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B'siyata d'shmaya - With the help of Heaven


Photos from my Visit to the Hidden Ancient City of the Maccabees (Summer 5763)

In the hot summer of 5763 a good friend took me two times to see the ancient city and burial place of the Maccabees, the Jewish warrior family for which their actions merritted our having the holiday of Hannukah. This is a closed and semi-secret location, not yet open to the public. The new road connecting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem threatened to destroy the site. Ashkenazi Chief Rabbis Lau and Sephardi Bakshi-Doron and Chief Rabbi Kulitz of Jerusalem, have unequivocally condemned such gravesite desecrations as serious violations of halacha. At the time there were protests, ones which my friend went to. In the end the road was rerouted a few hundred meters, and thus the ancient settlement was saved! Here are my pictures, and some more information. These are the only photos available to the public either on the Internet or otherwise.

Photo of road, ancient city and ancient synagogue. [Annotated] 122kb
Up against the fence which bordered the ancient synagogue. The sign says it is part of a site of the Israeli Antiquities Authority. 244kb
Looking inside the fence into a mikva next to the ancient synagogue location. 164kb
Over the metal fence, looking into the synagogue, yellow lines indicate walls internal and external [Annotated] 138kb
General view of the synagogue site with fence and mountains in background. Facing North East. 107kb
Proximity of the synagogue (on the right) and the not fully completed modern highway, already in use. 82kb
Inside the fenced off synagogue area showing the old foundations. 157kb
An important photo, showing the synagogue in the modern fence, but notice the yellow annotations which detail the original walled Hasmonean Road. [Annotated] 177kb
Foundation stones of ancient Hasmonean city. Across he road are the burial locations, to the right inside the metal fence is the old synagogue area. 160kb
Walls and foundations from many of the structures which once stood here.
Three photos A.  BC.
Ancient walls which have been excavated leading to rooms with pottery. 179kb
Foundation of former structures. 141kb
Ancient steps which once might have lead into a home. 168kb
Several water wells and/or water storage cisterns. These are very dangerous, were roped off and someone put a pallet on top to warn people there is a deep drop.
Four photos A. B. C. D.
Water well/Cistern with day light showing through the top hole. The surrounding (underground) has been dug out letting light in. [Annotated] 89kb
17 One of a several ancient tombs, thought to be of the Hasmonean period. Possibly of the Maccabee family. These are arranged as the burial site is described in the Talmud. 182kb 18 Another one of the tombs. Bones were located (and removed) by Israeli archeologists. 188kb 19 This set of tombs had a hole in it, leading to a deep dark cavern. 291kb 20 I lowered the camera in by the strap, set the auto-flash and took this photo. You can see some type of string? hanging from the upper part of the cavern. 71kb
21 Fallen pillars which were said to be part of a decorative arch above the grave site. Note the paint on the pillar. This is not a natural occurrence. These pillars are detailed in the Talmud.
Two photos A.  B.
22 Photo demonstrating the distance from the old city, synagogue and the graves, once all together, now cut in half by the new road. [Annotated]. 145kb 23 Photo of the modern town of Modin near this ancient location. 127kb 24 Hills and modern construction. A = part of the new train system which will connect Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, that is the tunnel they are drilling for the underground train. B = On a clear day, right there, you can see the Mediterranean Sea. 156kb



At the time of the Greek conquest, there were two kinds of Jews living in the land of Israel. First, there were those who decided that Hellenism represented an attractive alternative to Judaism. For them, Hellenist culture was the way of the future, the way to gain acceptance into the larger Greek society, and the way to prosperity. Whether they abandoned Judaism altogether, or relegated it to a secondary role in their lives, they believed they belonged more to the theater and gymnasium than to the halls of Torah study and the synagogue. These Jews were the Hellenists. Though the majority of Jews remained loyal to the Torah and Judaism, the rise of Hellenism inevitably led to internal Jewish struggles. Not only did the confrontation with Greek culture open the doors of assimilation, but it also planted the seeds of a deep schism within the Jewish people. In the end, the Jewish war against Greece at the time of Chanukah would prove to be not only a war of Jew against Greek, but also a war between Jew and Jew - fought over the heart, soul and future of the Jewish people.


Close your eyes and picture a Jewish Rambo: His Uzi has just jammed, he's got one arm in a sling, he's about to take on 300 bad guys all at once - and he's wearing a yarmulke. That's Judah Maccabee!

