The ancient Jewish town of Gush Halav is still nestled in the Galilee mountains on the forested slopes of Mount Meron not far from Safed. It’s now a village called Jish where among the historical and cultural attractions (including a good Middle Eastern restaurant or two) are the tombs of several Torah sages.
The best known of these is the tomb of Shmaya and Avtalyon. They were among the Zugot, which means “pairs,” sages who governed the Jewish people in Roman times. Over the years, one member of each of the Zugot would head the Sanhedrin (the Jewish council), and the other, the court. The tradition of Shmaya and Avtalyon’s tomb in Galilee goes back to the 16th century and Rabbi Isaac Luria’s mystic work the Zohar, which mentions the benefit of prayer at the graves of the righteous. The Talmud says Shmaya and Avtalyon were the descendents of the notorious Assyrian conqueror Sennacherib, one way of saying that anyone can be redeemed –– a good thought for any age!
The small stone tomb building, with picnic tables in its courtyard, has a double, sky-blue dome. Inside is an ancient Roman sarcophagus missing its lid.