>  Top Jewish Tour Destinations in Israel   >  Hamat Tiberias Ancient Thermal Baths

Hamat Tiberias, located near the Sea of Galilee in Israel, is renowned for its natural hot springs, which have been used for therapeutic purposes since antiquity. The site features a complex of ancient thermal baths, including a Roman bathhouse and a synagogue with a stunning mosaic floor.

History and Archaeology of Hamat Tiberias

Hamat Tiberias may be at the location of the Canaanite city of Hammath mentioned in Joshua 19:35, yet archaeological evidence from that period still needs to be recovered. The Romans developed the site, arguing its thermal water had curative powers. The Jewish Talmud referred to it several times and suggested its water be steamed in the gates of Hell. So far, only a tiny section of the Roman-era baths has been exposed, but in the 1960s, archaeologists uncovered an ancient synagogue at the site. Used for over 500 years, the Jews renovated it several times. They laid an ornate mosaic floor in one of its renovations, whose main subject is a Zodiac with Helios in the middle. The appearance of a pagan sun god on the synagogue’s floor continues to puzzle scholars to this day.

What’s a Zodiac Doing in Ancient Synagogue Floors?

hamat tiberias zodiacHamat Tiberias is not the only site where figurative art, the Zodiac, and Helios appear in the decoration of an ancient synagogue. Similar themes were recorded also in the ancient synagogues of Beth-AlphaSepphoris, Naaran, and more. They all seem to attest to a liberal attitude in Judaism in antiquity, barely reflected in the Talmud. Nevertheless, the exact meaning of these symbols remains uncertain. One popular explanation, developed by Prof. Zeev Weiss, suggests that they symbolize God and his omnipotence.

Touring Hamat Tiberias

Hamat Tiberias is a national park that is open every day from 8:00 to 17:00, and has an entry fee. The Ottoman-era bath house near the entrance (Hamam Sulieman) now functions as a small museum presenting the history and archaeology of the site. It also includes an audio-visual presentation.

A visit to Hamat Tiberias can be combined with a guided day tour of the Galilee.

Setting a Bar-Mitzvah in Hamat Tiberias Synagogue

The ancient synagogue of Hamat Tiberias is a perfect place for a Bar or Bat-Mitzvah ceremony. Developed into a covered and air-conditioned visitor center, the site welcome Jewish families of all denominations to celebrate their child special day. The ceremony can be followed by an event in one of the hotels in Tiberias, and a private sail on the Sea of Galilee. In the evening the party can continue as a festive dinner at “Decks” restaurant, including live music, dancing, and fireworks from the lake. What a great way to celebrate a great day!

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