Bar'am was a Jewish Village until the 13th Century and Now Again / DR.R.S.Lissak

Close to modern day Kibbutz Bar’am are the remains of a Christian- Maronite village that was evacuated in 1948. That village was situated on the ruins of the Jewish village Bar'am, of the Second Temple period.

Today, Bar’am is a Kibbutz belonging to the Hashomer Hatzta’ir organisation. It was established in 1949 by veterans of the Palmach, the precursor of the Israeli Defense Forces. It was established 2 kilometres away from the village Bir’am, which was evacuated during the war because of its proximity to the Lebanese border, and because of the Lebanese origin of its inhabitants. Some of the villagers returned to Lebanon, but the majority was moved to Jish, formerly Jewish Gush Halav, whose population is mostly Maronite Christian. In 1948 Bir’am’s population numbered 1,050, increasing to 2,000 today, some of whom living in Acre, Nazareth, Kfar Makhar, Jerusalem, and Haifa.

The Second Temple Period (538 BCE – 70 CE)

Excavations carried out in Bir’am in 1998, show that the beginnings of the Jewish settlement date to the Persian period, i.e., sometime in the 6th or 5th centuries BCE. During the Second Temple period the site was a large and eminent Jewish settlement.

The Roman and Byzantine Periods (70 CE – 634 CE)

According to Josephus Flavius, there were 204 Jewish cities and villages in the Galilee on the eve of the Great Revolt (66 CE). After the destruction of the Temple, Jews from Judea moved to the Galilee and the area became the cultural and spiritual centre of the Jews of Israel.

Prior to the Bar Kokhba revolt (132 CE) there were only 63 Jewish settlements in the Galilee, and only 56 survived its aftermath.

The remains of a magnificent 2nd or 3rd century CE synagogue survived from Jewish Bar’am of the Mishna and Talmud period. Another synagogue from that time was demolished in the 19th century. Excavations in the synagogue were carried out in 1905. They were resumed after the establishment of the State of Israel and portions of the building have been reconstructed.
An Aramaic inscription was found among the remains of the 2nd or 3rd century synagogue, mentioning the “sons of Elazar Ben Yodan”. The words were inscribed on the synagogue’s Eastern window sill, honouring their contribution to the synagogue’s construction or renovation. Remains from the second synagogue, which resembled the first, survived until about 100 years ago. An inscription was found on the synagogue’s door post, which reads: “May peace reside in this place and in all the places of His people Israel, Yosseh Halevy son of Levy made this doorpost, may he be blessed in his doings”. The inscription is kept in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Remains of other ancient buildings can be found in the village. Stones from a synagogue were discovered east of the Maronite cemetery.
Bir'am has been made into a national park and all the ancient remains, including a Christian maronite church, and a cemertary, are part of the park.

The Arabic- Muslim Period (640 – 1099 )

Bar’am is often mentioned in mediaeval travelers’ books, who visited the village. Bar'am is also mentioned in the Cairo Genizah( a Jewish archive)letters .

The Crusader Period (1099 – 1260)

DR. Silvia Shein, wrote in her article "Israel during the Crusaders," that during the 13th century about a dozen Jewish villages were around Tiberias and Safad, and Bar'am was one of them. According to Mordechai Aviam's arcaelogical survey, 36 Jewish settlements out of 58 during the Christian- Byzantine period, still existed in the eastern part of the Galilee in the time of the Crusaders' Kingdom. Rabbi Sehmuel visited Bar'am in 1211.
According to a Jewish tradition, a son, named Nahman was born in the 12th century to Pinchas and Rachel from Bar'am. He was a special child and at the age of 12 he made a prophecy and died. According to his prophecy, the Jews were going to face destruction until they will be saved by a savior. His nick name was "The Yanuka" and he was buried in Safad, according to one tradition, and in Bar'am, according to another.
This tradition was told for the first time by an anonymous traveler in the 14th century. Nahman's grave was, also, mentioned in 1537 and 1769.

The Ottoman Period (1516 – 1918)

The traveler Moshe Bassula visited Bar’am in 1521. His book describes the remains of the synagogue and a visit to the grave of Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair. This leads to the conclusion that there were no Jews in Bar’am by the middle of the 16th century, although some say that there were a few Jews, still, living there in the 19th century.

It is assumed that Jewish Bar’am met its end during the Crusades period as a result of a massacre carried out by Turkman robbers or Crusaders. Those who survived fled and their fate is unknown..

According to Victor Gren, who described Bir’am in the 19th century, there were 500 Maronite poverty-stricken families living there, and the village church was built about 30 years prior to his visit. He found the remains of two synagogues, with three underground cells beneath one of them. He assumed these were graves, one of which was transformed into a water hole. In the 19th century there were no Jews in the village.

An inn remains from the Ottoman period. It has a large courtyard, a water hole, and rooms for accommodation. The inn was built North-East of the synagogue. The remains of an olive press for the production of olive oil have also been found.

The British Mandate Period (1918 – 1948)

According to the British Census of 1931 there were 132 houses in the Christian- Maronite Bir'am, 554 inhabitants, 547 of them Christian- Marinites and 7 Muslims.


Contrary to many Arabic villages, Bir’am’s Christian- Maronit residents did not fight against Israel in 1948. They were evacuated for security reasons: it was feared that their proximity to the border (only 5 km from it) would make it easy to infiltrate Israel from Lebanon. At that time, the villagers were told their evacuation was temporary. The promise made to the villagers that they will be able to return has not been fulfilled to this day, despite a court order from 1951 which allowed them to return. The decision to return them to their village was not carried out . Israel has been reluctant to return the Bir’am villagers to Bir’am for fear this would become a precedent for the Palestinian “right to return.”

The ex-residents of Bir'am who were moved to Gush Halav are today part of the local community. On my visit to Gush Halav, I was told by one of the village's teachers, who served in the Israeli army as an officer, that the Maronites are not Arabs, but Arameans. They belong to the ancient Arameans who are mentioned in the Bible. He showed me their ancient prayer book, which is written in Aramaic.

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