Monday, August 29, 2011

Herodian Mansions and the Burnt House Jerusalem

Venues and Values
Israel Celebration Tours
By Rabbi Lee Diamond
Holiness of Beauty or Beauty of Holiness?

Herodian Mansions and Burnt House
In the heart of todays Jewish quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem and yet under its present surface is the Wohl Archeological Museum. Here we find the remains of homes of wealthy Jerusalemites from the time of Herod’s Second Temple. Within this vast underground complex we find beautiful mosaic floors, mikvaot (ritual baths), storage rooms, ovens, pottery, coins, wall frescos, furniture, a carved Menorah of the period and much more. All of these exhibitions allow us a glimpse into the life of the Sadducee community of Jerusalem Jews of the time.


An ICT Values discussion:
Our value question has to do with the challenges of this period.  These are the homes of a Jewish social strata affected and clearly influenced by Roman culture.  Yet they were part of the Jewish leadership of Jerusalem of the time including the Priests, the political leadership and the rich and powerful. To what extent were they assimilated into the surrounding Roman culture?  To what extent did they maintain their loyalty to Jewish culture and Jewish autonomy in the land?  Is it possible to be a loyal Jew or a Jewish leader and yet be profoundly influenced by the dominant world culture of the time?
A set table in this home of the Kohanim
As we examine the artifacts of these amazing homes, these questions become urgent.  But no less urgent is the question for our own time. How do we relate to our own dominant culture? Can we be Jewish or Jewish leaders surrounded by and influenced by an equally powerful culture and yet maintain a strong sense of our identity and connection to Jewish life?  Need we be corrupted by the dominant culture?  What is "Judaization?"  Can we expand our own Judaism from this exposure?  As we examine the “Jewish ness or “Roman ness” of this home, one may well ask the following question:  “If our homes were to be unearthed 2,000 years from now, would the archeologists know that we were Jews? How would they know this” What would they know about our Judaism and our integration into our society? Have we accepted the Roman or Western world’s view of the holiness of beauty? Have we maintained an unchallenged commitment to the Jewish concept of the beauty of holiness? Or have we discovered the way of integration between these to world views?
In one corner, close to the exit of this underground complex is a burnt section of floor, attesting to the destruction that took place here when Jerusalem was razed by the Roman forces.  Here one can discuss the loss symbolized by this destruction, the causes and ultimate affects of this loss to the continuity of Jewish life.  Here one can discuss the Jewish concept of self blame for own tragedies rather than blaming an enemy.  Here the concept of Sinat Hinam (baseless hatred) which is cited as the cause of destruction can be discussed.  Here too we can discuss the reverse concept of “Ahavat Hinam” or the “I-Thou” relationship which perhaps is the way to “right the wrong” of destruction.
A spear used by one of Priestly family defenders against the Roman destruction of Jerusalem
Our future depends on how we choose to live in our present and our present is determined by our understanding of and learning from our past.

1 comment:

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