Sea – Float on your back while reading the newspaper – a cliché but eminently doable in the hyper saline waters of the Dead Sea, which will relax your nerves and soothe your skin.

Masada – The Romans had already destroyed Jerusalem, but high atop Masada, 1000 Jews resisted the besieging might of Legion X, in the end preferring death to slavery.

Desert Oases -Year-round springs feed the dramatic desert oases of Ein Gedi and  Ein Bokek, where hikers encounter cool streams, luxuriant vegetation, Edenic waterfalls and rare wildlife such as majestic Nubian ibexes.

But that is not all, of course. There are important caves, there are mountains, deserts, wilderness, which is hardly touched by humans or civilizations.

It’s history is long, far before the Israelites, Romans, even the Canaan were populated the Middle East. Many traces of lost civilizations are still visible, but others are gone, hidden under the sand and waiting to be discovered over the coming years. Now the wilderness is traveled by Bedouins, trekkers, hikers and some tourists, with here and there some islands of wineries and other settlements, which manage to turn desert into grasslands or agriculture.

The Negev

Red Canyon
Red Canyon
Negev
Negev

Desert Trails – The Negev desert is filled with life. Hike through the wilderness of Makhtesh Ramon, Sde Boker or Ein Avdat and you’ll likely spot camels, ibexes and soaring birds of prey.

Coral Reefs – Keen to explore coral reefs and swim with schools of tropical fish? Then come to the Red Sea to snorkel or dive. Just dip your head underwater and enjoy the show.

Nabataean Sites – Home to biblical ruins such as Tel Be’er Sheva and Tel Arad, plus the ancient Nabataean cities of Avdat, Shivta and Mamshit, the desert is slowly revealing its secrets.

And of course, it’s also the place of beauty, mountains, deserts, canyons, plains, craters and oasis and here and there some ancient cities half buried under the sand.