Kfar Bar'am

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This article is about the village in Upper Galilee known as Kfar Bar'am. For other uses, see Kfar Bar'am (disambiguation).
Kfar Bar'am
Ruins of the Ancient Synagogue at Bar'am.jpg
Ancient synagogue ruins.
Kfar Bar'am is located in Israel
Kfar Bar'am
Shown within Israel
Coordinates 33°02′37″N 35°24′51″E / 33.043611°N 35.414075°E / 33.043611; 35.414075

Kfar Baram (Hebrew: כְּפַר בַּרְעָם), also Kafr Bir'im or Kafar Berem, is the site of an ancient Jewish village in Northern Israel, 3 kilometers from the Lebanese border. An ancient Hebrew inscription from one of the village synagogues reads: "Peace be upon the place, and on all the places of Israel."


The name is often assumed to mean "Son of the People," incorporating the Aramaic word bar בר, meaning "son" and the Hebrew word am עם meaning "people". However, if like at Shfar'am, both elements are Hebrew, the name could derive from a literary Hebrew word בר indicating cleanliness, purity, pristineness and wholesomeness - "The wholesome people" or "wholesomeness of the people". In modern Hebrew, בר is most commonly used in phrases to indicate "wilderness" or "nature".


Ruins of the ancient synagogue

Bar'am was established in ancient times as a Jewish village. At an unknown point between the 7th and the 13th century, Jews abandoned the village.[1][2] By the 19th century the village was entirely Christian. A church on the site, the Maronite church, is maintained and is always open.

According to tradition the prophet Obadiah and Queen Esther, wife of King Xerxes, were buried at Kfar Bar'am. On Purim, the Megillat Esther (Scroll of Esther) was read at her grave. However, the city of Hamadan (ancient Ecbatana) is where the tomb of Queen Esther and her cousin, Mordechai have been presented for countless centuries.

The village was badly damaged in the Galilee earthquake of 1837. The local church and a row of columns and other standing remains of the ancient synagogue were thrown to the ground.[3]

For many centuries, the place was a place of Jewish pilgrimage. It was said in the 12th century to contain the tombs of Barak, the prophet Obadiah and Queen Esther. The Jews of Safed would assemble around these shrines each year on Purim to "eat, drink and rejoice." A few people were reported to still visit the spot in 1868.[4]

Ruins of Maronite village

The nearby village of Kafr Bir'im was captured October 31, 1948 by the Israel Defense Forces during operation Hiram and the villagers forced to leave.[5] In 1949, due to frequent cross-border infiltration, they were barred from returning to the border zone.[6]On June 16, 1949, Kibbutz Bar'am was founded nearby by demobilized Palmach soldiers.


See also Bar'am National Park.

The Kfar Bar'am synagogue is preserved up to the second story and has been restored. The architecture is similar to that of other synagogues in the Galilee built in the Talmudic period. In 1522, Rabbi Moses Basula wrote that the synagogue belonged to Simeon bar Yochai, who survived the Second Jewish War in 132-135 CE (the Bar-Kochba revolt). But archeologists have concluded that the building was built at least a century later. Israeli archaeologist Lipa Sukenik (1889–1953), who was instrumental in establishing the Department of Archaeology at the Hebrew University, excavated a relief in one of the synagogues in 1928, and dated the Bar’am synagogue to the 3rd century CE.

The synagogue is made of basalt stone, standard for most buildings in the area. The six-column portico is unusual. The front entrance of the synagogue has three doorways that face Jerusalem. In front of the entrance are some of the (originally eight) columns with Attic bases which supported a porch. There is an inscription under the right window on the facade, which reads: "Banahu Elazar bar Yodan", which means "Elazar bar Yodan built it". Elazar bar Yodan is a Jewish Aramaic name. The interior of the synagogue was divided by rows of columns into three aisles and an ambulatory.

An unusual feature in an ancient synagogue is the presence of three-dimensional sculpture, a pair of stone lions. A similar pair of three-dimensional lions was found at Chorazin.[7] A carved frieze features a winged victory and images of animals and, possibly, human figures.[8]

There was a second, smaller synagogue, but little of it was found. A lintel from this smaller synagogue is at the Louvre. The Hebrew inscription on the lintel reads, "Peace be upon the place, and on all the places of Israel."[9]

In 1901, publication of photos of the ancient synagogue led the Jewish Hospital of Philadelphia, (now the Albert Einstein Medical Center,) to erect a synagogue, the Henry S. Frank Memorial Synagogue, inspired by Bar'am and other ancient Israeli synagogues. The hospital's synagogue replicated the round arch of the door of the standing ruin and the lintel from the smaller synagogue that is now in the Louvre.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Judaism in late antiquity, Jacob Neusner, Bertold Spuler, Hady R Idris, BRILL, 2001, p. 155
  2. ^ a b Art and Judaism in the Greco-Roman world: toward a new Jewish archaeology, Steven Fine, Cambridge University Press, 2005, pp. 13-14
  3. ^ "The earthquake of 1 January 1837 in Southern Lebanon and Northern Israel" by N. N. Ambraseys, in Annali di Geofisica, August 1997, p.933,
  4. ^ A handbook for travellers in Syria and Palestine. J. Murray, 1868. pg. 416.
  5. ^ Benny Morris (2004): The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, ISBN 0-521-00967-7, p. XXII, settlement #160.
  6. ^ Israel's border wars, 1949-1956: Arab infiltration, Israeli retaliation, and the countdown to the Suez War, Benny Morris, 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 124
  7. ^ Art and Judaism in the Greco-Roman world: toward a new Jewish archaeology, Steven Fine, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 190.
  8. ^ Art and Judaism in the Greco-Roman world: toward a new Jewish archaeology, Steven Fine, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 92.
  9. ^ Art and Judaism in the Greco-Roman world: toward a new Jewish archaeology, Steven Fine, Cambridge University Press, 2005, Chapter 1, Building an Ancient Synagogue on the Delaware, pp. 12-21

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