The Israel Experience

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Staff Spotlight: October


So our new news from the lab is that we have two interns! They will be with us for the next few months, so this month’s Staff Spotlight falls onto Hannah Ripps and Renata Roitman.

They are a part of the MASA program, Top Israel Interns. The five month program provides Hebrew classes for the first month, periodic trips to see the country, and connects the participants with internships in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. This year’s group had 10 people in Jerusalem and 16 interning in Tel Aviv.

According to our interns, the best part of the program is the internship (obviously) as well as the ability to really get to be a part of Israel. They have an incredible amount of independence and are housed in the center of Jerusalem with easy access to everything the city has to offer. They can even wake up in the morning and grab breakfast at the shuk (market). It is a truly immersive experience and is an amazing way to get to know the culture and the people of Israel.


Renata is from San Paolo, Brazil. She came to Israel because she wanted to experience living here and to live in a country with good quality of life. She chose to intern for the Sifting Project because we do “interesting and important work.” She said that in Brazil, people are not aware that the Jewish people were here in Israel for a long time before the creation of the country Israel. She thinks that our project has the ability to make people see that Jews were here before.

In Brazil, Renata studied journalism in university. In our lab, Renata is helping us work on PR and social media, and is focusing her efforts on our Spanish and Portuguese speaking donors and volunteers. Right now, she is working on a Portuguese translation of the archaeological history of the Temple Mount and Spanish translation of the interview with Zachi from Channel 2. I will post links ASAP. Renata said that she is learning a lot about the behind-the-scenes work of an NGO; the difficult parts of what we are doing like our quest for funding and creating educational content. She also has really enjoyed sifting in the field and seeing where the initial work happens.


Hannah is from Pensacola, Florida. She chose to come to Israel because she loves this country, and for academic and career related reasons. It was an opportunity to get experience and see the world. She is interested in archaeology, Jewish history, and Jewish art and wants to become fluent in Hebrew. Clearly, Israel is a great place for all of that.

Hannah graduated with a degree in archaeology from Barnard University and Jewish Art History from the Jewish Theological Seminary as a part of a dual degree program. She wanted to intern at the Sifting Project as a way of getting her foot in the door to the archaeological community in Jerusalem and in Israel.


tiny flask with faces

In the lab, Hannah is cataloguing and recording information about objects found in the sifting that have not yet been identified. The lab cannot continue the research process and statistical analysis of the site without the completion of the cataloguing of finds, and we are extremely grateful to Hannah for helping us tackle this huge task. Specifically, she is researching a tiny flask in a neoclassical style. It might be from Germany based on the facial hair and helmet of the man, but we are not yet sure what it was used for.


Example of gadi material

She is also studying what we are calling the “gadi” material (based on one find with an ancient inscription of a ג and ד). It is thought that these artifacts might be fossils, though there is an internal debate about whether they were used as amulets or writing implements. Further research will hopefully clear that up. If you have information on either object, please let us know on our unidentified finds website: http://www.echad.info/uifinds/ .

img-20161026-wa0000For Hannah, the best part of being involved with the Sifting Project has been finding a Hasmonean coin while sifting. Though it isn’t cleaned yet and we can’t see what is on it (we are waiting for funding to clean the thousands of coins found in the sifting that have yet to be cleaned), we think that it is from the Hasmonean period because it is cut on one side like many from that period. She has also been getting a better understanding of archaeology in general, how research is conducted, and especially how the archaeological system in Israel is organized. She said, “if this is where I want to be for my career, I’m getting a good introduction to that.”


The girls agree that this program has been an amazing opportunity and that everyone they are meeting is friendly and welcoming. (I promise I didn’t force them to say that. Our staff really is just that amazing.) They are both also considering the possibility of making Aliyah and would like everyone to know that they are looking if you are hiring 😉 .

We at the Sifting Project are really grateful to our wonderful interns for all of their help and we hope that you have a fantastic rest of your program. Once part of the TMSP family, always a part of the TMSP family, so know that you will always have a place in Israel.

Archaeological Evidence of the Jewish Temples on the Temple Mount

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Model of the Second Temple at the Israel Museum

The Need for Proof of the Jewish Temples

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted today a biased and political resolution that disregards Judaism’s historic connection to the Temple Mount, casts doubts regarding the Jewish connection to the Western Wall, and protests against the Israel Antiquities Authority’s attempts to supervise construction work on and around the Temple Mount in order to preserve the antiquities and other archaeological data.

