Bet Alfa Synagogue is the remains of a synagogue from the Talmudic period with a some of the most impressive mosaic discovered in Israel.
The synagogue is located in the Beit She’an Valley in the Galilee and was created at the end of the fifth century CE in the.
While the synagogue itself was small and simply built, the mosaics represent a folk art that is striking, very colorful, and rich in motifs.
The mosaic floor of the synagogue was discovered in 1929, when members of Kibbutz Beit Alpha dug irrigation channels for their fields, exposing mosaics preserved intact for almost 1,500 years.
Later excavations, in the early 1960s, exposed remains of some houses, indicating that the synagogue had stood in a Jewish village of the Byzantine period.
Like other ancient synagogue, such as the Capernaum and Beit She’arim synagogues, Bet Alfa Synagogue faces towards Jerusalem.
An Aramaic mosaic inscription at the entrance to the synagogue states that the floor was laid during the reign of Justinian.
It consists of a courtyard, corridor, rectangular main hall with the mosaic floor, second-story balcony. and another room.
The colorful mosaic in the main hall is divided into three panels. They depict the Ark of the Covenant, the zodiac, and the offering of Isaac.
The courtyard and vestibule leading to the prayer hall have mosaics in geometric designs.
The prayer hall is divided by two rows of pillars into a central nave and two side aisles.
Scholars believe that there was a second story above the two aisles and the vestibule, serving as a women’s gallery.
The colorful mosaic floor of the nave is divided into three distinct panels, all enclosed by a decorated band with a variety of motifs: geometric patterns, fruit, birds and animals.
An apse was built into the southern wall of the synagogue and served as a bema on which the Torah Ark stood, with three steps leading up to it.
The Torah Ark is depicted in the rear panel in front of the apse, with a gabled roof and behind a curtain.
On either side of the ark is a lit menorah, shofar, lulav, ethrog, incense shovel and lions.
Visit the Bet Alfa Synagogue
The remains of the synagogue and its mosaic floors have been preserved in a new, covered structure which is open to visitors.
An audiovisual presentation highlights daily life in the ancient village and the making of the mosaic.
While it is technically possible to reach Bet Alfa from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv by bus, it is much easier and more convent to get there by car.
For more information, such as visiting hours and entrance fees, see the Bet Alfa Synagogue webpage.