Thursday, November 18, 2010

Times of Bar-Kochba and the Midras Caves

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, Yehuda, a great future Jewish leader is born . He eventually became the predecessor of many descendants who assumed leadership roles at significant periods in Jewish history. One of the famous leaders in jewish history living around the Jedian Hills was Shimon Bar-Kochba. While Bar-Kochba was not a descendant of the tribe of Yehuda, and while his revolt ultimately failed, his martial leadership was compelling and critical. For three years, he inspired hope and mobilized Jews to action against the powerful Roman forces.
A visit to the Midras Caves, or “Hiding Caves”, helps one better understand the perilous times of the Bar-Kochba Rebellion of 132 – 135. The Romans tried to rebuild and rename Jerusalem, as a secular city, Colonia Aelia Capitolina, banning circumcision and Torah study. Bar Kochba built the caves so that Jews could hide from the Romans. The caves were small enough to be concealed from them and capable of sustaining --just barely --Jewish life. The revolt took place throughout the entire Judea district and the outcome was disastrous: Judea was destroyed and many Jews were slaughtered. After the suppression of the revolt in the year 135 AC, most of the remaining Jewish population lived in the Galilee area, started a new Jewish community and helped usher in the Mishnaic period. The rest of the Jews from this time were dispersed throughout the world. .

The Midras Caves, which also served as subterranean bases for warriors, are a collection of chambers  connected to each other by tunnels. Most of the chambers allow for standing upright, but in the tunnels between the chambers, one must crawl in order to get through. Many of the hiding caves were also used for storage of food, oil and water. The cave is safe for crawling, and the route is circular. It takes about twenty minutes to complete an exploration of the caves.

Hiking to the caves can be followed by crawling into a tiny tunnel inside the rocky walls. There are arrows indicating the right direction. I wouldn't recommend going into tunnels that are not marked with arrows and signs, as one can get lost. Also, I would not recommend this site to people who have back problems as the tour requires turning and crawling. Don't forget to bring a flashlight with you. This site is appropriate for all ages although it may be too scary for children. The caves provide insight as to how people survived when they preferred to live simply and under difficult conditions, preserving their beliefs, their faith and their Jewish identity, rather than live in their former communities and become assimilated into Roman society.

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