New Miqwe (Ritual Bath) Path at the Ophel Site in Jerusalem is now open

February 9, 2017

"Nevertheless a spring or cistern holding water shall be clean: but whatever touches their carcass shall be unclean" (Leviticus 11, 36)
"... and he shall wash his body in water, and he shall be clean" (Leviticus 14, 9)
The ancient miqwe (ritual baths) path, at the Ophel site in the Davidson Center Archaeological Park, in the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park, was used by pilgrims visiting the Temple Mount. The experiential path is circular and modular, and was constructed and conserved in recent years by the Israel Antiquities Authority with the help of a generous donation by Mr. Kevin Bermeister.
The path enables visitors to better understand the historical and archaeological complexity of the Ophel site, which was continuously inhabited from the Iron Age to the Crusader period.
The accepted interpretation of the Biblical word "Ophel" (derived from the root of the Hebrew verb leha'apil meaning to ascend) is an elevated portion of the city where a king resided or an administrative center was situated, which was probably both high and concealed. In Jerusalem, the ascent was from the South: pilgrims ascended - both physically and spiritually - from the Siloam Pool by way of the City of the David to the Ophel and its ritual baths, and from there to the Temple Mount. At the same time festivities and events in this area departed from the Temple Mount in the North.
The Ophel established its status in this area as a transition point between the secular and the sacred and vice versa, supporting the pinnacle of a personal, religious and national journey that took place three times a year at Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.
Visitors to the new miqwe path will walk over bridges and stairs that "float" in between the ruins of buildings and installations, surrounded by archaeological, historical and halakhic explanations, focusing on the characteristics of ritual baths and their role in Jewish society of the Second Temple period in general, and of the pilgrims' route in particular. The route provides shaded stations, observation points and gathering areas.
A ritual bath is a water installation that is unique to the Jewish tradition. Its spiritual-religious purpose is to cleanse the bather of impurities. The halakhic principles of its construction were developed during the Second Temple period, and are detailed in the Miqwe'ot tractate of the Mishnah, following the destruction of the Second Temple. The arrival of tens of thousands of pilgrims that were lodged in the city's houses during the three pilgrimage festivals necessitated an infrastructure capable of supplying water used both to observe the religious rituals, and also to maintain the purification rituals.
For hundreds of years after the destruction of the Second Temple Jews were forbidden from residing in Jerusalem, and the city's non-Jewish inhabitants utilized the abandoned baths for their own purposes as water cisterns, storage spaces, quarries etc.
The first part of the new path is the "descent": the visitors descend South alongside the southern Ottoman wall outside the Temple Mount, to areas that provide an in-depth illustration of the finds, including an exhibit of stone vessels and an explanation about the purification of vessels, clothes and objects. On the way the visitors learn about the religious laws concerning the miqwe, its operation and the water cisterns.
The second part of the path is the "ascent" where the visitors go up alongside sights and explanations, on an experential route, the pinnacle of which is the exciting vista of the monumental Hulda stairs and the double gate on the Southern wall of the Temple Mount. A Jew who arrived to this point in ancient times entered the sacred compound and fulfilled the mitzvah of "aliya laregel" (pilgrimage).
Tours and events - the East Jerusalem Development Company: 02-6277550
The tour is suitable for the entire family, throughout the year.
The park is open daily (except Saturday) and offers guided tours in English and Hebrew.
Tickets can be purchased at the ticket booth of the Davidson Center Archaeological Park
Photographic and video credit: Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities 

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