Synagogues in the Golan
A Pair of Archaeologists Tour the Golan Heights
The first discoveries of ancient synagogues in the Golan were in the late 19th century. Laurence Oliphant, a Scottish Christian Zionist, and Gottlieb Schumacher, a German engineer, were traveling in the Golan, discovering and documenting ancient artifacts and buildings, including a number of synagogues. Another milestone in Golan synagogue research was the archaeological survey that took place after Israel conquered the Golan in the Six-Day War in 1967. In the wake of the survey, ancient synagogues began to be excavated in Gamla, Katzrin, Ein Nashot, and Kanaf.
The Research of Golan Synagogues Throughout History
Since the year 2000, additional synagogues were excavated in the Golan at Dir Aziz and at Ein Keshatot (Um el-Kanatir), and currently another is being excavated at the Majduliya Ruins near Moshav Natur. As of today, we know of approximately 30 synagogues in the Golan, which are about one-fourth of all the ancient synagogues known today in Israel (which number approximately 120). The vast majority of ancient Golan synagogues are from the Byzantine Period (also known as the Talmudic Period, from the 4th to the 7th centuries CE). At the time, the Byzantine Christians ruled the Land of Israel; while their rule was often hostile to the Jews, most of the time the rulers let the Jewish communities live their lives as they wished. The ancient Golan synagogues were destroyed in a fierce earthquake that hit northern Israel in the 8th century CE.
From the Second Temple Period, only two synagogues are known in the Golan: at Gamla, which was destroyed in the Great Revolt against the Romans (67 CE), and the synagogue currently being excavated at the Majduliya Ruins. It is assumed that during the Second Temple Period, there was an extensive Jewish presence in many communities with synagogues, but these sites have yet to be discovered. The Jewish villages in the Golan were built adjacent to springs that supplied them with vital drinking water. Most of the Jewish residents of the Golan during these time periods made their living by producing olive oil and exporting it the areas of the Bashan and the Horan.
Come Plan a Day of Visiting Ancient Synagogues in the Golan
Synagogues from the Period of the Mishna and the Talmud
Ein Keshatot (Um el-Kanatir): This ancient synagogue features a completely-preserved Ark Complex that once housed the Torah scrolls in the ark. The entire structure was excavated using cutting-edge technological methods, and has been reconstructed, stone-by-stone, to a height of one story. A visit to the site includes an explanatory movie and an independent walk around the ancient village, with special stops at the synagogue and at the village spring.
Dir Aziz: This site has recently undergone extensive reconstruction and development. It’s recommended to visit both the synagogue and the wading pools at the nearby spring; there are three pools of varying depths that are suitable for the entire family. The site offers beautiful views, and is a perfect picnic site. This is a free site that – for the most part – is wheelchair-accessible.
Katzrin: A visit to the synagogue here is part of an entire experience at Park Katzrin, and includes a movie, a visit to a reconstructed home, and a synagogue. There is an entrance fee to the site.
Ein Nashot: The ruins of the synagogue are adjacent to Moshav Kidmat Tzvi. To reach this site, one needs to walk for one kilometer in each direction. The site is not far from the Golan Archaeological Museum in Katzrin, with its impressive collection of engraved stone artifacts that have been found in local synagogues. Ein Nashot is a free site; there is an entrance fee to the museum.