For visitors to Israel, the city of Lod (Lydda) is just a place near Ben Gurion Airport. For many Israelis, mention of the city conjures up images of slums, a mixed Arab-Jewish population, crime and poverty.
But for the young and energetic members of the Torah Nucleus Group that has settled in the city to try and change its image – and has grown phenomenally to 300 families, bringing on a building boom of 600 apartments under construction in expectation of more - all this is secondary.
Aharon Attias, of the Torah Nucleus Group, says "We have a special reason for living in Lod, the city where every step is taken in the footsteps of the Torah luminaries who lived there after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. and took part in the codification of the Mishna and Talmud, the days when Lod was called the 'Second Jerusalem'."
The Torah Nucleus group has welcomed a group of rabbis and academics who hope to bring the history of the Talmud's writing to life in the place where it all happened. Their initiative begins, fittingly, on Lag Ba'Omer, the holiday that recalls the Talmudic period, Rabbi Akiva and his protege, the heroic military commander Shimon Bar Kochba who led the revolt for freedom against Rome in 133-35 C.E.
These young families are already returning Lod to its former centrality as a city of Torah scholarship. The hesder (Torah and IDF service) yeshiva rings with the sound of Talmudic learning as it did of yore, but their vision goes way beyond that.
Together, they want to reach out to tourists, students, schoolchildren and families by building an interactive Museum of the Tannaim and Amoraim - the term for the sages who created the Talmud - that will turn the rich world of the period, the fascinating lives and deeds of the larger-than-life figures who lived in Lod and fill the Talmud's pages, into a hands-on, involved experience.
These sages dealt with social, moral, national and politicial dilemmas of momentous importance for the Jewish people then and now. The. interactive museum will have visitors experience and deal with questions that are as pertinent today as then. The planners hope that the study of Talmud will become more exciting for young students as well, once the personalities involved become real to them.
Lod is on the main road that connected the two most important urban centers of the Second Temple Period, Caesarea and Jerusalem. After the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. the city became the largest center of Jewish population.
In fact, many say that the period of Tannaim (scholars who wrote the Mishna, the Oral Law) between the destruction of the Temple and the Bar Kochba rebellion against Rome. - recalled on Lag Ba'Omer - should be called the Lod Tannaitic Period.
Tens of small Jewish villages have been excavated in the area, as well as ritual baths, stone tools and secret tunnels.
Sixteen years before the Bar Kochba rebellion, the Romans laid siege to the city in which the Jews had gathered. The distress became so great that the Tannaitic sage, Rabban Gamaliel II., who was shut up there and died soon afterward, permitted fasting in prayer even on Ḥanukkah; though other rabbis, such as Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah, condemned this measure (Ta'anit ii. 10; Yer. Ta'anit ii. 66a; Yer. Meg. i. 70d; R. H. 18b). Soon afterward Lod was taken and masses of the Jews were executed; the "slain of Lod" are often mentioned in words of reverential praise in the Talmud (Pes. 50a; B. B. 10b; Eccl. R. ix. 10)
On Lag Ba'Omer the Torah Nuclear Group is conducting a seminar, open to the public, and titled "Voices from the Past", with a roster of well known speakers- Rabbi Yisrael Samet of the Nucleus group, Rabbi David Stav of Shoham, Prof. Ben Zion Rosenfeld of Bar Ilan Univ., Yael Schlossberg of Matan, Rabbi Noam Perl of Sussya and Meri Nitzan representing the municipality - who have all decided to lend their support to the initiative. There is a live performance as well. Join them by calling 08-9159666 or mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.