Zev Radovan

Mosaic pavements from synagogues at Beth Alpha and Beth-Shean (shown here, compare with mosaic pavement from Beth Alpha synagogue) show Torah shrines surrounded by seven-branched menorahs and other ritual objects. These include the ram’s horn (shofar) associated with the observance of Rosh Hashanah; the incense shovel, reminiscent of the Temple service on Yom Kippur; and, flanking the Beth Alpha ark, palm branches (lulav) and citrons (etrog) used in the Festival of Sukkot. Torah shrines contained shelves on which the scrolls were laid. A curtain, sometimes called a vilon or parokhta, is clearly shown before the ark of the Beth-Shean mosaic. The name parokhta is reminiscent of the parokhet, the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the main hall of the Temple—suggesting that the synagogue and its “ark” were related, no matter how faintly, to the Jerusalem Temple. Nonetheless, although synagogues became the center of Jewish life in the centuries following the destruction of the Temple, they never became a substitute for the eternal religious center of the Jewish people.