Our hotel is a short walk – about 15 minutes – from the centre of Tiberias, and some of our group have already explored the town, but the four or five of us who have been out previously to Tabgha and Nof Ginosar, have so far not venured in that direction. So, at breakfast we decided to remedy that shortcoming.
It was a pleasant walk into the town, which was mostly shut up because of the Sabbath. That didn’t stop us from window shopping, however and there were some shops where that was decidely the best way of shopping.
The town of Tiberias is very ancient, established by Herod Antipas (one of the sons of Herod the Great) around the year 20CE, and named, probably in an act of sycophancy, after the Roman emperor Tiberias. Despite Herod’s making it the capital of his territory in Galilee, for many years it was shunned by observant Jews because the town enclose a cemetery and was thus ritually unclean. Over the centuries its importance became greater, and in the 16th century became regarded as one of Israel’s four most holy cities, after Jerusalem and Hebron. It was, however, from the first, a cosmopolitan town since Herod Antipas imported non-Jews from other parts of his Tetrarchy. Over the centuries the make-up of the population changed several times, as Tiberias was conquered succesively by the Romans, the Byzantine empire, the Arabs, the Crusaders, the Mamelukes, and the Ottomans, who were succeeded by the British Mandate and eventually, in 1948 by modern Israel.
Twice in its long history it has been noted as a centre for rabbinic study, and the great 12th century philosopher, physician and rabbinic scholar Moses Maimonides was buried in Tiberias as he wished, after his death in Egypt. Seventeen times since 30 CE it has been severely damaged by earthquakes, the last time in 1943, and in 1934 what had been rebuilt after the major 1837 earthquake was either damaged or destroyed in a major flood.
There are, however, some of the ancient buildings remaining, although some, like a Sephardic synagogue, are in ruins. There are also the remains of an Roman amphitheatre, now set in a small park.
One thing that we did note was that although there were many people on their way to worship at the synagogues, and we passed several on our walk, there were no extremes of dress as we had seen in Jerusalem. In that sense it seemed a homogenous community, but Tiberias has been a place where both Ashkenazi and Sephardi have settled. Is this, perhaps, because of Tiberias’ cosmopolitan foundation? It would be interesting to follow up, I think.
After our walk around the seaside part of the town, and the shopping area, we headed to the harbour where we found a cafe and sat and talked fo a while. It was rather lovely, just to sit and chat and unwind and watch the world go by.
Then we strolled back to the hotel to gird ourselves up for the packing, ready for an early start the next day; for then we begin our journey home. And since we would be travelling home on a Sunday the whole group gathered together in the hotel garden in the evening for a final act of worship together, a Eucharist which reminded us of the memories we had gathered on this pilgrimage.