This is a purely political resolution that was composed by Palestinian officials and that was accepted by UNESCO as is. It seeks only to preserve the heritage of Islam, and while this is important, UNESCO must not do this at the expense of Jewish and Christian heritage and culture. This resolution does not recognize the daily reality of Jerusalem or the Temple Mount, and its political agenda is in opposition to UNESCO’s own charter and purpose of protecting and promoting science, culture, education and heritage.

The events in the past decades prove that Muslim authorities on the Temple Mount, which are officially controlled by Jordan but controlled by the Palestinian authority and Hamas in practice, have no concern of preserving even their own archaeological heritage, or advancing education, science, and culture at the site.

In 1999, the Muslim authorities excavated a gigantic pit in the south-eastern area of the Temple Mount using bulldozers and removing 400 truckloads of dirt. This was done without any archaeological control or supervision, and, as a result, we have established the Temple Mount Sifting Project in order to save, preserve, and study the vast amount of archaeological artifacts that were buried in this soil and discarded. We retrieved hundreds of thousands of artifacts from this soil dating to the First and Second Jewish Temple periods and onwards, including Christian and Muslim era artifacts that were discarded.

A very interesting Muslim artifact dating to the 18th century that was found is a seal of the prominent Muslim Qadi (Judge), who also served as the Jerusalem deputy Mufti. His name was Sheick ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Tamimi. The current Waqf administrator, Sheick Mohammed Azzam al-khatib al-Tamimi, the current director of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, is from the same family, and may be one of his descendants. It is ironic that Jewish archaeologists are the ones who preserve the Islamic Waqf heritage that was neglected and discarded by the Waqf itself.

The existence of the Jewish Temples are beyond any doubt. There is substantial evidence in the numerous historical sources that witnessed them, including Pagan historians that were not affected by the Jewish or Christian tradition, such as Berossus (3rd Century BCE), Menander of Ephesus (2nd Century BCE), Hecataeus of Abdera (c. 300 BCE), Mmaseas of Patara (c. 200 BCE), Diodorus of Sicily (1st century BCE), Strabo (1st century BCE), Tacitus (1st Century CE) and many others.

Although it is not possible in today’s political climate to conduct a proper archaeological excavation on the Temple Mount, there are many archaeological finds that support the almost universally accepted fact: it is the site of the Jewish Temples. Many of the artifacts come from the Temple Mount Sifting Project, and many others can either still be observed at the Temple Mount, were found accidentally during renovations, or were found in archaeological excavations at surrounding sites.

Following is a list of some selected artifacts from among many others:

1Temple Warning Inscription – In 1871, French archaeologist Clermont-Ganneau found a Greek inscription warning gentiles not to enter further into the temple compound. These kind of inscriptions were also witnessed by the 1st century CE historian, Josephus Flavius (War 5, v, 2; War 6, ii, 4; Antiquities 15, xi, 5).

2The Beit Hatekia Inscription – Archaeologist Prof. Benjamin Mazar in 1972 found this Hebrew inscription which had fallen from the south-western corner of the Temple Mount and was found in the rubble being excavated by archaeologists excavating nearby. The stone carries the inscription “lebeit hatekia lehakhriz” which means “to the house of the blowing of the trumpet to announce.” Jewish historians and rabbinical sources described the custom of blowing the trumpets from the Temple Mount in order to announce the time of the sabbath and sacred holy days (Sukka 5: 5; Babylonian Talmud Shabat 35: 2; Tosefta Sukka 4; Wars IV, X, 12).

sealDKA LYH seal – In 2011, Archaeologist Eli Shukrun found a tiny fired clay object stamped with an inscription consisting of the Hebrew letters דכא ליה (“DKA LYH” or ”Deka Leyah”) in a drainage tunnel at the foot of the southern end of the Western Wall. Talmudic scholar, Prof. Shlomo Naeh, convincingly showed that this is a unique object that was used as a token / voucher that enabled the Temple administrator priests to keep track of commerce related to sacrificial offerings. This practice is documented in the Mishna, the first written redaction of Jewish Oral Law dating to around 200 CE (Shekalim 5: 3-5). The inscription upon the seal marks the type of sacrifice: “Dekhar” (ram), “Aleph” (first day of the week) and “Yehoyariv” (one of the twenty-four priestly families who worked shifts in the Temple).

