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Down and Out in the Tombs of the Sanhedrin
The Tomb of the Sanhedrin* is a little-known place in the heart of Sanhedria, a crowded ultra-orthodox neighborhood in westernmost Jerusalem. I went there with my friend, Louis, not really knowing what to expect. We did not know that the bus we took there would be overcrowded with Chassidic** men and women labored with many children and almost as many strollers. Louis and I stood for the whole ride, which stopped at numerous micro-cities in the area: buildings built on one another as families grew until they became small neighborhoods unto themselves.
A cool breeze chilled us as we stepped down from the quivering bus. The walk to the caves was quick enough, but finding the catacombs themselves took us far longer. We found a small park dotted with small carven square holes, ancient and barred. Were these the tombs we sought? No, they were too small. Where was the grandeur that the pictures on Google Maps promised? Further into the park we saw a Chassid rush past a bend, his hands in his pockets and his head bent forward like some sort of snowplow. His black robe was covered in dust and cobwebs, the markings of a veteran spelunker. Quickly and deftly he pointed us in the right direction.
Finally, Louis and I arrived at the tomb. The tomb, not like the other small crevices we passed earlier; this one had a stone-carved mantle with different plants carved above its chiseled pillars that were tall enough to walk under. We slid through a gap in the iron bars that stood at the entrance (probably bent by locals in the area) and emerged into the gloom. Our eyes took some time to adjust, but when they did we were awestruck.
Even in the dim light, the vastness of the structure’s vaulted ceilings and skillfully fashioned doorways is starkly discernible. The main room in the barrow is massive, with more than 20 burial niches on one wall and doorways on the other three. There is a perilous trapdoor in one corner from which stairs descend. We went down those stairs into a smaller room, then found another hole in the ground that led us deeper, deeper into the silent earth.
As opposed to the stacked homes in Sanhedria, the Kever*** of the Sanhedrin was carved one room beneath another. At its deepest, the crypt is silent, oblivious to the hustle and bustle of the people above. It offers no sunlight, no internet, no sound; a deep stillness where your sense of touch is all you have. Stumbling in like blind men, two friends clutched the walls and felt thousands of cuts in the rock left by artisans long departed. They may be gone, but their monolithic labors still stand 2,000 years later, shedding light on the grand history of Jerusalem in the darkest of places.

*Sanhedrin: "Also called GreatSanhedrin. the highest council of the ancient Jews, consisting of 71 members, and exercising authority from about the 2nd century b.c. 2. Also called LesserSanhedrin. a lower tribunal of this period, consisting of 23 members." (
**Chassidic: "relating to or denoting Hasidism, a mystical Jewish movement founded in Poland in the 18th century in reaction to the rigid academicism of rabbinical Judaism." (Google Search)
***Kever: English transliteration of the Hebrew word for tomb.