The Hasmonean family was led by Matitiyahu and his five sons: Shimon, Yochanan, Yehudah (Judah), Elazar and Yonatan. Matitiyahu was a devout man who could not bear to see Judaism crushed. He and others went into hiding in order to study and preserve the Torah. Many were tortured and murdered for their defiance. A period of darkness descended upon Israel.

Though Matitiyahu's valor provided the initial spark for the revolt against the Greeks, he died shortly after the rebellion began. The mantle of leadership passed to his son Judah, and with that the course of history was forever changed. Judah Maccabee was a fearless leader, a brilliant battlefield tactician and a man capable of inspiring thousands to take up arms in the battle for the preservation of Judaism. He devised strategies for the Jewish forces to out maneuver the larger, better equipped Greek army.

With Judah at the helm, the Jews captured Jerusalem, rededicated the Temple and witnessed the miracle of the oil [Hannukah!].

Adapted from "Chanukah - Eight Nights of Light, Eight Gifts for the Soul," by Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf.   LINK

Read about the Maccabees in the Jewish Encyclopedia here & here


Arutz Sheva - "Ancient Modi’in" Feb 14, '03 / 12 Adar 5763

The modern city of Modi’in, built in the vicinity of the ancient Modi’in of Hannukah’s Maccabees, is proving to be an archaeological treasure, as well.

Recently, archaeologists working not far from the city unearthed the remains of a synagogue from the country’s Persian period. It is the only synagogue from that period thus far found in Israel. The remains of the ancient site were initially discovered as road work proceeded on a new road for the region. According to the Jewish Agency’s Global Jewish Agenda, “The remains attest to the existence of a Jewish settlement, which was established in the Second Century BCE, during the Hellenistic-Hasmonean period, and continued through the early Roman period, until the Bar Kochba revolt in the first half of the Second Century CE.”

The Agenda explains, “The discovery of hidden trenches has led researchers to conclude that passing foreign armies burned the village, causing its residents to flee, and later return and rebuild it.” Modern preservation works include stabilizing the walls, installing drainage to handle rain waters, and the construction of footpaths. The site is not yet open to the public, reports the Jewish Agency, “but the various organizations involved are busy preparing the master plan to preserve, develop, and maintain the site.”

The Persian period synagogue is the latest of the evidence found in Modi’in attesting to an ancient Jewish city in the vicinity. At the center of the modern city, there is a mikveh (Jewish ritual bath) from the Second Temple period, a Byzantine fortress, ancient wells and evidence of agricultural settlement. In addition, not far from the city, archaeologists have turned up an ancient cemetery.


In 1995, while building a new road from Ben Shemen north to Rosh Ha`Ayin, a large archaeological site of more than 20 dunams, was discovered. The site was completely covered with earth and had not been found during any previous survey. Excavations conducted from 1995 to 1996, directed by Uzi `Ad and the author, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority uncovered seven archaeological strata:

Stratum VII (Late Iron and Persian Period): A period of sparce settlement with a few small wall remains in the southwest.

Stratum VI (Hellenistic Period): Remains of three fortified buildings on the north side, probably from the second century B.C.E., and a farmstead, agricultural installations, water reservoirs and cultivated plots.

Stratum V (Late Hellenistic Period): The most interesting and signficant stratum with remains of a fortress (48 x 60 m) from the Hasmonean period, similar to the Hasmonean fortress at Beth Zur.

Stratum IV (Early Roman Period): A continuation of Stratum VI in the Herodian period, first century C.E., including renewal of the Hasmonean walls, and the construction of two baths, four miqva'ot, and other buildings, a tower, an olive press inside a cave, tabuns, and grain storage bins, prior to the destruction of the site in the Bar Kokhba revolt.

Stratum III (Byzantine Period): A large agricultural settlement and monastery from the end of the fifth century C.E., built above the remains of the Hasmonean fortress, including a basilica with a mosaic floor. Found in the church were the cover of a marble reliquary, a marble basin, marble column fragments, a bronze incense burner. A crypt with more than 100 burials was found below the atrium with objects dating to the early seventh century. Associated with the monastery was a wine press and three olive presses. Two hoards of coins from the time of Heraclius were found hidden below floors.

Stratum II (Early Muslim Period): A continuation of the flourishing settlement in the Umayyad and Abbasid periods, including the new construction of buildings and streets, and the continued use of the church. In the Abbasid period the church was destroyed by fire, and the site was abandoned during the 10th century.

Stratum I (Medieval): A sparce occupation during the 11th century and ending in the 12th century.