4High Priest Golden Bell – In the same excavation at the drainage tunnel by Eli Shukrun, a golden bell was found dating to the Second Temple period. There is no precedent for this artifact from any excavation in Israel. Our only knowledge of such an object is from the biblical description of the bells sewn to the garment worn by the high priest (Ex. 28:33-34).

5Miqvaot – Numerous Miqvaot (Jewish ritual immersing purification baths) were found in the areas surrounding the Temple Mount. There are also documented underground cavities upon the Temple Mount that were surveyed by explorers in the 19th century. One less known cistern which is located directly under the Al-Aqsa mosque was found by the British Mandate Antiquities Department in the 1940’s, but was never published. We found the documentation of this Miqveh in the British Antiquities Department archives and published it in 2008.

6Herodian Architecture – Several locations upon the Temple Mount, especially the Double Gate entry halls under the Al-Aqsa mosque, preserve until today one of the finest examples of Herodian art engraved on stone. Several gates of today’s Temple Mount still preserve remnants of gates from the Late Second Temple Period.

7Eastern Wall’s section from the First Temple Period – The lower courses north and south of the Golden Gate in the eastern wall are dated by Temple Mount scholars to the First Temple Period (see Leen Riymeyer, The Quest 2006). The drafting of these stones resembles masonry stones from walls in other sites dated to the First Temple period.

8First Temple Period refuse pit at the eastern slopes of the Temple Mount – In 2009, we uncovered an ancient refuse pit on the slopes of the Temple Mount, which yielded rich archaeological material dating from the 10th century BCE (the time of King Solomon) to the 7th century BCE. The finds included a unique seal impression with an inscription that describes a tax that were given to the King from the city of Gibeo’n. According to the biblical descriptions, the house of the king was also situated on the Temple Mount.

9First Temple Period assemblage found in Waqf electrical wire trench – During the Waqf’s excavation of a trench in 2007 supervised by the Israel Antiquities Authority, a rich First Temple period assemblage was found just southeast of the raised platform of the Temple Mount. It included pottery, bones and fragments of figurines dating to the 6th century BCE, the later days of the First Temple period.

10A Water cistern at the southeast corner of the Raised Platform – A large underground water cistern documented by the researchers of the 19th century was recently dated by archaeologist Tzvika Tzuk to the First Temple period according to similarly shaped water cisterns recovered in other sites.

Artifacts from the Soil Discarded from the Temple Mount

The following were all found by the Temple Mount Sifting Project.

11Imer Seal Impression – The most direct evidence ever found of the First Temple comes from a tiny seal impression made of clay that was originally attached to a fabric sack, possibly containing silver or gold. The seal bears the inscription: “(Belonging to) […]lyahu (son of) Immer”. The Immer family was a well-known priestly family at the end of the First Temple period, around the 7th – 6th Centuries BCE. Pashhur son of Imer is mentioned in the Bible as “Chief officer in the house of God” (Jer. 20:1). It may be assumed that this object sealed some precious goods that were kept in the Temple treasury which was managed by the priests. This sealing is the first ever evidence of ancient Hebrew writing from the Temple Mount and of the administrative activity which took place in the First Temple.

Artifacts from the time of King Solomon – Some of the artifacts found by the Sifting Project date to the 10th-9th centuries BCE, the time of King Solomon, builder of the First Temple, and his successors. These artifacts are rare in Jerusalem and they have brought forth critical evidence in the heated debate about the size of Jerusalem in this period. Some scholars in the past doubted that the Temple Mount was annexed to Jerusalem during the 10th century BCE. They suggest that Jerusalem was not a capital city but rather a small village. These artifacts contradict this minimalist assertion and confirm the biblical account regarding Jerusalem during this period. The finds include pottery sherds, a rare stone seal that is conical in shape, and a rare arrowhead.

13Half-Shekel Silver Coin – From the Second Temple period the Sifting Project has recovered over 800 Jewish coins. Many of the coins from the late Second Temple period seem to be burnt, probably as a result of the fire that led to the destruction of the Temple. A particularly exciting find is a rare silver coin minted during the first year of the Great Jewish Revolt against Rome (66/67 C.E.). The coin features a branch with three pomegranates and an inscription in ancient Hebrew script reading “holy Jerusalem” (ירושלמ קדשה). The reverse side of the coin features temple vessels and is inscribed “half shekel” (חצי השקל).

