Water in Judaism, what does it really mean?
If you’ve ever been to Israel, you might have noticed that there is very little water– very, very LITTLE water! There is one body of fresh water, the Sea of Galilee. The are few sources flowing into the Sea. And there are even fewer aquifer level water sources. The Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea are the only bodies of water left and they are both salt water. Water in Israel should seem to be an issue.
You also might have noticed that it is REALLY hot. The Negev Desert is a part of an extreme desert, with only one oasis in the entire region-Ein Gedi. It is so hot there that groups have to wake up at 3:00 in the morning in order to walk up Masada before the extreme heat sets in. The coastal plain isn’t much better– it is hot, and humid, and sticky.
Water, and the lack of it, has always been an issue here in Israel. Wars have started because the people of the Middle East DON’T HAVE ENOUGH WATER! Technologies have been invented in order to save water because there isn’t enough water. National budgets have been built including a section devoted to water because there isn’t enough water in Israel. Yet water is incredibly important both in Israel and Judaism.
Mikve’ot is central in Judaism.
A mikve plays a crucial role in the purification cycle practiced in Judaism. And it has played a crucial role in Judaism for thousands of years, beginning in the Second Temple Period. Today you can find a mikve in towns and cities throughout Israel and Jewish communities abroad. People go to the mikve throughout the Jewish calendar on a monthly and weekly basis. But, why should you care, and what is it’s connection with water?
Let’s stat off with the question, what exactly is a mikve? It is a pool of natural fresh water used to spiritual purify the body for very specific reasons. It is written in Jewish law, or halakhah, what the size and deminsions of the mikve should be.
So what is the purpose of the mikve?
It’s purposes changed throughout history. Beginning in the Second Temple, mikves where used on a regular basis. In order to go up to the Temple Mound, you had to be purified. This meant that you went into the mikve, dipped into the water, and came out pure and ready for the Holy Temple. Archeological finds from the period show that the staircase was divided by a wall half-way high. This indicates that there was one way to go into the mikve and another way to come out. That was in order to prevent those who were pure from becoming impure again.
Once Jews left the mikve, they were ready to ascend up to the Temple Mound and Second Temple complex. It was a very important part of Jewish society during that time, as Jews were coming to the Temple throughout the year.
Today, we use the mikve not in preparation for the Temple, but rather for family purity and preparation for Shabbat. Men often go on Fridays and before holidays to the mivke. Women go after their menstrual cycles as part of a purity cycle around family life. It is an essential part of the family life for those who use the mikve for this reasonings.
Tiberius, one of four holy cities in Judaism, is connected to the element of water.
The city of Tiberius is holy because it was home for the Sanhedrin in period of the late Roman Period. Who was the Sanhedrin? They were a group making up the Jewish leadership. The Romans destroyed the Second Temple (of the mikve’ot from above) in 70 CE, the Jews had to answer a lot of questions about Judaism meant. The Jews formed the Sanhedrin as a way to help lead the Jewish people through this very confusing time. However, the Sanhedrin moved from town to town–Tiberius being the last. While in Tiberius, the Sanhedrin wrote many important works and laws.
The Rambam is also buried in the city of Tiberius. The Rambam is a very important leader and teacher from the Medieval Period. He wrote different works that have affected modern Judaism all these years later, including 13 Principles of Faith and the Mishneh Torah.
There are four holy cities in Judaism:
Each of the holy cities connects an element of nature. When you go to these cities, you can feel those elements alive and around you. Tiberius is connected to water. Why? Because it is on the shores of the Sea of Galilee!!
The Sea of Galilee is Israel’s only body of fresh water, supplying an entire population with drinking and bathing water. We have to always remember the Sea of Galilee when we talk about water in Israel!
Modern technologies helping water in Israel and its residents
Because of the lack of water, and especially drinkable water, Israel has found many different ways to bring water to the 8 million people living in the country, their industries, and their needs. They include:
- Drip irrigation
- Solar powered programs heating water
- Water meters
- Water filtration
- And so much more.
How does it all work? Well, it would take me hours to explain all of these different projects. But let me explain one of them–desalination. As I mentioned before, Israel is REALLY hot and doesn’t have enough fresh water. Israel looked for different ways to provide different sources of fresh water. So, Israeli scientists have found a way to create fresh water.
What happens? Salt water is put into a container and heated up in order to evaporate the water particles. When the water has evaporated, all the salt and mineral particles are left in the building as solid particles. The scientists clean out the container, so they can cool down the building and bring back the water as fresh, clean, drinkable water. The desalination process has brought fresh water to the houses of many.
Today, Israel is so well-known for water reservation technologies that companies and countries AROUND the world buy and implement these technologies from India to Uganda and more!
And here’s my conclusion about water in Israel?!
Here’s the thing about water in Israel. There is not a lot of it, but it is INCREDIBLY important. It is part of the Jewish religion, part of the history, and part of modern Israel society and science.
What the water system within Israel looks a little something like this: there is a system of aquifer level water. But the fresh water rivers in the north feed into the Sea of Galilee.
That water drains out of the Sea of Galilee through the Jordan River, and flows down to the Dead Sea. It stays there…until it evaporates, is desalinated, or used in the processing of Dead Sea products, like lotions and soaps.
Why is the Dead Sea called the Dead Sea? Because nothing can live in it due to the high levels of salt in the water. WRONG!!! A recent study found that there are TINY organisms that without them the Dead Sea would not be the Dead Sea.
So I’ll ask the question again. Why is the Dead Sea called the Dead Sea? My interpretation is that it is called the Dead Sea because there is now river, stream, or others draining the Dead Sea. It’s not like the Sea of Galilee that has water flowing in and out of the Sea.
It’s dead because it doesn’t give! The water stays there!
We can learn something from this for our own lives. If we only take in our lives, like the Dead Sea, then our lives will be dead or meaningless. But if we live our lives like the Sea of Galilee, where we both give and take, our lives become so much more meaningful!!!
So let’s live like the Sea of Galilee, and not like the Dead Sea. Let’s give and take! Let’s live a meaningful life!