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Tiberias

Originally built by Herod Antipas (who controlled Israel from 4 BCE until 39 CE), the city was named in honor of the Roman Emperor Tiberias (42 BCE– 37 CE). The name is also attributed in the Talmud (Megilah) as a derivation from tova reiyita, (“a good sight”)—befitting the picturesque city on the edge of Lake Kinneret framed by the mountain range.

In addition to the Kinneret, Tiberias is known for its natural hot springs and mineral baths. Tiberias is one of Israel’s four holy cities.

Tiberias has some of the oldest gravesites in Israel, including those of many Jewish sages and leaders. The city was a major center for Torah study for two centuries beginning during the lifetime of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi (second century CE), compiler of the Mishnah, until the fifth generation of Amoraim, the sages of the Talmud.

Lake Kinneret

The Kinneret, also known as the Sea of Galilee, is Israel’s largest fresh water reservoir. It is thirteen miles long and seven miles wide, and it is Israel’s most important source of drinking water.

Its name goes back to the Talmudic era and derives from kinor (harp), as the Talmud says (Megilah 6a), “ . . . as sweet and mellow as the notes of the harp.”

The beaches surrounding the lake vary in keeping with the local geography, creating different landscapes in every location. The eastern and western shores lie just below the Galilee Mountains.

To the north is the Beit Tsida valley, a wide area with plentiful water, and to the south is the Jordan estuary, flowing south toward the desert regions.

Tomb of Maimonides (1135-1204)

Rabbi Moses Maimonides, the Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon) is considered among the greatest Jewish sages.

On his gravestone is inscribed: “From Moshe [Moses] to Moshe [Maimonides] there was none like Moshe”.

Despite a difficult life—he was continually forced to flee the prevailing Moslem persecution of Jews in North Africa—Maimonides authored several landmark works that provide a cornerstone of knowledge in every area of Torah study and Jewish life.

He was also a physician to Saladin, the Muslim ruler of Egypt.

The Rambam’s greatest contribution is his famed magnum opus, the codification of Jewish Law, the Mishneh Torah.

The walkway to the grave is symbolic: seven columns on both sides are inscribed with the names of the Mishneh Torah’s fourteen books. A large metal structure over the complex represents a crown, indicating the great respect Jewish tradition accords Maimonides.

Maimonides passed away in Egypt and his remains were transported to Israel as was his wish. According to legend, as his coffin was led to Israel, it was attacked by robbers who tried unsuccessfully to remove the valuables. Realizing that it contained a very holy man, they 46 let the now-unmanned camel continue on its way. It stopped at the site of the Rambam’s final resting place near the gravesite of the holy Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai and his five students.

Next to the Rambam rests his illustrious father and teacher, Rabbi Maimon.

Tomb of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes

Rabbi Meir lived in the age of the sages of the Mishnah (2nd century CE). A dedicated student of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha, he is often quoted in the Mishnah and Talmud.

Many miraculous events are attributed to him, hence his title, “Baal HaNes” (master of miracles).

In a famous incident in the Talmud, Avodah Zarah 18a, he rescued his sister-in-law from a Roman prison. He convinced the guard to free her in exchange for a promise that saying, “G-d of Meir, answer me,” would save him in times of trouble. The guard’s life was in fact saved on more than one occasion, and for centuries many people have been saved from tragedy with this plea.

Another custom, giving charity in honor of Rabbi Meir, originated during an epidemic when he instructed the residents of Tiberias to give charity; those who did were saved. (Colel Chabad is a Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes charity.)

Jews have been making the pilgrimage to Rabbi Meir’s tomb since the 13th century; the blue-domed building, located near Tiberias’ hot springs (famed for their curative powers), became a special place to pray for healing and divine intervention.

Tomb of Rabbi Akiva (50-135 CE)

A visit to Rabbi Akiva’s tomb in Tiberias is a chance to consider this great sage’s life and its significance for the Jewish people and all humanity.

Rabbi Akiva started out as a poor, illiterate shepherd. His wife Rachel married him against the wishes of her affluent father, who balked at Akiva’s lack of education.

Rachel encouraged and supported her husband’s utter devotion to Torah study and lived in abject poverty for twenty-four years. Akiva’s formal study of Torah did not begin until age forty, but his diligence, combined with his keen intellect, enabled him to become one of the foremost sages of the Mishnah with 24,000 students.

He supported the 2nd-century rebel leader Bar Kochba. He was arrested by the Romans and subjected to a horrifyingly painful death; he lovingly recited the words of the “Shema” at the end.

According to tradition, his body was miraculously transported to Tiberias for burial alongside his students who had died in a plague.

His tomb, on the mountainside behind the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, overlooks Tiberias and the Kinneret, and has been a pilgrimage site since the early Middle Ages.

It became a special tradition to pray for rain at Rabbi Akiva’s tomb during drought years.

Among those who visited Rabbi Akiva’s Tomb was the famed kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the Ari Zal, making the site even more sacred.

Tomb of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok (1730-1788)

The chassidic master Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok (or of Vitebsk), was a leading disciple of the second leader of the chassidic movement, Rabbi Dovber, the Magid of Mezeritch.

Upon the latter’s passing in 1772, Rabbi Menachem Mendel was regarded by his colleagues as the leader of the chassidic community in Russia: Rabbi Shne’ur Zalman of Liadi considered him his Rebbe and mentor.

In 1777, Rabbi Menachem Mendel led a group of 300 chassidim to the Holy Land and established chassidic communities in Safed and Tiberias.

He passed away on Iyar 2, 5548 [1788], and is buried in Tiberias.