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Twin Cities

Have you heard of the twin cities? No, not Minneapolis and St. Paul but Tiberias and Zippori. The two are close to each other and are often mentioned together in rabbinical texts, as they are here in our masechet:

鈥淩abbi Oshaya says: Even if she is in Tiberias and her courtyard is in Zippori, or if she is in Zippori and her courtyard is in Tiberias, she is divorced.鈥 (Gittin 77)

Tiberias and Zippori are about thirty kilometers apart, a half hour drive today or a half day鈥檚 walk in ancient times. They were linked by one of the most important east-west roads in Roman times, the road from Akko (Ptolomais as the Romans called it) on the Mediterranean through Zippori (or Roman Dio Caesarea) to Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. Parts of this impressive road have been discovered near Zippori. A monumental twelve-meter wide section was found right near the Arab town of Rumat al Heib, adjacent to Zippori. Roman milestones have also been discovered nearby. This was a busy and well-traveled road between two significant Jewish cities in Mishnaic and Talmudic times.

Of the two towns, Zippori was the older one, founded already in Hasmonean times. It was a wealthy and prominent Jewish city which eventually expanded to include pagans and even Jewish Christians (see Tiberias was somewhat younger and was founded by Herod鈥檚 son Herod Antipas in the early first century CE. Because it was founded on the outskirts of the cemetery of nearby Hamat, it was at first unpopular with Jews who feared that they were living in places that were on top of graves and therefore impure. However, eventually Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai clarified which parts of the city were pure and people began to move in. Both Zippori and Tiberias were home to the Sanhedrin at some point as we hear in the Gemara in Rosh haShanah:

鈥渢he Sanhedrin was exiled . . . from Jerusalem to Yavne; and from Yavne to Usha; and from Usha to Yavne; and from Yavne to Usha; and from Usha to Shefaram; and from Shefaram to Beit She鈥檃rim; and from Beit She鈥檃rim to Tzippori; and from Tzippori to Tiberias. And Tiberias is deeper than all of them,鈥 (Rosh HaShanah 31)

Tiberias鈥 鈥渄epth鈥 refers not only to its topography, situated deep in the valley, but to the fact that it was the final resting place of the Sanhedrin and the home of rabbinic tradition for centuries.

The rabbis knew the two towns and the road between them well and we have many instances where they are mentioned together. Because of the strong Jewish population in both places, a piece of meat found on the road between them was assumed to be kosher:

鈥淩abbi 岣nina found a slaughtered young goat between Tiberias and Zippori and the Sages permitted it to him.鈥 (Bava Metzia 24b)

Rabbis traveled on this road often. We have a beautiful story about Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba traveling on the road, and as they pass each place Rabbi Yochanan explains that he used to own this property and he sold it so that he could learn Torah. Rabbi Hiyya is distressed: did you not leave any inheritance for your children? Rabbi Yochanan answers him:

鈥淗e said to him: 鈥樶袱iyya my son, is it inconsequential in your eyes what I did, that I sold something that was given in six days, as it is stated: 鈥淔or in six days the Lord made鈥 (Exodus 20:11)? But the Torah was given in forty days,鈥 (Shir haShirim Rabba 8:7)

The obvious differences in topography, Tiberias down in the valley and Zippori, sitting 鈥渓ike a bird鈥 up in the hills, are mentioned in a few places. Again, we hear from Rabbi Yochanan, a resident of Tiberias:

鈥淩abbi Yochanan was ascending from Tiberias to Zippori and he met a man going down (from Zippori)鈥 (Yerushalmi Bava Metzia 2:11)

Rabbi Yosi, the rabbi of Zippori, is aware of the topography when he describes the ideal Shabbat situation:

Rabbi Yosi said: May my portion be among those who accept Shabbat in Tiberias, and among those who see Shabbat out in Zippori,鈥(Shabbat 118b)

Rabbi Yosi did not mean that one would travel from Zippori to Tiberias during the course of one Shabbat. Rather he meant that one should bring in Shabbat early, like in Tiberias which sees the sun set early since it is in the valley. At the end of the following day, he should bring out Shabbat late, as one would in Zippori which is high up and can see the sunset for a long time.

Dusk in Tiberias

Bantosh~commonswiki Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Zippori and Tiberias were different in ways other than topography. In the Great Revolt Zippori was pro-Roman (or at least pacifist) while the Jews in Tiberias and nearby fought alongside the Zealots against the Romans. Tiberias seems to have been a more wholly Jewish town, while Zippori had a stronger pagan influence (although it is hard to know this for certain since we still have much to excavate in Tiberias). And Zipppori seems to have been a wealthier, and therefore more expensive town, as we can see from this passage:

鈥渋f a person gave to another eight denars to buy for him wheat in Tiberias but he bought for him in Zippori, he may say to him, if you had bought for me in Tiberias there would have been 25 modii; now that you bought in Zippori there are only 20 modii.鈥 聽(Yerushalmi Bava Kama 9:5)

Zippori and Tiberias were not linked only in Rabbinic times. They also appear later, in medieval and early modern responsa. However, here they are used as substitutes for other towns that remain anonymous. Just as in responsa literature we almost never have the real names of the people involved in the dispute, but rather 鈥済eneric鈥 names like Reuben and Shimon, we also rarely have the real place names where something happened. Instead, we have names from places in the Land of Israel: Jerusalem, Hebron etc. When the questioner wants to talk about two neighboring towns, he uses Tiberias and Zippori. A typical question (addressed to the Terumat haDeshen, Rabbi Yisrael Isserlein 15th century Austria) mentions two towns, 鈥淭iberias鈥 and 鈥淶ippori,鈥 that pay taxes to the same government. When some wealthy men forsake one community for the other, the tax burden shifts and the community that now has to pay more inquires whether the rich ones can be forced to keep paying taxes in their original town.

Zippori and Tiberias 鈥 each city had her moment of glory and her stellar personalities. Today they are still close geographically yet very different in character. Tiberias has once again become a large (albeit poor) city while ZIppori remains a small agricultural community whose fascinating past is being exposed in the national park next door.

Mosiac floor in a fancy villa in ancient Zippori

Israel Preker Pikiwiki Israel, CC BY 2.5 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Shulie Mishkin

Shulie Mishkin made Aliyah from New York with a Master's degree in Jewish History from Columbia University. After completing the Ministry of Tourism guide course in 1997, she began guiding professionally and has since taught and guided all ages, from toddlers to retirees. Her tours provide a complete picture of the land of Israel and Jewish heritage, with a strong reliance on sources ranging from the Bible to 19th century travelers' reports. Alongside her regular guide work, she teaches "tour and text" courses in the Jerusalem institutions of Pardes and Matan as wel as the Women's Bet Midrash in Efrat and provides tours for special needs students in the 鈥淒arkaynu鈥 program. Shulie lives in Alon Shvut with her husband Jonathan and their five kids. Shulie Mishkin is now doing virtual tours online. Check out the options at
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