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1580: Chukat 10th of Tammuz 5775 27/06/2015

The Site of the Pool and the Era of its Existence

The Shiloach Pool lies at the southern end of the City of David, under the southern cliff of the city. It is at the southern end of the Tyropoeon Valley, which was called the Valley of the Cheesemakers at the end of the Second Temple Era. (This may also be the "Charutz" Valley mentioned by Yoel (4:14).

Before the point where the stream met the Kidron River, a dam was built which closed off the flow and allowed the water to be collected at this point in the city. In excavations at the southeastern end of the pool, an internal wall was found which forms a dam blocking the stream, from the time of the First Temple, and another wall further out, dated to the time of the Second Temple. In addition to forming the dam, this wall was part of the wall of the city.

An early channel brings water from the Gichon Spring to the south, to this pool. This is dated to the era of the Patriarchs. It can therefore be assumed that this pool was in use for a very long time – starting with the era of the Patriarchs – the time of Malki-Tzedek, King of Shalem – until the end of the Second Temple, as a central water reservoir south of the city of Jerusalem.

The Names of the Pool

Since this is the earliest reservoir in the city, it is reasonable to assume that it was the pool constructed by King Shlomo in Jerusalem, which is mentioned in Kohellet: "I made pools of water in order to irrigate a forest of growing trees" [2:6]. Perhaps he is referring to this very pool, among others.

The area to the southeast of the pool is usually identified as the area of the "Garden of the King" (Melachim II 25:4). Perhaps we might suggest that the scene depicted in Shir Hashirim refers to this site, along the channel of the Kidron River: "I went down to the nut garden, to see the green plants of the stream, to see if the grapes were budding, if the pomegranates were flowering" [Shir Hashirim 6:11].

In the time of Chizkiyahu, the prophet Yeshayahu says, "You made a reservoir between the double walls, by the old pool, but you did not look at the One who made it and you did not see its Creator from a long time ago" [22:11]. It is quite likely that this pool can be identified as the reservoir between the walls, which can be seen at this site, mainly based on the topography of the area.

During the return to Zion, when Nechemia describes the reconstruction of the wall of Jerusalem, he mentions "the wall of the Shelach Pool leading to the Garden of the King, and going up to the steps descending from the City of David" [3:15]. This verse forms a link between the pool and the King's Garden which is close by. And the name given is the "Shelach" Pool.

The name "Shiloach" seems to be linked to the flowing of the water. See for example, "He who sends springs in the streams, they will flow between the mountains" [Tehillim 104:10]. Also, "... since this nation was disgusted by the waters of the Shiloach, which move slowly, and is happy with Ratzin and the son of Ramaliah" [Yeshayahu 8:6].

The Arabic name of this pool is Birkat El Chama.

The Construction of the Pool

It seems likely based on the excavations at the site that there was a magnificent pool from the time of the Chashmona'im, and a second pool that was even more magnificent during the time of the Second Temple.

It is reasonable to assume that the pool was as wide as the original riverbed, including the area which today consists of a garden. Based on this, we can say that the original size of the pool was 50 by 60 meters, about three dunams.

There are three sources of water in the pool. (1) Chizkiyahu's Tunnel, which brings the water from the Gichon Spring through the Tunnel; (2) Drainage from the eastern channel which gathers the water from the city, including surface water from the slopes; and (3) Direct rainwater.

The three sources of water, the position of the pool at the southern tip of the City of David, and the proximity to the Temple, are what characterize the essence of this pool. These elements influenced the character of the pool and its uses during passing generations.

In the Second Temple Era, the pool was surrounded by stone stairs that led down to it from all sides. Some of these stairs still exist to this day.

The Uses of the Pool

Sources from the Second Temple Era mention the Shiloach Spring in two contexts. The first is as the source of fresh water for "Mei Chatat," which was used in the purification to counteract impurity because of contact with the dead. The second context is the libation of water on the Altar during Succot. "How was 'Nissuch Hamayim' performed? A dish of gold which held three Lugim of water would be filled from the Shiloach" [See Mishna Succah Chapter 4, 9-10]. From there the water would be brought up to the Temple, and it was then poured onto the Altar. This act was a symbol of the fact that we are judged about water during Succot. Symbolically, the nation of Yisrael would bring to the Holy One, Blessed be He, the very last drops of water that it had, asking that in their merit G-d would bring a lot of water to Bnei Yisrael during the coming year. This is reminiscent of the verse, "Everything stems from You, and we gave You from Your own hand" [Divrei Hayamim I 29:14].

It is interesting to note that we are aware of one central spring in the City of David, and that is the Gichon. But what about the Shiloach? Note that whenever the word Gichon appears, Yonatan Ben Uziel translates it as "Shilucha." It may be that when the water reached the Shiloach Pool it was named for the Shiloach Spring even though in reality it was water from the Gichon which was brought to the Shiloach through Chizkiyahu's Tunnel, since this was viewed as a separate spring.

From the site of the pool, a beautiful and impressive flight of stairs has been discovered which leads all the way up to the foot of the Temple Mount. Several dozen meters of the staircase have been found. A main drainage channel was also found which leads surface water from the city to the Kidron stream, which is situated southeast of the city.

Today the end of Chizkiyahu's Tunnel is in a small pool from the Byzantine era, named Siloam (the Greek word for Shiloach). This is part of the remains of the Shiloach Church, which is dated to the fifth century C.E., during the time of the Empress Aelia Eudocia. After the destruction of the Second Temple, as time passed, the path of the Tyropoeon Valley was filled and the original Shiloach Pool was filled by sediments. The position of the pool was therefore moved a few dozen meters to the northwest, and that is where the Byzantine pool was built.

It is exciting to get a close view of the place from which, in the time of the Temple, water was drawn and then brought up through the main street to the Altar, in order to perform the mitzva of libation of water. There is no doubt that this was also a site from which people who had gone through a process of purification would rise up to the Temple.

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