Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Holy Water

There are so many unique components to Jerusalem. Its holiness is celebrated by multiple religions. However, one primary difference between Jerusalem and other ancient cities is that it is not in proximity to a natural water source.

In ancient times, water was provided to David’s capital city via a series of aqueducts, cisterns and natural springs. Birket Yisrael, was a public cistern on the northeast corner of the Temple mount, built by the Romans. Hezekiah’s Pool, in what today is the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, is believed to be a water source referenced in Scriptures (Kings II 18:17). The Mamilla Pool, situated 650 meters outside of the Jaffa Gate (where today the Mamilla Mall is found) was built by Herod the Great and was connected to Hezekiah’s Pool via aqueducts. The Pool of Bethesda (Hebrew for beit chessed – house of kindness) is referenced in the Christian Gospels and is reported to be situated near the Lion’s Gate in the Moslem Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. However, it has not been identified archaeologically. The Shiloach, or Silwan in Arabic, can be found on the southern slope of the City of David (on the southern side of the Temple Mount). It was fed by the waters of the Gichon Spring, which was carried to the Shiloach via two aqueducts. This water source is mentioned in the Talmud, and it was from here that the water was drawn on Sukkot, to be poured into the Temple’s altar. Finally, the Sultan’s Pool, at the foot of the western side of Mount Zion, was built by Herod the Great, and is used as a concert venue in modern day Jerusalem.

As the number of immigrants grew, who arrived to the Holy Land from Europe during the aliyot in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the population of Jerusalem increased exponentially, and a more modern system to hydrate the citizens of the Holy City needed to be employed. With the advent of statehood in May of 1948, the government of the state of Israel endeavored to create a permanent solution. Plans for a Jerusalem water reservoir to be located in the Bayit Vegan section were drawn. Construction began in early 1955 as both a means to prevent the water shortage that occurred during the siege of Jerusalem in 1948, as well as to promote greater urban development. The project cost between 1.5 and 2 million Israeli Lira, and was financed through the sale of Israel Bonds.

On November 18, 1958, corresponding to the 6th of Kislev, Finance Minister (and future Prime Minister) Levi Eshkol opened the valve allowing water to flow into the new Jerusalem reservoir. Prior to this new permanent water source in Jerusalem, the high price for “imported” water, prevented industrial and economic development in the expanding new capital city. While the population of Jerusalem was recorded at 84,000 in 1948, that number rocketed to 150,000 by 1958.Today it is over 750,000.

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