Photo Credit: Yuli Schwartz / Israel Antiquities Authority
The mikvah was hoisted and relocated on Sept. 29, 2020.

Before construction work began on a major interchange at the Hamovil junction in Lower Galilee, an archaeological salvage dig was carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority—because that’s what you do in a country where every square inch is suffused with historical treasures—and it revealed the remains of a Jewish agricultural farmstead from the Second Temple period (2000 years ago), including a magnificent mikvah – ritual bath.

The excavations were conducted with the help of workers from the village of Kfar Manda, students of pre-military preparatory programs, and volunteers from the vicinity, including residents of nearby Kibbutz Hannaton.

The ancient agricultural farm and the mikvah (at the bottom of the picture). / Abd Ibrahim / Israel Antiquities Authority

Kibbutz Hanaton has about 150 members, including six veteran families and another 70 families who joined about a decade ago. The kibbutz has a traditional community with an egalitarian synagogue and a mikvah. There’s also an Orthodox synagogue in the kibbutz.

Abd Elghani Ibrahim and Dr. Walid Atrash, Directors of the excavation on behalf of the IAA, suggested that “the existence of a mikvah unequivocally indicates that the residents of the ancient farm were Jewish, who led a religious and traditional way of life, and maintained purity as a Torah commandment. Ritual baths have been used in daily life by Jews since the Second Temple period and until today.”

The mikvah being prepared for relocation. / Abd Ibrahim / Israel Antiquities Authority

According to the two Israeli Arab scientists, “the discovery of the mikvah in the farmstead changes what we knew about the lifestyle of the Jews in the Second Temple period. Until now, we hadn’t discovered Jewish farms in the Galilee. It was considered that the Jews in the Roman period didn’t live in farms outside the villages or towns. The discovery of the farmstead at some distance from the village of the Shikhin and the large Jewish town of Sepphoris (Zippori), shows that Jews also settled in farmsteads that perhaps functioned as the rural hinterland of Sepphoris.”

About seventeen hundred years have passed since the farm was destroyed in an earthquake, and about fourteen hundred years since the site was finally abandoned.

Since it was not possible to preserve the mikvah in its original site—smack in the middle of a major highway intersection, it was decided to detach the installation from the rock and transplant it to a protected site for public display.

The IAA, together with Kibbutz Hannaton, launched a crowd-funding campaign for the project, with the aim of placing the ancient mikvah next to the modern-day mikvah on the kibbutz grounds. The project also received support from the IAA, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, Netivei Israel, the Jezreel Valley Regional Council, and local residents.

In the past week, preparatory work for the transfer was carried out. The mikvah, weighing approximately 57 tons, was detached from the bedrock and surrounded by a steel cage in order to protect it while it was being hoisted. On Tuesday this week, to the cheers of local residents, it was finally lifted in the air and hauled to its new location.

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