Galilee discovery educates on Second Temple-era ritual purity

An ancient workshop uncovered by archaeologists in the Galilee sheds light on ritual norms in Israel during the Second Temple era.

A rare workshop for producing chalkstone vessels, dating to the end of the Second Temple era and the Roman period, was recently discovered at Reina, in the Lower Galilee.

The digs center on a small cave in which archaeologists have found thousands of chalkstone cores and other types of production waste, including fragments of stone mugs and bowls in various stages of production.

Like many other archeological finds in Israel, the ancient site was chanced upon during the course of construction work at a municipal sports center conducted by the Reina local council.

This is the fourth workshop of its kind ever to have been uncovered in Israel, with an additional workshop currently being excavated just one kilometer from the site. The previous two sites were uncovered decades ago in the Jerusalem area.

Dr. Yonatan Adler, senior lecturer at Ariel University and director of the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), explained, “In ancient times, most tableware, cooking pots and storage jars were made of pottery. In the first century of the Common Era, however, Jews throughout Judea and Galilee also used tableware and storage vessels made of soft, local chalkstone”.

The change in the choice of material seems to have been religious, as Adler pointed out, “According to ancient Jewish ritual law, vessels made of pottery are easily made impure and must be broken. Stone, on the other hand, is material which can never become ritually impure, and as a result ancient Jews began to produce some of their everyday tableware from stone. Although chalkstone vessels are well-known at many Jewish sites throughout the country, it is extremely unusual to uncover a site where such vessels where actually produced.”

Scrupulous Regarding Purity Laws

“Our excavations are highlighting the pivotal role of ritual purity observance not only in Jerusalem but in far-off Galilee as well,” Adler added.

The excavations have revealed an artificially hewn cave from which ancient workers quarried the raw material for the chalkstone vessels. Ancient chisel marks cover the walls, ceiling and floor of the cave. Inside the cave and on the ground nearby are strewn thousands of stone cores, the ancient industrial waste from stone mugs and bowls produced on a lathe. Hundreds of unfinished vessels were also found, apparently damaged during the production process and discarded on-site.

According to Adler, “The production waste indicates that this workshop produced mainly handled mugs and bowls of various sizes. The finished products were marketed throughout the region here in Galilee, and our finds provide striking evidence that Jews here were scrupulous regarding the purity laws. The observance of these purity laws was widespread not only in Jerusalem, but also throughout Judea as well as Galilee at least until the Bar Kokhba rebellion which ended in 135 CE. The current excavations will hopefully help us answer the question of how long these laws continued to be observed among the Jews of Galilee during the course of the Roman period.”

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Yardenna Alexandre, an archaeologist at the IAA who specializes in the study of Roman Era Galilee added that throughout the years, archeologists have discovered fragments of these kinds of stone vessels alongside pottery in excavations of houses in both rural and urban Jewish sites from the Roman period, in places such as Kafr Kanna, Sepphoris and Nazareth.

“Now, for the first time, we have an unprecedented opportunity to investigate a site where these vessels were actually produced in Galilee,” she said.

The fact that Jews at this time used stone vessels for religious reasons is well attested in Talmudic sources.

By: World Israel News