May 18, 2024
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May 18, 2024
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An Unlikely Eyewitness—The Israelite Tower

The first time I was introduced to the Israelite Tower in the Old City I was amazed. I mean I always love the “wow” sensation I get when visiting a place for the first time, but this was super-special and moving. Here we were standing at a relatively small archeological site, but the significance of the place was enormous. I couldn’t believe that right here in Yerushalayim, in the Jewish Quarter, a place that I have been to dozens of times, there are underground hidden gems, right under residential apartment buildings. The Israelite Tower is one of the Jewish Quarter’s hidden treasures.

Soon after the Six-Day War Israeli archeologists had the first opportunity to excavate the area of the Jewish Quarter. Under the tutelage of Professor Nahman Avigad, z”l many significant sites were uncovered, and it was then that the Israelite Tower was excavated. The findings were of such great historic and national significance that when they started to rebuild the Jewish Quarter they ensured that the apartment buildings’ foundations were built overhead and covered the site, and did not damage it. The foundations of the modern buildings were built into the archeological site and tourists could still go down and see the ruins. This indeed was the way the “Burnt House” was built on Rechov Tiferet Yisrael and the “Herodian Quarter” as well, all excavated by Avigad.

So what is the Israelite Tower? Avigad and his team uncovered fortifications dating to the end of Bayit Rishon, the First Temple period, a tower 45 feet below the modern street level with a 15-foot wide base and 26 feet in height, constructed of unhewn stone and filled with smaller stones. Since it was dated to the end of the Israelite period it received the name the Israelite Tower.

Nearby, excavations uncovered to the west of the tower, under the Cardo, and to the north of the tower (the Broad Wall) further fortifications from the time period.

So what was it that moved me so much when descending below street level to the tower? I truly had not expected what I saw nor the reaction I felt to it. Suddenly, the destruction of Yerushalayim was palpable.

Here was the Israelite Tower that witnessed the Babylonian siege:

And in the ninth year of his, Zedekiah’s reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar moved against Jerusalem with his whole army. He besieged it; and they built towers against it all around.

The city continued in a state of siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah.

By the ninth day [of the fourth month] the famine had become acute in the city; there was no food left for the common people.

Then [the wall of] the city was breached. All the soldiers [left the city] by night through the gate between the double walls… —the Chaldeans were all around the city. (Melachaim 2, 25 1-4)

Our tower was also eyewitness to the most tragic moments the “Children of Zion” endured in those times:

The precious children of Zion;

Once valued as gold—

Alas, they are accounted as earthen pots,

Work of a potter’s hands!

Even jackals offer the breast

And suckle their young;

But my poor people has turned cruel,

Like ostriches of the desert.

The tongue of the suckling cleaves

To its palate for thirst.

Little children beg for bread;

None gives them a morsel.

Those who feasted on dainties

Lie famished in the streets;

Those who were reared in purple

Have embraced refuse heaps.

The guilt of my poor people

Exceeded the iniquity of Sodom,

Which was overthrown in a moment,

Without a hand striking it.

Her elect were purer than snow,

Whiter than milk;

Their limbs were ruddier than coral,

Their bodies were like sapphire.

Now their faces are blacker than soot,

They are not recognized in the streets;

Their skin has shriveled on their bones,

It has become dry as wood.

Better off were the slain of the sword

Than those slain by famine.

Who pined away, [as though] wounded,

For lack of the fruits of the field.

With their own hands, tenderhearted women

Have cooked their children;

Such became their fare,

In the disaster of my poor people.

The LORD vented all His fury,

Poured out His blazing wrath He kindled a fire in Zion

Which consumed its foundations.

The kings of the earth did not believe,

Nor any of the inhabitants of the world,

That foe or adversary could enter

The gates of Jerusalem. (Eicah 4, 2-12)

The artifacts that remain on site, the arrow type, the ashes and the fortifications converge with the words of the Tanach and are physical evidence of what befell the Jews of Yerushalyim. On descending to the Israelite Tower the words above were ringing in my ears and overwhelmed my emotions as I viewed the arrow heads, ashes and soot that remain at the foot of the Israelite Tower. The siege and destruction were no longer left to our imagination. We can read the biblical account and feel the atmosphere of Yerushalyim during the Churban:

On the seventh day of the fifth month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the chief of the guards, an officer of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem.

He burned the House of the LORD, the king’s palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem; he burned down houses of every notable person.

The entire Chaldean force that was with the chief of the guard tore down the walls of Jerusalem on every side. (Melachim 2 25 8-10)

In our day we are appreciative of how fortunate we are to see the words of Zechariah (8, 4-5) unfolding before us:

There shall yet be old men and women in the squares of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age.

And the squares of the city shall be crowded with boys and girls playing in the squares.

And let’s pray and wish us all that the manner in which we conduct ourselves with one another will merit us to be zocheh such that our fasts turn into days of simcha as in the words of Zechariah:

The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth month, the fast of the seventh month, and the fast of the tenth month shall become occasions for joy and gladness… (Zechariah 8, 4-5).

Sara Bank-Wolf is a licensed Israeli tour guide with a specialty in family day trips in the Judean Foothills (Shefelat Yehuda), off the beaten track day trips close to both Yerushalyim and Tel Aviv. She holds an MA from Hebrew University in Jewish history and is completing a second MA in Land of Israel studies and archeology at Bar Ilan University. She combines her love for people, of Jewish history, the Land of Israel and the great outdoors in her tours and can be reached ar [email protected] and her website 

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