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Discovering Katzrin

The major attraction in Katzrin is its Talmudic village. But don’t speed away after visiting this site as there are other interesting things to do and see in Katzrin, including wine and spirit tasting, an archeological museum that shows short movies, a countryside promenade suitable for strollers and wheelchairs, and horseback riding.

TO THE TALMUDIC VILLAGE:

 

Directions: Enter "Ancient Katzrin Park" into Waze and click on "Ancient Katzrin Park, Qatsrin."

Admission. This site is open Sunday to Thursday 9.00 am to 4.00 pm, Friday 9.00 to 2.00 pm, and Saturday and holidays 10.00 am to 4.00 pm. There is an admission charge. There is a gift shop with hot and cold drinks and snacks. An English brochure with a map is available. There are 7 exhibits, 4 of which are described on this webpage, but not all the exhibits may be operating at any one time. A short movie is shown in The Talmudic Experience (#7). There are picnic tables outside the gift ship but not inside the village. The site is wheelchair accessible. Their phone number is 04-696 2412. 

Public transport: There are direct lines to Katzrin from Haifa, Acco, Tzfat, Kiryat Atta, Yokniam Illit, Emeq Hayarden and Tiberias.

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An ancient roller for packing earth on roofs in the Talmudic Village.

The Talmudic village at Katzrin

 

The reconstructed Talmudic village at Katzrin has the best display of how Jews lived in Israel during the Talmudic period, and thus the nature of Jewish settlements in the Golan.

 

Jewish settlement in the Golan began during the Hasmonean period. In the 300s CE, in the Byzantine period, the lower Golan was predominantly a Jewish area with some 30 Jewish settlements. Away from the main Byzantine Christian centers in Palestine, Jews would have had little interference with their lives. All of the settlements had a synagogue, and this would have been the most impressive building in the village. About 30 families lived in the village of Katzrin.

 

Jewish life in the Golan came to an abrupt end as the result of an earthquake in 749 CE and the villages were abandoned. Why were they not rebuilt? We have no records from this time; but Jews were now living under Muslim rule and this may have resulted in a major change in their economic situation. They no longer had the benefit of a Byzantine "common market," and it may have been difficult and even dangerous to get their produce, primarily olive oil, to their previous consumers. The earthquake may have been the straw that broke the camel's back.

During your visit here you will see the following:

 

The reconstructed home of Rabbi Abun. In actuality, no one knows who lived here, but the tombstone of Rabbi Abun was found in the village and posthumously he inherited this house. The first thing you will notice about it is how dark it is inside, even during the daytime. This is because it has only a limited number of windows. Glass window panes had not been invented and any holes in the walls would have let in the cold. Illumination was provided by oil lamps.

 

The roof was made of wooden beams with packed earth on top. There is a roller displayed outside for doing this. (This may have been the job of the 1st century BCE sage Honi HaMe’agal, Honi the Roller. He also drew a circle, magal in Hebrew, as a challenge to God to deliver rain and there may have been two meanings to his name). You can climb into the loft. The main room was where the family ate and where they slept on mats. Food was kept above floor level to prevent it being eaten by rodents. The clay vessels are replicates of those excavated here.

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The homes were dark even during the day because of the limited number of windows.

The roof was made of wooden beams with packed earth on top.

The oven was in the kitchen

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Food would have been kept above ground level to prevent it being shared by rodents..

The synagogue. As in other Golan communities, the synagogue was the most splendid building in the village. It faced south towards Jerusalem. A wooden ark would have stood on the stone dais abutting the southern wall. As was typical for other synagogues built in this period, two rows of decorated columns divided the large hall into three spaces. Worshippers sat on the stone benches adjacent to the walls. The synagogue was destroyed in the earthquake of 749 CE.

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Decorated columns supported the roof and divided the large hall into three areas.

