Site of 1,500-year-old Jewish town
Site of 1,500-year-old Jewish town Israel news photo courtesy of Nir Shimshon Faran (IAA)

Archaeologists have discovered remains of a large 1,500-year-old Jewish town near Be’er Sheva, including two public ritual pools, or mikvehs, a synagogue or Torah study center. Mikvehs are used in Judaism for ritual purification purposes.

Israel Antiquities Authority officials said the remains were found during excavation work in extending the southern leg of Israel's north-south super highway, Kvish 6, (Highway 6) to the Lehavim junction, located five miles north of the “capital of the Negev.”

The remains also included two large public buildings, and the synagogue or Torah center was built facing Jerusalem, as is the custom in the entire Jewish world.

Archaeologists said that the Jewish town was very large, located approximately 8 kilometers (3 miles) from another Byzantine-era synagogue, at Hurvat Rimon, and that it apparently was abandoned at the same time of the Islamic conquest at the end of the sixth or beginning of the seventh century. Yet another synagogue from the same era is located several miles east at Susiya, whose ancient community also was inexplicably abandoned.

The discovery along the route of Kvish 6 follows several other finds since construction started on the highway several years ago.

“They seem to be public buildings, judging by the location and character,” said archaeological dig director Nir Shimshon-Faran. He said that a new community was built over the remains, without any consideration of preserving them, and one of the ritual pools was covered by a new building.