These half-shekel coins were used to pay the Temple tax during the Great Revolt, replacing the Tyrian shekel used previously. It appears that these half-shekel coins were minted by the Temple authorities on the Temple Mount itself. This half-shekel tax for the sanctuary, mentioned in the Book of Exodus (30:13–15), required every male to pay half a shekel to the Holy Temple once a year. Our half-shekel coin is well preserved but bears scars of the conflagration that destroyed the Second Temple in 70 C.E.

showimage-ashxMenorah Potsherd- A potsherd bearing a symbol resembling the Temple’s menorah was found in the sifting. Based on its clay type and texture, the potsherd dates to the period of Byzantine rule over Jerusalem , from 324 to 640 CE or the beginning of Early Islamic Period (7th-8th Century CE) showing that even then, there was a connection to the Jewish Temple that had been destroyed.

14Herodian Temple Courts Lavish Paving – Hundreds of opus sectile stone tiles were found in the sifting. Opus sectile (Latin: “cut work”) is a technique of paving floors in lavish geometric patterns using meticulously cut and polished polychrome tiles. Many of the tiles have been dated to the Late Second Temple period based on parallels found in Herodian palaces. Their dimensions are based on fractions of the Roman foot (c. 29.6 cm). Flavius Josephus, writing about the open courts surrounding the Temple, says, “Those entire courts that were exposed to the sky were laid with stones of all sorts” (Jewish War 5:2) Lately we have managed to reconstruct some of the patterns of these special floors using geometrical principles and through similarities found in floor designs used by Herod at other sites.

For more information about the Temple Mount Sifting Project, check out the Nov/Dec 2016 issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review.

Jewish Linkage to the Temple Mount after the Temple Destruction

The Jewish rabbinical sources during all centuries after the Second Temple’s destruction in year 70 CE indicate that the site was the focus of Jewish prayers and thoughts. In addition, several Jewish graffiti inscriptions were found within the Temple Mount done by Jewish pilgrims during the medieval periods. This is in spite of the difficulties and bans put upon Jews dwelling and visiting in Jerusalem. These inscriptions indicate a continuous linkage of the Jewish people to their holiest site.

Documents that were found in the Cairo Geniza tell us about the Jewish residents of Jerusalem during the Early Islamic period who had a custom to encircle the Temple Mount and pray in front of the Temple Mount gate. One of the most prominent Jewish rabbis in the Medieval Era, the Rambam, wrote that he entered the Temple Mount and set upon himself a private annual feast day for that occasion.


As mentioned above, due to the comprehensive historical sources and Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions about the Temple Mount, there is no need for archaeological evidence to prove the existence of the Jewish Temple upon the Temple Mount. Unfortunately, the Temple Denial agenda that was created 20 years ago and promoted by Palestinian politicians and religious leaders managed to expand to some Arab scholars and apparently has also now been adopted by UNESCO. Since they claim that no archaeological artifact proving the existence of the Jewish Temples upon the Temple Mount was ever found, it is important to bring this proof and research regarding these very real artifacts to the general publish.

If you would like to donate and help us continue our research on this important subject,

please click here.

Symbols of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles)

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Sukkot and the Temple

Sukkot, known as the Feast of Tabernacles in Christian writings, was one of the three holidays where Jews would gather in the Temple in Jerusalem (the others being Passover and Shavuot). Sukkot was the easiest time of year to make the pilgrimage to the Temple, and hundreds of thousands of people would come and live in sukkot (booths) in Jerusalem. Sukkot was the most important Jewish festival before the destruction of the Second Temple. In the Mishna, the oldest codification of Jewish law, Sukkot is not even named but rather referred to as HaChag (The Holiday).

The Temple Mount was the heart of the celebrations of Sukkot. The best example of this is described in Maccabees 10 6-8. It describes how after the Maccabees cleaned the Temple, they celebrated what would be Channukkah in the manner of Sukkot because they had not been able to celebrate Sukkot properly in the Temple due to the restrictions of the oppressive Hellenistic regime. The 8 days of Channukkah were based on the 8 days of Sukkot, and Channukkah was celebrated with the four species of Sukkot.

sukkot-4species6And they kept eight days with joy, after the manner of the feast of the tabernacles, remembering that not long before they had kept the feast of the tabernacles when they were in the mountains, and in dens like wild beasts.
Therefore they now, carried boughs, and green branches, and palms for Him that had given them good success in cleansing his place.
And they ordained by a common statute, and decree, that all the nation of the Jews should keep those days every year.
(Maccabees 10 6-8. Translation from the Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition of the Bible).

