Professor Doron Bar, president of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, takes us on a trip in time within the Old City of Jerusalem to ruins found near Robinson’s Arch and discusses the tragedy of the destruction of the Temple.
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We are standing at the Davidson Center in the Old City of Jerusalem. Towering tens of meters above us is the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. These are the remains of Jerusalem’s Second Temple, first built by Jewish returnees to Zion in the 6th century BCE, and later renovated by King Herod in the 1st century BCE.
I am standing in the middle of an ancient Jerusalem street, a street that was walked by the city’s inhabitants as well as the many pilgrims who visited Jerusalem during this period to fulfill the commandment of pilgrimage to the Temple. They walked hundreds and thousands of kilometers to arrive here, coming from far-off places such as Babylon, North Africa, Syria, and Asia Minor, to offer sacrifices in Jerusalem.
The most impressive sight at this excavation site is without a doubt, the great pile of fallen stones lying on the ancient street. This mound of giant stones originally covered the entire street. It was decided to leave at least part of it in place, to illustrate the intensity of the severe destruction, experienced by Jerusalem in 70 CE during the Roman conquest.
Until the Great Revolt against the Romans broke out in 67 CE, Jerusalem enjoyed an unprecedented period of growth and prosperity. The city expanded further and further. Three walls were built. An impressive system of aqueducts brought it water. There were palaces and magnificent houses. But the diamond in the crown, the most important focal point of the city, was the Holy Temple, which attracted a great many pilgrims.
The Romans came to Jerusalem in 70 CE, to end the revolt that had broken out a few years earlier. Tens of thousands of soldiers marched on the city from every direction. It was a cruel and devastating siege. Joseph ben Matityahu tells that in the month of Av, the Romans breached the Temple Mount, and set fire to the Temple. Titus ordered his soldiers to wipe Jerusalem completely off the face of the earth, to the point that anyone who came here in the future, would be unable to tell that a city once stood in this place.
Indeed, archeological evidence of the destruction of Jerusalem is clear and plentiful. They can be found in many of the excavation sites from after 1967 when Israeli archeologists began digging in Jerusalem. This, for example, is why a layer of destruction was discovered at all of Professor Nachman Avigad’s excavation sites in the Jewish Quarter. Especially well known is the Burnt House, the home of one of Jerusalem’s wealthy families, discovered under a cloak of ash, some six meters below street level.
Here, standing before us is among the clearest and most difficult evidence of the destruction. After the destruction and burning of the Temple, Roman soldiers threw these giant stones, which had until then stood at the top of the Western Wall, heaving them one after the other, until they covered the street. The stones stayed in place until Israeli archeologists began excavating the ruins following the Six-Day War and the unification of Jerusalem. They decided to leave at least some of the stones in place, covering the ancient street, to remind us of the devastating destruction that Jerusalem went through in 70 CE.
Shavua tov and Tzom Kal from Schechter.
Doron Bar is the president of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. He earned his PhD from The Hebrew University in Historical Geography. Professor Bar is researching the development of popular and national holy places. He is a seventh generation descendant of an Old Yishuv Jerusalem family.