Note the decorative jugs and pomegranates on the lintel

Olive oil production. The main industry of the village was the production of olive oil and two olive presses are shown outside the building the Talmudic Experience (#7). The stone weight is from an original olive press but the wood is reconstructed. (See also the essay below on olive oil production).

The Golan Archeological Museum

Visiting an archeological museum may not sound a terribly exciting thing to do on a vacation, but this museum has many interesting exhibits and older kids will appreciate the movies. The scope of the museum is broad - archeological findings throughout the Golan - and they are very nicely presented.

 

There are three exhibit halls. Many will find the exhibit on the fall of Gamla of considerable interest, especially if one intends visiting or has already visited the ruins. Gamla was destroyed by the Romans in 63 CE. It was never rebuilt and its ruins were discovered after the Six-Day War.  The siege of Gamla and the discovery of the ruins are described in the movie. The only descriptions at the Gamla site are quotations from Josephus and this movie fills in the gaps very nicely. The 15-minute movie is presented in relation to a 3-D model of Gamla. The movie can be viewed in English or Hebrew.

 

Another exhibit hall shows discoveries from several of the ancient synagogues of the Golan, including an identifiable lintel from the study hall of Rabbi Elazar Happar from the ancient Jewish village of Dabura (the ruins of which can be visited during the hike in the Jilabun Nature Reserve). There were once about 30 synagogues in the Golan of the 120 or so found in Israel.

 

The third exhibit hall is devoted to findings in the Golan from the Chalcolithic (pre-Canaanite) period, including a reconstructed home. There are larger exhibits outside the building.

 

Directions: Enter “Museum of Antiquities in the Golan” into Waze. The museum is open 9.00 am to 4.00 pm Sunday to Thursday and 9.00 am to 2.00 pm on Friday and holidays eves. It is closed on Shabbat. There is an admission charge. Allow about an hour to 1½ hours for your visit. This is their phone number 04-696 2412.

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A reconstructed Golan dwelling from the Chalcolithic period (4th millenium BCE). 25 villages have been found in the Golan from this period. The name Chalcolithic comes from the use of copper for tools etc. during this period.

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The movie about the siege of Gamla is shown in relation to a model of the city.

Restaurants and cafes

A short walk from the museum and on the same side of Route 9088 is Eitan Center. This shopping center has many reasonably-priced restaurants, outdoor benches, and a fountain in which small kids can play. Many tours and Katzrin residents eat out here. Enter into Waze "Eitan Center" and click on "Eitan Center, מרכז מסחרי איתן, Qatsrin."

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This is a popular hangout for tours and tourists, especially at meal times.

Golan Heights Winery

This cooperative is Israel’s third largest winery. It was established in 1983 by four Golan kibbutzim and four moshavim. It produces four kosher labels – Yarden, Gamla, Hermon and Golan – each with different varieties. Their usual tour lasts about an hour and includes a visit to the barrel room and a tasting of three different types of wines. They also have special tours, such as a Four Seasons Vineyard Tour. They are open Sunday to Thursday 8.30 am to 5.00 pm and Friday 8.30 am to 2.00 pm. They are closed on Shabbat. Their address is Derekh HaYayin 4. Enter “Golan Heights Winery” into Waze and click on “Golan Heights Winery visitor center.” Their phone number is 04 696 8435. This is their website.     

Kesem HaGolan (Golan Magic) Visitor Center

This center, located about 2 Km east of Katzrin, shows a movie about the Golan Heights and displays a model of the area. The movie is shown on a 180-degree screen and relates the history and geography of the area. It is shown every hour in Hebrew, and in English and Russian by arrangement. There is an admission charge.  Taste of the Galilee and Golan is a combined coffee shop, kosher dairy restaurant and store selling local produce and cosmetics. The center is open Sunday to Thursday 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, Friday 9.00 am to 4.00 pm, and Saturday 9.00 to 5.00 pm. Their phone number is 04 696 3625. In the same building is the Golan Brewery. There are also nearby stores. Directions: Enter into Waze "Visitor Center Katzrin" and click on " מרכז המבקרים קסם הגולן."

