Miqvaot: Ritual Immersion Baths in Second Temple (Intertestamental) Jewish History

One of the most intriguing developments in the archaeology of the Second Temple (intertestamental) period of Judaism occurred during excavations supervised by Yigael Yadin and other archaeologists at Masada, the residence built for King Herod the Great. While excavating the south casemate wall at Masada, these archaeologists came upon three structures that looked like a Jewish ritual bath complex—a small pool, a medium-sized pool, and a large pool. During a routine press conference, it was announced that a possible Jewish ritual bath—a miqveh—had been uncovered. News of this discovery spread quickly throughout Israel, particularly in the very orthodox Hasidic community.

Yadin received word that Rabbi David Muntzberg, an expert on Jewish miqvaot and author of a study on the subject, and Rabbi Eliezer Alter, another expert on miqvaot, wished to examine the miqveh installation at Masada. Yadin replied that he would be happy to receive them. One intensely hot day, Rabbi Muntzberg and Rabbi Alter arrived at the base of Masada. Without stopping to rest, the rabbis and their entourage slowly labored up the steep snake path on the western side of Masada in the torrid heat in their heavy Hasidic garb. When Rabbis Muntzberg and Alter arrived at the summit, they asked to be led directly to the miqveh installations. Armed with a tape measure, Rabbi Muntzberg went directly into one of the pools in order to determine if it conformed with the requirements of the rabbis. The furrowed brow and grave, unsmiling expression of Rabbi Muntzberg placed the outcome in doubt, and Yadin and his associates were worried that the result would be negative. Finally Rabbi Muntzberg’s expression relaxed, and he said with satisfaction that this Jewish ritual bath was “among the finest of the finest, seven times seven,” a parade example of Jewish miqvaot.

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