Sanhedrin’s Ancient Hall of Hewn Stones ‘Brought Back to Life’

April 6, 2017

4 min read

The high court of the Sanhedrin used to meet in the Hall of Hewn Stones (Lishkat ha’Gazit) during the Second Temple period, and then, as Maimonides describes it, when law and order could no longer be maintained in Jerusalem, it left the city, and was “exiled” to ten different locations until it was finally disbanded. Now a new app will enable the reconstruction of the old court in the Galilee, bringing back to life—albeit virtually—the Sanhedrin scholars and other sages of the period.

This hi-tech miracle will take place along a new, “smart” Sanhedrin trail, which at about 45 miles will be among the longest hiking trails in Israel, will communicate with hikers using the innovative, reality-based app that integrates figures who guide hikers of all ages along the trail, creating an extraordinary, first of its kind experience. The trail will be divided into five segments that can be covered in the course of five days of walking. It will be suitable for families and will also include circular routes.

The Sanhedrin Trail will cross the Lower Galilee by way of many of the sites that were inhabited during the time of the Mishnah and Talmud. In the picture: visitors in the Roman theater of Tiberias and the theater. (Tovanon, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

This large-scale project involves thousands of students and volunteers who will excavate and prepare the new trail, which will allow hikers to cross the Galilee on foot from Tiberias to Beit She’arim. This is a joint project of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the National Religious Education Administration (Hemed) of the Ministry of Education, and the Landmarks Project of the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, in conjunction with the councils and towns through which the trail runs, as well as environmental organizations.

In recent weeks, thousands of high school students have been taking part in archaeological excavations along the cardo – the main street of the ancient Roman city of Tiberias, in preparation of the Tiberias section of the Sanhedrin Trail. A visitor’s center will soon be built in the city, which will offer the public an opportunity to better understand the project and participate in the excavations, while getting to know the city’s ancient heritage.

Tal Dothan, a student at Nir Galim, participating in the Sanhedrin Trail initiative said, “We learn a lot in the classroom and at school, but in practice the studies only really sink in when you feel it, when you walk it. We come in order to prepare a trail for someone else. To open a section that does not exist, to pave a way for more people to walk on and so that others can enjoy…”

The Sanhedrin Trail will cross the Lower Galilee by way of many of the sites that were inhabited during the time of the Mishnah and Talmud. The Sanhedrin – the foremost body of Jewish leadership and supreme authority during the Second Temple period – was exiled to Yavne after the destruction of Jerusalem, and from there to the Galilee following the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 CE.

Israel Hasson, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said in a statement: “The trail project, which is dedicated to the Sanhedrin sages, will extend over 70 kilometers and will be dedicated to the State of Israel in its seventieth year of independence. Tens of thousands of pupils and volunteers will bestow the respect due the Sanhedrin sages, and they will provide a spectacular and enjoyable interactive trail for tens of thousands of hikers that will connect the hikers to their past. We are calling on any citizen interested in volunteering to help set up the trail to contact us by email at We will meet with the heads of the councils through which the trail passes and together formulate a plan of action that will involve the local community and youth.”

Students of the National Religious Education system participating in archaeological excavations within the framework of preparing the Sanhedrin Trail. (Shmuel Magal, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Michal De-Hann, pedagogic deputy in the National Religious Education Administration said, “A student who excavates and exposes ancient remains and receives an explanation about the finds, connects deeply to the continuity of our country’s life and heritage. The program offers significant extracurricular learning that exposes students to Jewish ideas, values and creativity.”

According to Yair Amitzur, the IAA antiquities inspector for the Eastern Galilee and one of the initiators of the idea, “People such Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nasi, the members of the Sanhedrin who were active here 2,000 years ago, determined to a great extent much of how our lives are run today. It is according to these religious laws that we marry or conduct funeral ceremonies, and even administer Jewish law. The establishment of the trail and walking on it will connect those who live here today with the atmosphere and frame of mind of that period. In walking along the Galilee trails while using the application that will be developed specifically for the sake of this project, the trail will afford visitors a learning experience about the Mishnah and Talmud period and connect them to the world of the sages who shaped Judaism in the religious houses of learning.”

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