THE RITUAL BATH

THE RITUAL BATH WITHIN A CAVE
BENEATH THE SYNAGOGUE FLOOR AT
SUSIYA
The subterranean system has two parts: a large hall
with benches along three of its walls, and the ritual bath
at the end of the main hall, connected to it by a quarried
passageway. The roof of the passageway contains a rock-
cut shaft that originates from the floor of the southern
room of the synagogue.
The study of the archaeological finds from the
excavations of the central hall reveals three primary phases
of use, dating from the 4th to the 7th centuries CE. We
believe that this represents the period during which the
synagogue was in use.
There are two possible explanations for the function of
the subterranean complex associated with the synagogue:
the hall may have been used for religious studies, which
would have required purification; alternatively, it may
have served as a banquet hall for religious feasting, a
function that would likewise require ritual purification.

(pp. 82–91)
Archaeological aspects of Jewish ritual baths (miqwaoot)
have been recently examined and summarized by R.
Reich in a catalogue documenting 550 such installations.
Of these, 85% may be securely dated to the Second
Temple period. The remaining miqwaoot belong to the
period subsequent to the destruction of the Second
Temple.
One third of the latter, 25 in number, were uncovered
at Susiya in the southern Hebron Hills, indicating the
unique nature of that site. Most of the installations are
reached via a stepped passage leading to a subterranean
system. These subsurface caves often extend beneath
dwellings, several of which have been excavated. All
but one were found to date to the 4th-7th centuries CE,
the primary period of settlement at the Jewish village of
Susiya. The single miqweh that does not belong to this
period was found at the northern edge of the settlement
and dates to the Second Temple period. The miqwaoot
appear to have been utilized on a daily basis.
A single miqweh located beneath the synagogue is
unique. It lies at the end of a large subterranean network
beneath a courtyard south of the synagogue and beneath
the synagogue itself. An elaborate entrance joining the
structure to the courtyard to the south attests to an asso-
ciation between synagogue, miqweh and several build-
ings surrounding the courtyard.