Zev Radovan

Temple, Tabernacle or Torah shrine? A structure with a paneled door, flanked by columns and topped with a pediment bearing a decorative shell motif appears in both Jewish and Samaritan synagogue mosaics. In Jewish contexts, the structure is generally thought to represent the original Ark of the Covenant or the shrine that held the synagogue’s Torah scroll or perhaps the destroyed Jerusalem Temple or all three.

The Ark mosaic from the sixth-century C.E. synagogue at Beth Alpha was located directly in front of the synagogue’s actual Torah shrine. Depictions of sacred vessels and objects used in the Temple are scattered about the mosaic: Seven-branched candelabra, or menorot (singular, menorah), flank the Ark. A curved shofar, or ram’s horn (blown at the new year, Rosh Hashana, and on Yom Kippur), appears at the foot of the righthand lion guarding the Ark. Directly above the shofar lies an incense shovel; to the left and right of the Ark is a lulav, or bound palm branch, with an etrog, or citron (a lemon-like fruit), extending from it, associated with the festival of Sukkoth.