The mosaic floor at Bet Alpha Synagogue
Israel, 1st half of 6th century
Zodiac Wheel (detail)
© Zev Radovan, Jerusalem
The Temple in Jerusalem holds a singular place in Jewish history. With its destruction by the Romans in the first century CE, the sacrificial religious service was transformed into one based on the Scriptures. To compensate for the loss of the central holy site, the synagogues that were then built received a sacred character. This can be recognized through their orientation pointing toward Jerusalem, the destroyed center of the Jewish ritual cult.
In the Byzantine basilica-like structure of Beit Alfa synagogue in Israel, the apse for the Torah shrine also faces Jerusalem. The iconographic language of this Late Antique synagogue, with its depiction of the Binding of Isaac, the festival calendar, and an imaginary view of the Temple interior, treats key scenes in Jewish memory. It distinctly shows how the synagogue would from then on represent the Temple as a "small holy site."
Specific symbols on Jewish ritual objects, such as tablets with the Ten Commandments, the seven-branched menorah, the Eternal Flame, and the pillars of the Temple, keep alive memories of the Temple.