Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tiberian tombs

For T day on ABC Wednesday we travel north to Tiberias to visit tombs, some over two thousand years old.

(Touch your mouse button to enlarge any photo.)

The gate to the ancient cemetery.
(Everywhere in Tiberias you see ancient local basalt stones "impaled" on iron fences for decoration. Always reminded me of shwarma meat roasting on a turning spit.)

Just across the road is the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

This man was the only other person I ever saw during my wanderings in the huge cemetery.
He was praying at the tomb of an important Admor (the word comes from the Hebrew Adoneinu, Moreinu, Rabbeinu, meaning our master, our teacher, our rabbi).
Many of the revered old rabbis are buried here.

Tiberias is one of Israel's four "holy cities." The Chabad website explains it thus:
"Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries Tiberias received an influx of rabbis who established the city as a center for Jewish learning.  One of these was Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitbesk, one of the leaders of the third generation of the Chassidic movement, who, in 1765, emigrated from Eastern Europe together with a group of several hundred followers. During this time, because of its concentration of Jewish scholars and mystics, Tiberias became known as one of the four 'Holy Cities,' along with Jerusalem, Hebron, and Safed."

This was a rare instance of a modern-style use of basalt.

Most of the tombstones are so old their inscriptions cannot be read or are missing.

This design was unique.

This one is very unusual.

Ever since Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, built Tiberias some two thousand years ago, it has been shaken by battles, earthquakes, and a great flood.
Plus, I imagine many good stones were robbed from the graves by unfriendly "neighbors" or conquerors for reuse in building their own houses.
According to the sign, 350 graves have been repaired in the section where the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov are buried.
 The work was done by the Committee to Save the Tombs of the Ancient Ones.

The sign invokes God's blessings on the family of the benefactor "by the great merit of the righteous ones buried here."

Come back tomorrow and I'll show you  the divided (male-female) walkway that he had constructed for people to exit the cemetery after a funeral and some other things that were new (and strange) to me in this special place in old Tiberias.
UPDATE: Sorry, I forgot not everyone is familiar with Jewish burial.
A grave is dug, the shroud-wrapped body in put IN THE EARTH and is covered with earth.
Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.
OVER that goes the marker or tombstone or raised structure.
In Israel a coffin is used only for military and state funerals, not for the rest of us.
(Linking to inSPIREd Sunday.)


Turquoise Diaries said...

Very interesting post Dina. I have always find old cemeteries as very interesting places to visit.

RuneE said...

A very fitting T. Once again I have learned a lot, and knowledge is never wasted.

Anonymous said...

Was the ground too hard to dig for graves? Here in Hawaii, all remains are buried underground and a plaque is installed at ground level, indicating the name of the deceased and years of birth and death.

Pietro said...

This is very interesting, Dina. It's astonishing to see the tombs so near to each other, and there are no flowers decorations at all.

cieldequimper said...

Excellent T. As you probably know by now, I enjoy visiting graveyards, airports and having round Advent candles ;-) So this cemetary post is very informative and a pleasure for me.

Dina said...

Turquoise Diaries, and YOU have been in some in exotic lands!

RuneE, glad to hear that.

Gigi, no no, we are also buried IN the earth. I guess the above-ground part in the older-style graves might be misleading.
Thanks for the heads-up. I added an update to the post, explaining more.
Yes, I've seen the Hawaiian cemetery in Kay's blog. Elegant simplicity.

Pietro, close together? Well, it's not as if the dead need a lot of "living space."
In the modern cemeteries, many graves have potted plants on or around them. I'll show you a regular cemetery sometime.

Gerald (Hyde DP) said...

An excellent insight as always - good to see both the sea and the modern buildings in the background.

Dina said...

Gerald, yes, Tiberias is a mishmash of old and new.

Ciel, you and I could do entire blogs about graveyards, n'est pas? :)

Robin said...

Fascinating post, and the comment about the shwarma cracked me up :).

Reader Wil said...

This is a lot of information,Dina! I didn't know about the Jewish burial rites. Very interesting!Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for your visit!

Sylvia K said...

Your posts are always so interesting and I always learn something. I do appreciate that very much. The history is marvelous -- particularly in comparison with this very "young" country.

Thank you!


Leslie: said...

Absolutely fascinating! To someone like me, who lives in such a "new" country with such a lot of space, this is quite something.

Roger Owen Green said...

Always had an odd affection for cemeteries generally; these are particularly interesting, as they're far older than anything around here.

Kate said...

Is this the cemetery where Shindler is buried?

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Very interesting. I love old cemeteries.

jeannette stgermain said...

Glad for your last comment, I was going to ask why the graves were above ground (seems a lot more upkeep that way) - you have great imagination Dina...schwarma while you're at the cemetary (smile)

Jama said...

It's fascinating looking at the old tomb, over here due to land constrain, most old graveyard are all gone, being replaced by high rise home.

Dr M said...

It is interesting how "orthodox" Tiberius has become over the past several years. Your very intersting post shows how the "lesser" rabbis are getting their share of devotees now. Of course, the Ram Bam will always get the most!

Thank you for another wonderful day's finds!

moongipsies said...

very interesting. Thank you for posting.

Cloudia said...

Thank you for filling me with awe and Shalom today, Dina

Aloha, Friend!

Comfort Spiral

Leif Hagen said...

I think a world famous blogger and archieologist was walking through the cemetary . . . .

Dimple said...

Thanks Dina. Informative and interesting. I hadn't known that coffins are only for the well-known.

Rose said...

Another fascinating piece of history, Dina! And thank you for the explanation at the end; I, too, thought that the bodies were placed in the stone coffins above ground. While the cemetery has endured much, it's amazing that these tombs still stand.

Dina said...

Shalom all, thanks for your comments from which I learn a lot.

Kate, Oskar Schindler is buried in the Franciscan cemetery on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem.
I'll try to go there and get you a picture.

spacedlaw said...

A far more natural (and economic) way to bury people.
Any reason as to why those granite blocks are impaled on the fences? It hardly looks like decoration.

Anonymous said...

mahalo for the new info re Israeli graves, Dina. Much appreciated.

jay said...

The Jewish method of burial seems very sensible, and the cemetery is quite fascinating - and beautiful in its own way.

Thank you for the information!

GreensboroDailyPhoto said...

As always, what an education! Can't wait to see tomorrow!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for another interesting post, Dina. I always learn something whenever I visit your blog...

Dina said...

Thanks for all your ideas, friends.

Spacedlaw, I don't know, but I assume that the impaled basalt on fences throughout Tiberias is just a way of using the many antiquities that they find. Likewise, parts of Roman columns are planted in the sidewalks as anti-parking posts. They just have so many, not good enough for museums, too good to throw away.
Oi, I see that by mistake I wrote granite in my post. Just corrected that.

Tumblewords: said...

So interesting to see history in a current context. Excellent.

Kay said...

This is really interesting, Dina. It is all very new to me.

Dick said...

It seems to be a large cemetery there are so many graves and all so near to each other.

Marcia said...


♥ Łucja-Maria ♥ said...

Hello Dina!
Very interesting post. Fantastic relationship. I love watching old cemeteries.
It's the past and the story.
Happy week.

Bill Nicholls said...

Whay an amazing sight seeing all those tombs

Tom said...

...Dina, this cemetery looks like cemeteries in the south, no grass to mow!

Dina said...

Tom, in general, cemeteries in Israel have no grass. Even the modern ones.
But it is strange for me to imagine American cemeteries that are not green, like in the South as you inform us.

Friends, I just found this interesting guide, if y'all would like to take a look: