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The Rich Jewish History of Tiberias

Tiberias became known as one of the four holiest cities in the Jewish religion
Tiberias and the Kinneret.

Tiberias and the Kinneret.

Tiberias is one the four Holy cities in Israel and is known as the city of water; its Jewish history is rich and ancient, dating back to antiquity.

In biblical times, Tiberias was a Jewish burial city. For this reason, many Jews originally refused to live there, since to do so was considered ritually unclean. Then, Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, decided to build the city of Tiberias in honor of the Roman Emperor Tiberias right on top of the Jewish burial city. Most Jews, however, refused to inhabit the city, until political circumstances caused Jews to reconsider their decision.

After the conclusion of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (around 70 CE), Jewish life within Judea was virtually wiped out of existence, thus forcing the Jewish people to relocate to the Galilee region. As a result, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai purified Tiberias of its graves, so that Tiberias could serve as the main center of Jewish learning and culture within the Land of Israel. The Sanhedrin, whose rulings affected the entire Jewish Diaspora, met in Tiberias, and the Jerusalem Talmud was written there, despite the fact that the Jews of Tiberias faced intense Byzantine persecution.

Due to the intensity of Byzantine oppression, the Jews of Israel would support the Persians in their attempt to conquer Israel, in the hopes that the Jewish people would be able to re-establish their ancestral homeland under Persian dominion, like was done in the past. Yet unfortunately, the Byzantines managed to defeat the Persians. The Byzantines in turn were defeated by the Arabs. Under Arab rule, Tiberias would remain a center of Jewish learning, with the Nikud vowel notation in Hebrew being invented within Tiberias under Arab rule in the seventh century. Between 1391 and the fifteenth century, a significant number of Sephardic Jews made Aliyah to Israel, fleeing a wave of persecutions in Spain, thus reinforcing the Jewish connection to Israel. Many of these Sephardic Jews settled in Tiberias. In fact, when the Holy Land was under Ottoman rule, Dona Gracia Nasi, a Sephardic Jewish woman, arranged with Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent to have a Jewish province in Tiberias, which would serve as a safe haven for Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. Some historians believe that this was an early effort to re-establish Jewish statehood. The community was somewhat successful for a period of time. Unfortunately, about one hundred years later, Tiberias was abandoned by the Jewish community due to fighting between the Jews of Tiberias and the local Bedouin population.

However, in 1740, Jews returned to Tiberias under the invitation of Bedouin prince Dahr el Omar. Rabbi Chaim Abulafia, a kabbalist from Turkey, soon after resettled in Tiberias. He collected money from the Diaspora to sustain the Jewish community in Tiberias, built yeshivas and synagogues, and renovated homes. Rabbi Menahem of Vitbesk and many other great Hassidic Jews settled within Tiberias not too long after that. During this period of time, Tiberias became known as one of the four holiest cities in the Jewish religion, due to its rich history of Jewish scholarship. In fact, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Tiberias had an influx of great rabbis into the city, re-establishing the city as a center of Jewish learning. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Tiberias had a population of 3,600, out of which 2,000 were Jewish.

PA TV recently broadcast a song titled ‘Oh Flying Bird‘ which claimed that the city of Tiberias was Palestinian. This is not the first time that PA TV has claimed that areas which are presently in Israel are in fact Palestinian.

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About the Author: Rachel Avraham is a news editor and political analyst for Jerusalem Online News, the English language internet edition of Israel's Channel 2 News. She completed her masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Ben-Gurion University. The subject of her MA thesis was: "Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab media."


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3 Responses to “The Rich Jewish History of Tiberias”

  1. Tim Upham says:

    Tiberius was fascinating. Experiencing the Tombs of Maimonides and Rabbi Akiva was so uplifting. If the Palestinians lay claim to it, they are just laying claim to a Jewish heritage. Because both Jewish and Palestinian heritages are located in this part of the world.

  2. אהובה טייב says:

    The Keter Aram Tsova (Aleppo Codex) was also written in Tiberias , in the 10th century.
    Jerusalem was a "no go" area for Jews.

  3. In the 10th century there were Jews in Jerusalem. More Jews and Christians than Muslims. Al Mukdasi wrote about it. But Jerusalem was used instead of Tiberia to title books like the Jerusalemite Tamud that was written nd seled in Tiberia in 400 AD.

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