Subj: The Temple Mount Mikvah Adventure
Ritual purification exists in almost all cultures, and almost universally this purification is achieved through submersion in water. In the Christian ritual of baptism, submersion in holy water is believed to wash away all sins. In the Shinto ritual of misogi, men and women stand under a waterfall to achieve a spiritually pure status. Even the Cherokee bathe themselves in a running stream before important rituals and life events. There is something primal and universal about this practice which transcends cultures.
For the past few weeks I have been living in Jerusalem and working on an archaeological dig near the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is considered one of the holiest spots in the world, and its significance to the three Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam cannot be overstated.
According to tradition, Mt. Moriah on which the Temple Mount stands was the first piece of earth that God created when he made the world. In historic times the Temple Mount is where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. And it is where the Knights Templar made their headquarters during the Crusades. To rework the line from Indiana Jones, “We are simply passing through history. The Temple Mount is history.”
The Temple itself was a place of central religious importance to the people of the area in biblical times and remained so until it was destroyed in 70CE during the Roman Siege of Jerusalem.
Historically, one of the major requirements before a person was allowed to ascend to the Temple Mount and stand in the presence of God was immersion in a ritual bath known as a mikvah.
Due to this requirement several of these mikvahs surrounded the Temple Mount. However as the Temple itself has not existed in almost 2000 years, most of these Temple Mount mikvahs have been lost to time. Most, but not all of them…
It was around 3am when I set out with my friend Jake to explore the Old City. We had just spent the past few hours hanging out at a bar with a few other friends, and our goal was to see what hidden treasures the city had to offer now that night had fallen.
Inside the walls of Old City Jerusalem lies thousands of years of history just waiting to be explored. You can’t walk a hundred feet without encountering something of immense historical significance. It’s an archaeologist’s dream.
Jake and I entered through the Jaffa Gate and decided to head straight to the Western Wall via the rooftop promenade. Lit up at night, the Western Wall of the Temple Mount is a spectacular sight.
Upon entering into the Western Wall plaza we were surprised to find that even at 3AM there were still a few men offering prayers.
While the Western Wall is cool, the place I was really interested in exploring lay just below the ground we were standing on.
Below the modern day streets of Jerusalem there is a series of tunnels which stretch along the Western Wall. These tunnels reach deep underground to the earliest days of the Old City. This is where I wanted to explore. The problem is that these tunnels are highly controversial among the Muslim population and are therefore guarded at night.
Jake is one of the few people I know who is as willing to push the envelope as far as I am. So when it came to sneaking passed armed guards into one of the most politically contentious spots on earth, he was all in.
We approached the entrance to the tunnels and were able to sneak passed the first guard. (Due to security concerns I won’t be telling you how we did this.)
I had taken a tour of the publicly accessible areas of the tunnels a few days prior, so I knew the general layout. Careful to avoiding security, we made our way through the main tunnel until we reached an area which forked off into the forbidden zones. Once we entered these areas I didn’t know what we would find.
We twisted and turned through a series of rooms and chambers which dated back hundreds of years. As I entered one of the larger rooms I noticed a small sub-chamber which had been gated shut and padlocked. I peered through the gate and was surprised to see an old mikvah which still had water flowing into it.
I called Jake over to see what I’d found, and he was as shocked as I was.
This was probably both the oldest and closest working mikvah to the Temple Mount that currently exists. This was the Cadillac of holy water, so being able to bathe in it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. And as the area was not yet open to the public I knew I could potentially be the first person to use it in hundreds of years. I needed to get in there.
If I had my lockpicks with me I could have picked the lock, but they were back in my room.
As I examined the gate to see if there was any way I could get through I noticed a small hole in the adjacent wall approximately two feet by two feet in diameter.
Could it be?
Without saying a word I got down on my hands and knees and squeezed into the hole. Once I was inside the wall I crawled through dust and spider webs until I reached a sharp right turn which exited inside the mikvah sub-chamber.
It was now or never. I looked back through the gate at Jake and told him to keep watch.
From what I remembered about the ritual, the process was fairly simple. In order to attain ritual purity you simply needed to remove all of your clothing and accessories, then dunk several times; submerging every part of your body.
I stripped down until I was completely naked and slowly descended into the mikvah. The water was ice cold, and as I entered the chill shocked my breath away. Once I was fully submerged I dunked several times, ensuring the water covered my whole body.
After emerging from the mikvah I put my clothes back on and told Jake to come in. He crawled through the tunnel and emerged inside the room a few seconds later. I kept watch for him while he used it, and once he was done we left the tunnels to explore more of the Old City.
I consider myself a man of science, but I swear upon everything sacred that standing there in front of the Temple Mount, as the cool night air hit my skin, I felt different from when I had gone in.
I felt clean, and fresh, and light.
I looked at Jake to express this sentiment, but as I opened my mouth Jake stopped me and said, “I know. I feel it too.”
Until next time,