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Beit Alfa (Kibbutz)

Beit Alfa is in the eastern Jezreel Valley at the foot of Mount Gilboa in Israel.

It may be the site of the town of Hilfa, which is mentioned in the Talmud. The foundations of an ancient synagogue were discovered near there in 1929 by explorations done on behalf of the Hebrew University. The synagogue, measuring 46 x 92 feet, included a courtyard, hall, two side aisles and a women's gallery. It faced south toward Jerusalem. A small cavity in the floor probably served as a genizah; above it was an Ark for scrolls of the Law. The whole floor of the building is paved with mosaics.

Two inscriptions were found at the entrance to the hall. One, in Aramaic, states that the mosaics were made during the reign of Emperor Justin (518--527). The other, in Greek, gives the names of those who made the mosaics, Marianos and his son Hanina. There are three mosaic panels in the center of the hall. The first shows the Akedah, the binding of Isaac on the altar. The second mosaic represents the signs of the Zodiac. The third depicts a synagogue ark with a gabled roof and an "eternal light" suspended from its top. On either side is a lion with a seven-branched menorah. Above the menorah and between the lions are pictured ritual items such as lulavim (palm branches), etrogim (citrons), and incense holders. Curtains adorned it on either side. The designs are simple and strong. In these mosaics, the artists took great care to make each scene expressive. The mosaics of Bet Alfa are striking in their coloring and style, and are among the finest examples of Jewish art in the Byzantine period.

A kibbutz was founded at Bet Alfa in 1922.


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