Judaism


Some places to sing at ... and see!

  • Jerusalem's City of David, Southern Wall Excavations, the Western Wall and Western Wall Tunnels
  • Jerusalem's Old Jewish Quarter and its synagogues
  • The Yad VaShem Holocaust memorial
  • Jerusalem's New City: The Israel Museum & Shrine of the Book, the Supreme Court, the Promenades, the Ben Yehuda Mall...
  • Masada, Ein Gedi, and the Dead Sea
  • Tel Dan, and the springs and waterfalls of the Banias
  • Safed (Tzfat), Cradle of Jewish Mysticism: the Old Jewish Quarter and its synagogues
  • Tiberias (Tiveria) and the ancient synagogue of Hamat Tiveria
  • Towns and synagogues from the days of the Mishna and the Talmud: Tzippori (Sepphoris), Beit She'arim, Beit Alpha, Bar'am, and Katzrin
  • The modern cities of Tel Aviv, Haifa, Eilat …
  • Click here for sample itinerary

The Land of Israel

With thanks to Dani Barkai

The oldest known synagogue in the Land of Israel was discovered by the archaeologist Ehud Netzer in 1998. Apparently, it was a prayer and study hall built into the winter palaces of the Hasmonean family in Jericho. Although the palace complex was quite sizable, the synagogue — which has been dated as far back as ca. 75 BCE — was a small, intimate chamber. In this respect, it set the tone for almost all subsequent Jewish houses of worship in the land.

As a matter of fact, this intimacy can be found not only in the Jewish synagogues, but in all the cultic structures built in this small country by the people who felt at home here, beginning with the Chalcolithic civilization (whose 5,000-year-old temple — or at least its ruins — can still be seen in Ein Gedi), and continuing with the Canaanites, who lived here for more than 2,000 years, before and during the arrival of the ancient Israelites. To a great extent it's also true of the Arab Muslims, who first arrived almost 1,400 years ago, and the mosques they built.

Other Cultures

These little houses of worship stand in sharp contrast to the monumental temples found in most of the rest of the ancient world, particularly Egypt to the west and Mesopotamia to the east.

In Egypt, the gods were essentially regarded as predictable and immovable, like the Nile that would nourish the farmlands by advancing and retreating at predictable times of the year. Egyptian deities were thus mostly distant and uninfluenced by the entreaties of mere mortals, and the temples dedicated to them were huge structures, symbolizing the smallness of the human worshipper before the gods.

Mesopotamia, on the other hand, was a great land blessed with many rich, fertile regions, but also a land plagued by frequent natural calamities such as earthquakes and catastrophic floods. So here people thought of their gods as capricious and insane, forces that needed to be appeased with the bringing of generous sacrifices and the construction, once again, of monumental temples in their honor.

Ancient Israelite Cultures

Unlike the mighty empires on either side of them, the nations that occupied the narrow strip of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea were accustomed to a classic Mediterranean climate, wherein the forces of nature were predictable, but only to a certain degree. They knew that the summer months would pass with scarcely a single drop of rain. The rain would only come in the late fall, winter, and early spring. But as every modern Israeli knows, sometimes the winter rains are plentiful and adequate, and sometimes they are not.

For the ancient farmers of the land, sufficient rain meant their hard labor would bring good harvests and plenty of food. With insufficient rain, the inescapable result would be famine and poverty, and an entire year's labor would have been in vain. For regular Israelis, even today in the age of the Internet, space exploration, and nuclear technology - and in an economy that is largely non-agricultural - the rain can still make the difference between a good year and a bad year.

It's not surprising then, that this was the place where a strong link was first established in people's minds between human action and divine response: if you behaved righteously, the rains would come; if you were sinful, the heavens would withhold their blessings. [Although the individual is important, the terms "righteous" and "sinful" apply here to the entire nation, to the people as a whole.]

The Elements of Monotheism

Unlike other lands, here the people felt a closeness to the heavenly forces. And because it's easier to develop an intimate relationship with a single being as opposed to many beings, this land was the logical place for the concept of a one-and-only God — as opposed to a polytheistic pantheon of gods — to originate. It was therefore up to the ancient Israelites — who, more than any other nation, felt themselves attached to this land and believed it to be their only natural home — to give rise to that unique brand of monotheism that we today call Judaism.

Thus we have the supreme paradox, in that it was just those people who first gave the world the concept of a single, all-powerful, universal God, that had the arrogance or chutzpah to believe they actually had an intimate relationship with that God, and the power to influence His actions. It's an intimate triangular relationship: one small nation, one tiny country, one Almighty God.

The metaphor for this three-way relationship is the rain, so it's not surprising that a plea for rain is always a central element in any Jewish prayer. But no matter where they are in the world, when Jews pray for rain, they aren't asking for the skies to dump their moisture on New York, London, or Paris; they're begging for rain in the Land of Israel.

For some 2,000 years of Jewish exile, Jews throughout the world were living in a state of cognitive dissonance; they knew that unless the Messiah would miraculously appear in their lifetime, they were praying for rain in a Promised Land that they would never have the privilege to even visit, let alone reside.

Judaism and Israel

Of the 613 mitzvot that appear in the Torah, well over half (to be precise 343, a value whose numerological equivalent is the Hebrew word geshem — "rain") can only be observed in the Land of Israel. The greater part of Jewish religious ritual is therefore irrelevant outside the boundaries of the Jewish land. But Judaism is more than just a religion. It is an indivisible combination of faith, nationality, history, and cultural heritage.

Modern Israel is considered by many to be a miracle, the "third temple" according to some. It certainly does reflect near-miraculous events such as the reclamation of the desert, the revival of the Hebrew language, and the unequivocal establishment of a Jewish nation in their own state. Be that as it may, it is home for millions of Jews — even those who still live abroad. Two thousand years of far-flung diaspora have given rise to a large variety of ethnicities, all with their Jewish common factor, who are gradually mingling together in Israel, the Jewish "melting pot."

Let's Begin ...

Designing a tour of Israel for a Jewish visitor is never easy because it's hard to decide where to start. The modern cities, towns, and villages, the historical sites, the military installations, the political and judicial apparatus, the synagogues, the natural countryside, even the things that apply to the many non-Jewish people who live here - everything is profoundly relevant.

We at SingIsrael have an idea: Let's start with the music. Nothing speaks to the soul, the mood, the culture of Israel better than the music. We can show you everything from ancient liturgical music to the vibrant nigunim of young synagogue congregations that come up with new tunes for their davening every other week. We can get you to meet the Israeli artists who just composed the most recent songs to hit the national airwaves. We'll introduce you both to native Israelis, and to native English speakers who live here. Best of all, we'll give you the opportunity to add your voice to theirs.

Whether this is your first visit to Israel or you've been here a hundred times or spent many years here — we'll show you something new and exciting, both musically and otherwise. There are very many things this country can be proud of and we want to show them off. The music is just a small part of the wonders you'll experience, but we'll start there, and everything else will fall into place. Come home with us, and we'll give you the thrill of a lifetime!

Sample Itinerary

Clicking here will take you to a sample itinerary, showing just some of the sites and sounds you will experience in Israel. After reviewing it, we encourage you to visit our Contact page and begin the no-obligation process to discover just how accessible and affordable a visit to the Holy Land truly is. We look forward to helping you experience the most incredible journey of your life. Thank you for choosing SingIsrael.

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