Archaeological excavations under the Tiferes Israel synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City in Yerushalayim have uncovered artifacts believed to date to the period of Bayis Sheini, including a scale weight belonging to the family of the Kohen Gadol.
The excavations also reveal an impressive Jewish residence in the city from the Ottoman, Mamluk, and Byzantine periods.
The artifacts were found underneath the Tiferes Israel synagogue, which was built in the 18th century and destroyed by Jordan in 1948.
Hebrew University archaeologist Oren Gutfield discovered the weight and other artifacts from the Second Temple era about three feet underneath the building’s floor. “It doesn’t happen very much that I get emotional when I find artifacts. But here, I went pale and even felt a small tremble to see the name of the high priest,” Gutfield recounted.
There were two lines of writing on the weight, with the image of a lyre between them. At first the text was obscured by a layer of fire damage, possibly from the burning of Yerushalayim in 70 C.E. But after further cleaning, the family name of the high priest was readable on the second line. (The first line of writing has not yet been translated.)
A similar weight had been discovered at the Burnt House, a nearby archaeological site. In addition to the weight, Gutfield said, “new mikvehs that we didn’t know about and their heating system have been uncovered.”
Underneath everything else, the oldest layer were remnants of a wall and pottery from the Bayis Rishon, the according to the archaeologists.
The Tiferes Israel synagogue was a three-story domed structure, once a central feature of life in the Jewish Quarter, was dedicated in 1872 but destroyed by the Jordanian Army after it captured the Old City during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.
Once the archaeological work is completed, the rebuilding will take three years and cost about $13 million, with most of the funding coming from private donors. Due to its elevation, when completed the synagogue will be the highest structure in the Old City.