Coins and Symbolism

The four species of Sukkot, the lulav (palm branch), hadas (myrtle), aravah (willow), and etrog (citron), are probably to the most recognizable symbols of the festival. During the First and Second Jewish Revolts against the Romans (66-70 CE and 132-136 CE), Jews minted their own coins with Jewish symbols and messages like, “for the redemption of Zion.” This was an important way of spreading their message amidst illiteracy and difficulties in disseminating information.


1/4 shekel coin found by the Sifting Project. From First Revolt 69/70 CE.

This is a ¼ shekel coin found in 2010 by Yesnia Barcia, a volunteer at the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Made of bronze, the obverse shows a goblet and reads, “Redemption of Zion.” The reverse shows a lulav and reads, “4th year.” It is a coin from the first Jewish revolt, meaning that this coin dates to the year 69/70 and is from the last year that a Jewish Temple stood on the Temple Mount.

The goblet pictured may have been a pitcher for libations on the altar in the Temple. The Ramban thought it might represent the vessel that held the manna that escaped with the ark from the Holy of Holies before the Temple’s destruction. It also resembles a goblet featured on the arch of Titus, and is clearly an important vessel from the Temple even if we don’t know what it represents exactly.

Palm branches are symbolic of victory in the Hellenistic and Roman world as well as in Jewish iconography. The lulav can be depicted as the symbol of victory and vindication on the Judgement Day. Vayikra Rabba 30 describes how when a man emerges from before a judge holding palm branches, we know that the verdict was in his favor. The midrash relates that when the nation of Israel comes before the Almighty on Rosh Hashana in judgement, when Israel comes out with lulav in hand, celebrating Sukkot, the verdict was in its favor.


Close up of 1/4 shekel

On this coin, the lulav is closed and includes the arava and etrog like we have today. One of the ways that you can identify the hadas branches on this coin is the dots which are the fruits of the hadas. Interestingly, the Mishna says that one can’t use hadas branches with fruit, but it is possible that at the time of the First Revolt, this practice was acceptable. By the Second Revolt 70 years later, the coins no longer depict fruit on the hadas branches.

We do not have coins from the Second Revolt on the Temple Mount because Bar Kochba (the leader) and his forces never reached Jerusalem. Though the coins from the Second Revolt are very similar to those of the First Revolt, the differences are quite telling. In addition to the subtraction of the fruit of the hadas branches, the lulavs on the coins of the Second Revolt show only one hadas and one arava versus the many branches of hadas and arava on the coins of the First Revolt. This is according to the opinion of Rabbi Akiva, who was the spiritual leader of Bar Kochba and the revolt. Today, Jews follow the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael and the Rambam, and use multiple branches of hadas in order to beautify the mitzvah of shaking the lulav.


Coin dating to Second Revolt 132/133 CE. Photo Source from: http://www.amuseum.org

This is a coin from the Second Revolt. It is a silver sela dating to 132/133 CE. On the reverse, you can clearly see the lulav and etrog as described above with one branch of each type of tree and lacking fruit. In the 1950s, a letter was discovered from Bar Kochba ordering Judah Ben Manasseh to supply him with lulavs for his army so that they could celebrate the festival even in the midst of major battles. The importance of Sukkot was such that it has inspired celebration amidst the battles of Bar Kochba and the Maccabees, and has been a symbol of Jewish victory and identity on coins of the Jewish Revolts against the Romans. Yet one cannot separate the importance of Sukkot from the importance of the Temple and the Temple Mount. The obverse of this coin shows the Temple on the Temple Mount and was probably a stark reminder of what the Jews had been missing since the Temple’s destruction 72 years earlier. These coins, used as money, were also a calculated reminder of what being Jewish was about and what the Jews were fighting for.

A Few Ideas

I would like to share with you all a few ideas before we go into our celebration of the holiday of Sukkot. At our New Year party just now, our director Zachi Dvira gave a beautiful speech. In it, he talked about the idea that Sukkot is a holiday where we go back to basics and realize how grateful we are for the things that we have. This is a lot like the Sifting Project. We are grateful for the pieces of the Temple Mount that we have been able to recover, and our job now is to focus on what we have and do the research that will enrich our understanding of the Temple Mount. We are at the point now, where our work in the lab is enabling us to “find” understanding exponentially and is paramount even to some of the finds now being uncovered at the sifting site. May we have a productive year and be able to share our successes with you.

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