The Golani Distillery:

This is where Israel’s first whisky was produced, although the distillery now has competitors. They offer a tour of the facility and a tasting of some of their many products (including single malt, different flavored whiskeys, arak, gin and absinthe). The cost of this is 50 NIS and it includes a viewing of their distilling vats and wooden barrels, all of which are on one floor. They claim that because of the difference in weather conditions, their 3-year whisky is equivalent to a Scotch whisky that has matured for a considerably longer time. They may be able to accommodate drop-in visits, but best is to call beforehand. Their number is 054 384 3069 or 053 339 4787. Enter into Waze "Golani Distillery" and click on "Golani Distillery, 18 Street, Qatsrin.” [In actuality, this street has been renamed HaBe’er Street, but this new name may not be in Waze]. Click here for their website.

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On a tour at the Golani distillery

Hatzavim Promenade

This is a circular countryside promenade that is completely paved and thus suitable for a stroller or wheelchair. Admittedly, the countryside is not particularly exciting, having the typical steppe-like scenery of the Golan, but there is an observation area and also a small wadi. Mount Hermon is in the background. Directions by car: Enter into Waze “Katzrin Market.” To my knowledge this is not a functioning market and you can park your car here. For the trail, walk to Daliot St. and then to Kikar Daliot. At this roundabout, turn right onto Zavitan St. You will pass Kikar Jilibun. When you come to the next roundabout after this, Kikar Zavitan, turn into Sir Oliphant St. From here you will see the beginning of the promenade and a map. Close to the beginning of the walk is an observation area, Mitzpe Gur, that overlooks Nahal Katzrin. There are many benches on the route and a shaded picnic area a bit over half-way along. Follow the paved road and it will take you back to Katzrin Market and your car. The total distance is 2¾ Km and it should take about 50-60 minutes without taking any stops other than for the observation area.

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Map of Hatzavim Promenade

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View from Hatzavim Promenade

 חוות האושר horse-riding

This ranch is on Zavitan St. in Katzrin and offers short or extended horse riding throughout the Golan. It also has a small animal park, pony rides, horse riding instruction, and vehicle rides. Their phone number is 072 392 5652. Directions: Enter "חוות האושר" into Waze and click on "חוות האושר קצרין״". This is their website.

Olive oil production in Roman and Byzantine times

The main agricultural product of the ancient Jewish settlements in the Golan was olive oil. This had a multitude of uses, including for making cosmetics, cooking, and particularly for illumination. Olive oil burns without smell or smoke. This enabled a literate society, since reading can be done after the workday. Olives were harvested for two months during the Fall and the olive presses would have been operative full-time during this period.

 

The pressing of olives results in about 20% fat, 40% solid waste and 40% watery lees or sediment. The oil is contained within the kernel as well as the fleshy fruit. The role of the olive mill was to extract the oil from both. (This is in contrast to grapes in which the juice was not extracted from the seeds as this would otherwise impart a bitter taste).

 

The first step in oil production was crushing the olives in a mill. This had a round basin with one or two crushing stones that revolved around the basin and on their own axis. One end of the axle served as a handle and the crushing stones were usually turned by a donkey. The oil that floated on top of the watery lees was skimmed or ladled off. This was termed the “first oil” in the Mishna.

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The basin and crushing stones of an olive press. A screw press and direct pressure lever press are seen in the background.

Two types of presses were in use in Israel by the Roman period. The earliest was a direct pressure lever press. By the 1st century BCE, screw processes were also used. Examples of both are in the Talmudic village.

 

In both type of presses, the mushed olives were placed in baskets one on top of each other and squeezed between round press boards. Pressure was exerted by weights hanging from the beam of the press or by its screw. The so-called "second oil” dripped into a central vat below the press or into collecting vats by its side (these are not shown in the models here).

 

The whole process was then repeated again, beginning with the crushing. The oil obtained this time round was termed the "third oil.

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