The ancient synagogue of Baram and the Bar’am Lookout Tower
The ancient synagogue of Baram is only a few kilometers from the Lebanese border in the Baram National Park, which is part of the Baram Forest. A unique part of this forest is the Baram Forest Nature Reserve, which forms about a quarter of it. It was protected by the Maronite Church and contains many large Kermes oak trees. In the Baram Forest Nature Reserve is the Bar’am Lookout Tower. Consider also a one-way hike along the Dishon Valley.
Bar’am was a Jewish village during Mishnaic and Talmudic times. This synagogue was built during the late 4th and 5th centuries and is one of the most impressive synagogue remains in Israel. It is built in a Roman style with dressed stones. Most impressive is its decorated entrance. The front lintel has a carving of a wreath of branches. This was once flanked by additional decorations, possibly winged figures of Victory, but these have been defaced. The decoration on the frieze above the lintel shows grape vines with clusters of grapes. The prayer hall has three rows of columns which have been partially reconstructed with concrete pedestals and which formerly supported a second story. The ark containing the Torah would have been on the southern wall, but this has not survived.
Maronite Christians lived in the village until 1948. There is a Maronite church on top of the hill which is now used only for special events.
VISITING BARAM SYNAGOGUE
Directions: Enter into Waze “Baram National Park.”
Admission: This is a site of the Israel Nature and Park Authority. Summer hours are Sunday toThursday and Saturday: 8.00 am to 5.00 pm, Friday and holiday eves: 8.00- am to 4.00 pm. Winter closing is one hour earlier. There is a shaded picnic area and WC’s. There is no store. Their telephone number is 04 698-9301.
When was the synagogue invented?
The invention of the synagogue as a house of prayer was a major innovation in religious life and this form of worship would be taken up by Christianity and Islam in their churches and mosques. The focus of prayer in Judaism was always the Temple, and the synagogue would only take over this function after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. The synagogue allowed everyone, rather than just the priestly class, to become involved in the public rituals of Judaism and to develop a more personal relationship with God.
The earliest archaeological evidence of a synagogue comes from Egypt, where dedication inscriptions were discovered on a structure dating from the 3rd century BCE identifying it as a synagogue. The earliest evidence of a synagogue in Israel is from the 1st century CE. A Greek inscription found in Jerusalem reads: “Theodotus, son of Vettenos the priest achisynagogus, son of an archisynagogus and grandson of an archisynagogus, who built the synagogue for purposes of reciting the Law and studying the commandments, and the hostel, chambers and water installations to provide for the needs of itinerants from abroad, and whose father, with the elders and Simonidus, founded the synagogue.” This indicates that very early synagogues were used for reading and studying the Torah and putting up visitors to the area, but not for daily prayer.
The teaching activities were held in public buildings that could have had other functions. The Greek word “synagogue” like its Hebrew equivalent bet knesset means place of assembly. At this early stage, therefore, synagogues and town halls may have been one and the same, making it difficult to determine exactly when these buildings developed a religious function. As architecturally-identifiable structures, synagogues did not become a fixed institution in Judea until shortly before the destruction of the Second Temple. When the Galilee became the center of Jewish life after the Bar Kochba Revolt, synagogues were built in communities throughout the Galilee.
The architectural style of these synagogues usually reflected regional architectural styles. Hence, the synagogue of Bar’am is in a Roman style with dressed stones and an impressive façade. By contrast, the architectural richness of Byzantine Christian-style synagogues is in their interior rather than exterior, and external stones are usually undressed. Examples of this are found in Beit Alfa and Hamat Gader. Decorative symbols in the interior of the synagogue were often reminiscent of temple worship.
The Bar’am Lookout Tower in the Baram Forest Nature Reserve
This lookout tower is on the top of Mount Shifra in the Baram Forest Reserve and provides a view of the Baram Forest and their environs including Mount Meron, the Baram Oaks Nature Reserve, Mount Adir, Mount Hiram, the hills of Gush Halav, Dalton Heights and the volcanic peaks of the northern Golan. Enter into Waze “Shifra Mountain” and click on “Shifra Mountain 743.” The tower is off route 899 via a gravel path. There are picnic benches.
Hike along Nahal Dishon on the Schvil Yisrael in the Baram Forest
This hike along Nahal Dishon is a pleasant one-way 2-3-hour hike of about 4½ Km that starts on route 899, a short distance from Bar’am National Park and goes along the stream. In the winter months the stream is flowing and you will have to cross the river on stones. In summer the stream may be dry.
You will need to think as to how you will get back to your car. If you have a second car, the end of the hike is also a parking area off route 899. Enter ”עין ערבות” into Waze and click on “עין ערבות Israel” and the turning and parking area is on the opposite side of the road. Alternatively, since your car is on the same road, you could try hitching hatch from the end of the trail. Another alternative is to start at the other end of the trail and do it in the opposite direction. You can then fit the distance into your time and turn back when you have hiked enough. Done this way there is a slight incline up, but it is very slight on the initial part of the trail. You will be crossing the stream on stones on a few occasions.
The hike starts from a parking lot off route 899 between Tzomet Hiram and Route 8967, but closer to Route 8967. Enter “צומתחירם” into Waze. If coming from the south, at the junction turn in the direction of Bar’am and Kiryat Shemona. There is a parking area on your right. If you reach Route 8967 on your left which goes to the Ba’ram National Park you have gone slightly too far. Other than in its initial section, this hike is part of the Schvil Yisrael trail.
Take the black trail until you reach the gorge and then turn left. The full length of the hike continues until you arrive adjacent to the main road, Route 899.