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Tel Jericho - Archaeological tell of the remains of ancient Jericho
Rahab's house seen from above

About Tel Jericho

The house of Rahab on Tel Jericho
Rahab's House - the only undestroyed building on the site

The most prominent place in Jericho is the "Tell" - the place of the Ancient Jericho.

The 'Tell' was surrounded by walls, regarding which our Rabbis taught: "One who sees the Walls of Jericho that fell must recite the blessing ‘who has made miracles for our fathers in this place.’" These walls were from the Bronze Age, which according to archeology, had been refurbished when the occupants of Jericho faced Joshua conquering the Land.

The walls have been excavated, and it is possible to see them. What a miracle - the entire eastern section of the wall (facing the direction from which Joshua and the People of Israel came), simply disappeared. As our Rabbis taught: the wall was swallowed up in its place.

The watchtower, adjacent to the wall on eastern side of the city, is apparently the city gate. It is conceivable that this was the house of Rahab the harlot, who resided next to the city gate. It is the only building on the site which is not totally in ruins, for the spies promised that Rahab and her household will be spared the destruction of Jericho (Joshua 2:18).

Some of the supporting walls, which can be seen today, are from the time of the Judges, when the Moabites, headed by King Eglon, briefly conquered Jericho.

Jericho and the Date of the Exodus

Tel Jericho seen from the road
Tel Jericho seen from the road

By: Dr. Bryant G. Wood, Director of Associates for Biblical Research

For the past quarter century the great majority of middle east archaeologists and ancient historians have insisted that the Jewish people left the bondage of Egypt around 1230 or 1240 BC and not earlier. It was archaeological evidence from sites such as Jericho that led to this consensus, not internal evidence from the Bible. But the "late date" for the Exodus has been a thorny and difficult issue for many...  Read the full article

Jewish Law Pertaining to the Rebuilding of Jericho after its Conquest

Taken from an article by Ari Z. Zivotofsky & Yosef N. Zivotofsky, and based on the Davar Torah said in the Shalom al Israel Synagogue by Rav Yair Shilav of the Shiloh Yeshiva -

This extract, concerning Jericho and Tel Jericho was taken from the author's original article "Visiting the Holy City of Jericho", which appears in full here.

It is not only the synagogue, but the city as well that has special significance and motivated us in wanting to visit, or more accurately, make a pilgrimage. Jericho is one of the oldest and lowest (244 meter below sea level) cities in the world, and the Jewish history of Jericho dates all the way back to the famous Biblical story of its miraculous capture by Joshua. In response to a Divine command, the Israelites encircled the city once a day for six days and seven times on the seventh day, in a procession that was led by seven priests with seven ram's horns and the Holy Ark. After the final encirclement on the seventh day, they blew trumpets and the people issued a great shout; the city's wall sank and the Israelites entered the city, burned and destroyed it and its contents, and killed its inhabitants (Joshua 6:1-21).

Also known as as "Ir haTemarim" - city of palm-trees, Yericho is blessed with the abundant waters of the Jordan River a mere 6 kilometers to the east and its own underground springs that feed its famous oasis. The result is a lush green patch in the midst of an otherwise barren desert. Its natural resources, beauty, and climate made it a favorite for rulers throughout history, and its strategic location along trade routes and desirable location commanding a fjord across the Jordan River, led to continuous competition for its control.

A reading of the conquest of Yericho in Tanach presents a puzzle: Immediately following the "battle" for Jericho, Joshua issued two proclamations, the second of which is a curse upon any person who would rebuilt the city: "And Joshua charged the people with an oath at that time, saying: 'Cursed be the man before the Lord, who rises up and builds this city, Jericho; with the loss of his first-born shall he lay the foundation, and with his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it'" (Joshua 6:26). This is a most enigmatic and unexpected conclusion to the prolonged description of the preparations for this military conquest of the first city in the land where the Jews are destined to live. Joshua's curse on rebuilding Jericho was eventually fulfilled when, some 500 years later, Hiel rebuilt Jericho and all of his children died (I Kings 16:34), starting with Abiram his first-born and concluding with his youngest son Segib. The motive and parameters behind this curse have been the subject of much discussion, but however it is understood, the puzzle is clear: Was there not a Jewish presence in the city throughout the biblical and Talmudic periods, and what were the Jews doing there when they built the magnificent synagogue that we visited?

Sounding the Shofar on Tel Jericho on the anniversary of Joshua's conquest (on the 28th Nissan)

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 113a) codifies the curse and even seems to have expanded it by stating that the prohibition includes "building Jericho, even if it is called by another name, or building any other city and calling it Jericho.” This second half led me to ask then chief rabbi Shlomo Goren in 1981 about the propriety of the name "Mitzpeh Yeriho" that was being used for a new town being built overlooking the Jordan Valley. He responded that it was not a problem because Jericho was not to be the name of the city but merely a geographical reference as part of a larger name.

Various rationales are offered for the absence of the building prohibition from all the religious legal codes such as Maimonides’. The 19th century Rabbi Chaim Berlin explained that once Jericho was rebuilt there is no longer a prohibition to live there. Similar explanations were given by Rabbi Meir Simcha haKohen of Dvinsk and Rabbi Eliezar Waldenberg. Rabbi Sternbuch said that only building a complete city is prohibited. Others suggest that only an individual may not built the city, but the Jewish community may.

