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The Golden Bell - An Ancient Lesson in Good Manners

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How one of the most significant archaeological finds is teaching us a lesson in modern day decency and decorum

 
Believe it or not, but there is something compelling about rainwater drainage pipes in busy streets. They swallow up precious treasures that people drop or lose during the everyday hustle and bustle, becoming a treasure trove of stories for future discoverers.
 
What Lies Beneath
One day, not so long ago, a significant discovery was made in the City of David. Archaeologists found a rainwater drainage channel from the Second Temple that ran beneath the main road of Jerusalem. The road and channel were constructed sometime in the fourth decade of the first century CE, and was one of the largest construction projects undertaken in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period.
 
This road was the last stretch of the long journey that Jewish pilgrims made three times a year to the Temple. The street was flooded with pilgrims during the festivals, including many important individuals moving amongst the throngs.
 
In 2011, while excavating the upper part of the drainage tunnel, near the Temple Mount, Ancient Jerusalem revealed one of her most exceptional treasures found to date. What initially was thought to be a little plastic ball that somehow got mixed in during the excavators' comings and goings, turned out to be much more significant. The little ball was light in weight and the material it was made of was thin and delicate. 
 
Assuming nothing, Eli Shukron, director of the Western Wall excavations at the time, rolled the little ball between his fingers, noting that there was something moving inside. He shook the little ball and it rang, clearly, like a bell. Intrigued, he examined it a bit closer, noticing a little loop at the top of the bell. It was obviously meant to be attached to something like a piece of jewelry or garment.  An x-ray confirmed Eli’s thinking. True to the character of a bell, this one indeed had a tiny chain with a clapper inside.
 
A Treasure Hunter's Tip
If you happen to be some treasure chasing pirate from a fairy tale or perhaps just a well-seasoned archaeologist, you would notice that this was not just an ordinary bell. There was something strange about this bright yellowish ball. You would know that most metals lose their color and glimmer when it's buried beneath thousands of years of dirt and that there is basically only one metal that doesn't lose its luster - gold. 
 
The mystery was starting to unravel. Who would wear a golden bell on the most important road in Jerusalem –the final ascent to the Temple?
 
"You shall make on its hem pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet material, all around on its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all around on the hem of the robe. It shall be on Aaron when he ministers; and its tinkling shall be heard when he enters and leaves the holy place before the LORD, so that he will not die.…"Ex 28:33-35
 
Knock Before You Enter
Contrary to popular belief, the main purpose of the bell was not to signal that the High Priest didn't die due to some mistake that he made during the service while in the Holy of Holies. The true purpose of the bells was for paying the highest respect to God in entering the Holy of Holies – because “its sound should be heard when he enters the Sanctuary before Hashem.” It is evidently a very important feature of the robe, because the Torah metes out a severe punishment for the omission of these bells. Our Sages understood that the bells are meant to teach us basic decency and decorum, that we must not invade the privacy of others by injecting ourselves into their presence without warning. Proper etiquette is to knock on the door before entering. Just as the bells announced the Kohen Gadol’s arrival in the Sanctuary, so must we announce ourselves wherever we go and not barge in unexpectedly. 
 
Even Intellectual Treasures Are Formed Within Heated Arguments
But it's a ball, not a bell. Or more accurately described as a bell in the shape of a ball. So how do we explain the possibility that this strange shaped bell/ball would actually belong to the High Priest? As is common in Judaism, we find the explanation of its intriguing shape within a heated disagreement between the sages regarding the above mentioned verse.  
 
The sages, Maimonides, Rashi and Nachmanides disagreed over the meaning of the Hebrew word b’thokham in verse 33, written above. The word b’thokham could mean “between them”, “in the midst of them” or “inside them” – "them" referring to the decorative pomegranates. Was the Torah commanding us to place the bells between the pomegranates or inside them? Discovering the bell in the City of David excavations finally shed light on the fact that the bells in this case were actually placed inside the round pomegranate decorations. 
 
 [For our scientific gurus, the bell is described as follows: The Bell is spherical and measures approximately 16mm across. It consists of two attached hemispheres of gold leaf. A flat gold ring with an external diameter of 3 mm and a thickness of 1 mm was welded to the point of attachment between the two hemispheres, creating the top of the bell. A round gold ring, measuring 2.5mm was inserted into the flat ring, enabling the bell to be sewn to a garment.] 
 
 
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