Ein Gedi usually sparks thoughts of bubbling brooks and lush greenery, yet there is a whole other side, complete with ancient tile floors and stone hedges, steeped in the history of Talmudic-era Israel. Over Chol HaMoed Sukkot, Steven Fine, the Churgin Professor of Jewish History and Director of the YU Center for Israel Studies, brought 60 YU students, staff, and alumni of all ages to the once vibrant town on the shore of the Dead Sea. Titled, “YU on the Road,” the tour blended the intellectual experience of a lecture with the tangibility of a site tour.
The tour began at the Ein Gedi Synagogue, which dates back to 5th-6th Centuries. Its intricately designed mosaics and cryptic inscriptions display how Jews lived before the Oral Torah’s codification. Discoveries include a burnt fragment from a Vayikra scroll and floor inscriptions depicting the generations from Adam to the Avot, Zodiac signs, and curses that would befall anyone who revealed town secrets. Afterward, Professor Fine, an expert in Talmudic archaeology, detailed the origins of village ruins, many of which have been excavated.
Engagement and exploration were at the heart of Professor Fine’s objective when designing the tour. “Our trip set out as a study tour, sources in hand,” Professor Fine explained. “Through conversation, lecture, and close up examination (including some climbing) participants were invited to touch the world of the Sages in a way that brings both the texts and the archaeology to life.”
The group continued on to Nachal David – the famous Ein Gedi oasis – and then on to the Good Samaritan Museum where mosaics from ancient Samaritan synagogues and other archaeological artifacts are on display. These materials are the subject of The Center for Israel Studies’ current “Israelite Samaritans Project.” “Trips like this allow YU to tap into its faculty’s expertise and make the historical also personal for the greater YU community,” adds Gabi Sackett, Program Director of Yeshiva University in Israel,
What did participants think of this side of Ein Gedi? “This was a lovely experience,” an alum shared. “Both Professor Fine and the participants contributed to the warm, friendly atmosphere.” Professor Fine returned the feeling: “For me, watching the light bulbs go on as participants tapped into my excitement, that was my highlight.” Both the YU Center for Israel Studies and YU in Israel are dedicated to creating and facilitating experiential Israel education. “I am thrilled that this project united undergraduates, graduates, semikha students, children, and mature adults to explore the intersection of Torah U-Maddah at Talmudic Ein Gedi,” he added. “Stay tuned for our next adventure!”