Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A blog-collage

1. There is a water fountain in my department whose water is so cold, that it frequently comes out as frozen slush rather than water.

2. In my thoughts, I recently found myself mixing up Philadelphia and Haifa when thinking of the place I currently live in. Guess it's easy to get those obscure college towns confused with one another.

3. Today I visited Har Eival and Yehoshua's altar there. It is quite an amazing site, and I believe that were it not for politics (we had to drive just a few hundred meters north of Shechem) it would be one of the country's most visited national parks.

As for the question of "so why is the altar in a place you can't see Har Gerizim from", the tour guide suggested that the blessings-and-curses ceremony (between Har Gerizim and Har Eival) was separate from the sacrificial ceremony. (And indeed, the Torah discusses the two ceremonies in separate passages.) The guide also pointed out the part of Har Gerizim and Eival where the hills form a natural bowl-like shape, creating a sort of natural amphitheater where the voice of one or a few people could be heard by many, many others.

I found it interesting that the Har Eival altar, like the holy places in Shiloh and Jerusalem, is on a hill which is not the highest hill in the area. It is as if the intention is always to be above and respected by the people, but not above and transcending nature as Canaanite altars were. The theological implications are interesting.

From the site we could see Arab villages which are associated in Israelite pottery inscriptions or village names with the ancient families of Tirtzah, Hoglah, and (IIRC) Machlah. These families were evidently descended from three of the five daughters of Tzelafchad as discussed in Sefer Bamidbar, and their inherited territory was around and slightly north of Shechem. (The remaining two daughters presumably inherited land nearby, but no record of it has yet been found.)

UPDATE: Palestinians have a history of quite methodically destroying Jewish historical and religious sites, including the palaces and synagogue in Jericho, Kever Yosef in Shechem, the ruins under the Temple Mount, and so on. So it is a matter of concern that a site as important as this one is totally exposed in such an unfriendly neighborhood. Luckily, the Palestinians don't seem to know what the site consists of. Looking on Wikimapia, the only Arabic commentator left a note which I translated online to mean "Usurper army was expelled from the mountains and these are no longer settlement". So this guy, at least, thinks the altar was destroyed in the disengagement!

4. On the way back from Har Eival (the tour let us off at the remote settlement of Shavei Shomron), I waited an hour in vain for a hitchhike to anywhere outside the West Bank and Jerusalem, before a bus finally arrived. The thought passed through my mind that "Gush Katif was destroyed because not enough people from there drove to Haifa." It sounds ridiculous, but on reflection I found it to be quite true. For social and religious reasons, the people in settlements associate with people in other settlements, in Jerusalem, and to a lesser extent in parts of the Tel Aviv area. They have little association with the large mass of secular people in the rest of Israel (and the religious people living elsewhere in Israel seem to me to be quite different in outlook from the settlers). Thus secular people rarely meet settlers. Each group gets to thinking that it represents all of Israel and thus deserves to get everything it wants politically. When these mutual delusions are translated into policy debate, the results are ugly and traumatic events like the disengagement result.

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