By Phyllis Singer
One of the wonderful things about living in Israel – especially in Jerusalem – is the ever-present feeling that we are living in the land of the Bible, the land where our forefathers lived, the land where they walked, where they prayed, where they went to the Beit Hamikdash (the Holy Temple).
We live in the suburb of Talbiyeh, not very far from the Old City. Only a few blocks from our apartment there is a clear view to the Temple Mount – today dominated by the Muslims’ Dome of the Rock and Al Aksa Mosque – but several thousand years ago the home of the First and Second Temples. There Jews went to pray, and the priests (the kohanim) carried out the rituals primarily described in the Book of Leviticus.
The Book of Exodus describes in detail the garments that the priests wore – first when they served in the Tabernacle as the Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years and then when they served in the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. G-d commanded Moses about the garments of the priests and the high priest: “On the hem [of the high priest’s robe] … a gold bell and a pomegranate, all around. It must be on Aaron in order to minister. Its sound shall be heard when he enters the sanctuary before G-d and when he leaves.” (Exodus 28: 34)
Sometimes the words of the Chumash (The Five Books of Moses) seem remote, but sometimes they come alive and jump off the pages. These words from Exodus vividly came alive at the end of last month when archaeologists working at an excavation in the City of David, just outside the walls of the Old City, discovered a tiny golden bell in a drainage channel.
Archaeologists Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiques Authority and Professor Ronny Reich of Haifa University identified the bell as coming from the final period of the Second Temple, which was destroyed in 70 CE. “The bell looked as if it was sewn on the garment worn by a man of high authority in Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple Period,” they said.
Perhaps that “man of high authority” was a high priest. From the Chumash and other sources, we know that the robe of the high priest had little gold bells on it. The archaeologists have not ruled out that possibility.
The archaeologists believe that the bell must have fallen from the man’s garment as he walked in the area of the drainage channel. “The bell was exposed in the city’s main drainage channel of that period, between the layers of dirt that had been piled on the floor of the channel,” they explained. “This drainage channel was built and hewn west to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount and drained the rainfall in the different parts of the city, through the City of David and the Shiloah Pool to the Kidron valley.”
When Shukron shook the golden bell at a press conference, a faint metallic sound was heard.
The excavation area, including the drainage channel, which historians think Jewish rebels used to flee the Roman legionnaires who razed Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 CE, is set to open to the public later this summer.
Phyllis Singer, former editor/general manager of The American Israelite, and her husband, Allen, can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. She and Allen always enjoy hearing from Cincinnatians visiting Israel.