Taking note of the significance of Yericho in Jewish national tradition as evidenced in the Joshua story, the miracles of Elisha, the continuous Jewish presence there for millennium, and the special synagogues, the Talmudic sages ('תמיד ג', ח) saw fit to highlight the special holiness to the city its intimate link to Jerusalem. Although the city lies 30 miles east of and about 3600 feet lower than Jerusalem, many of the rituals taking place in the Temple in Jerusalem were said to have been sensed in Jericho. We are informed that the sounds of the flute, cymbals, magrefa, and shofar and the Levites' daily song, were heard in Jericho. In Jericho was also heard the voice of Gavinni, the Temple sexton, as he roused the priests with his cry of: "Arise, priests, to your service; Levites to your pulpits, and Israelites to your stands." And after he finished, the sound of the opening of the great gate of the Temple was heard in Jericho. Some say that even the voice of the high priest as he intoned the Divine Name on Yom Kippur was heard in Jericho. The link between the two cities was olfactory as well; the scent of the incense burning in the Temple was not only perceptible, but was all-pervasive in Jericho. It is said that the goats in Jericho would sneeze from the smell of the incense. In addition, the women of Jericho, even brides, had no need for perfume, for the same reason.

Ra'avad explained that Jericho, just like all "firsts," be they grain, fruits, shearings or male children, are consecrated. Thus, Joshua consecrated the first section of the Land of Israel he captured. And to emphasize this point, G-d performs these daily miracles which produce a tangible link between Jericho and >Jerusalem.

An amazing rabbinic teaching says that when the Land of Israel was originally divided among the various tribes, it had not yet been revealed where the Temple would be constructed, and hence which tribe would have to give up some of its land for that purpose. Since the site of the Temple Mount in the second Temple period was 500 x 500 amot, a 500 x 500 amah area was set aside as part of the original allocation in the outskirts of Jericho and would be given to the tribe in whose territory the Temple would eventually be built, in exchange for the land they would give up for the Temple site. It therefore turns out that the original land for the Bet haMikdash was set aside not in Jerusalem but in Jericho!

I recall visiting Jericho years ago. The first stop was the national park at the site of the tel where 23 strata have been identified by archeologists, principally the British Kathleen Kenyon in the 1950s. The site has yielded pottery and building samples spanning millennia. There are ancient cemeteries which have provided human remains for study, and also shed light on ancient burial practices including those of early Jews. Documents and mikvaot (ritual baths) from the Biblical and Talmudic period have been unearthed.

The Tell is not the middle of the city because unlike pre-Roman settlers who constructed their new cities on the ruins of previous cities, after the Romans destroyed the city in the first century the Christian Byzantines, to whom it was also holy, relocated in to its present location about one mile east. Nearby is the Spring of Elisha, where Elisha the Prophet is said to have sweetened the water (II Kings 2). This is the source of the water for the oasis.

As in much of Israel, earthquakes have played a role in the history of Yericho. For example, in 743, during the Umayyad Period, Caliph Hisham Ibn Abd el-Malik built his winter palace there. But just 4 years later a massive earthquake leveled the entire city and he did not rebuild it, leaving it deserted for centuries. The last major earthquake in Israel was on July 12, 1927 and its epicenter was right near Jericho. Current estimates are that over 200 people died, mostly in Jericho.

The Jewish community seems to have disappeared after the Roman destruction of the city, but a Jewish community was reestablished in the city in the seventh century, possibly by Jews fleeing from Muhammad. The Shalom al Yisrael Synagogue, oriented towards Jerusalem and containing the mosaic floor with the Jewish symbols of the time, i.e. menorah, shofar, and lulav, is from that period. The Jewish presence dwindled in the early middle ages, during which time the town was fought over by the Crusaders and Muslims. After Jericho was entirely burned by the Crusaders, the town was practically uninhabited until the 19th century. The most recent destruction of Jericho, or Al-Rihad as it is now called, was in 1840 by Ibrahim Pasha in a punitive expedition against the Bedouins. At the beginning of the last century only 40 to 50 Muslim families lived in Al-Rihad, while by the 1940s the town has expanded to about 3000 residents. In 1967 the Israeli census indicated a population of almost 7000, with another 2000 living in the surrounding areas. Its current population is estimated at about 15,000.

On the day that we visited Yericho we were not the only ones in the region. About 50 teenagers marched in the region and visited the Hasmonean Palaces without army permission or coordination in a protest to demand that Jews be permitted to live in the region. Many of them were members of the Garin Yericho, which advocates the renewal of Jewish settlement in the city.

It is truly a special city. Much credit goes to Erna for arranging these trips and it is important that Jericho not fall off of the Jewish and Israel radar screen. Rabbi Eliezer Valdenberg, one of this generation's greatest sages and known for his work, Tzitz Eliezer, wrote forty years ago: "There is no prohibition from Joshua to weaken our efforts to do all we can to prevent this important city from leaving our authority, ... All this [the many connections between Jerusalem and Jericho] teaches us that Jericho should never again leave our possession, just as, G-d willing, the holy city of Jerusalem will never again leave our possession".