Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Susiyah 5: The Synagogue and the Olive Press

Meanwhile, continuing with our adventures in the excavations of Susiyah....

While Susiyah stretched out over three hilltops, the shul (synagogue) of Susiyah was located at the top of the highest hill, as was typical of Jewish settlements of the post-temple era.

From here, the highest point, we can look back over the ruins of the ancient settlement. The wall you see running down the middle of the photo marks where the original main boulevard of the city was.To get a better view, Michael Harroch walked over the ruined arches for some perspective. Of course, I would never do that. It's not that I'm afraid of heights, I'm just afraid of falling and dying.

Here, we see a mosaic praising the family which donated funds to build the shul.

Inside the shul, archaeologists discovered a much larger mosaic floor. Apparently, the custom at that time was to sit on the floor and pray, much like the Muslims, rather than the contemporary arrangement of sitting on chairs.

So where did all the money needed to build this shul come from? After all, we're in the desert, not a region known for material wealth.

Well, the main product seems to have been olives, which were pressed in this cave.

The locals have rebuilt some of the olive presses, restoring them to their former glory.

Unlike the grape presses, in which juice is extracted from the grape by simply stepping on them, olives are far more tough, and have to be crushed under a rolling stone.
Here, I'll demonstrate!

The dregs are then placed in a press to extract even more oil.
We traditionally refer to the month of Cheshvan, typically in October/November, as "Mar Cheshvan," or "Bitter Cheshvan." There is a tradition that this refers to the bitterness of the fact that Cheshvan is the only month with no holidays, and it follows immediately after Tishrei, which is full of the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.) But an alternate understanding is rooted in Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel. Cheshvan is the month where the olive pressing began. By crushing the olives under a stone, it would result in some of the bitterness from the crushed pits leaching into the oil, hence "Bitter Cheshvan."

There's plenty more to explore here, like this cave:

Where does it go? Who knows? Maybe the Ark of the Covenant is in there. But there's no time to crawl through it now, because Shabbat is coming soon. Our next stop is Maaleh Chever, where we will be spending Shabbat in the company of the local settlers.

Stay tuned...

1 comment:

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