Archaeologist Benyamin Storchan at the newly-discovered mikveh. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority.
Israeli archaeologists recently uncovered a mikveh (a Jewish ritual bath) in Jerusalem’s Qiryat Menachem neighborhood that dates back to the Second Temple period (538 B.C.E–70 C.E.). Small pools used for ritual cleansing, known as mikva’ot (singular, mikveh), were built to strict specifications: According to the Mishnah, the earliest rabbinic code of law, they must be of a certain size and filled with “living” water—water that has not been transferred from a vessel but has flowed directly into the bath from a river, spring or rainwater collector.
The recently-discovered Jerusalem mikveh features a unique water supply system designed to preserve every possible drop of rainwater collected in the arid Jerusalem environment. Water ran into the mikveh from three collecting basins (otzar) hewn out of the rock on the mikveh’s roof, following kashrut laws dictating that the water be carried in naturally and without human contact. In addition, the mikveh was paved with plaster, following the Jewish law that water from the mikveh not seep into the earth.
While the area was used for quarrying after the mikveh went out of use, Jerusalem archaeologists are working with the neighboring community and the Israel Antiquities Authority to preserve the site of this unique Second Temple period mikveh.
The mikveh from above, showing the three collecting basins hewn into the roof of the mikveh. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority.