“The idea of a ritual bath complex helps fill out the history of Jewish religious practice in this country. This is a very ancient practice, going back thousands of years,” said Avi Decter, executive director of the Jewish Museum of Maryland.
The excavations are being led by Esther Doyle Read, professor of ancient studies at the University of Maryland. She and her team had initially discovered something of interest in 2001.
"We found an area that had wood in it that began to drop rapidly below the level of the basement floor. It fit the scenario of a deep hole in the ground. It had what appeared to be wooden pipes to carry water into the bath. But we didn't know the condition of the wood … and we needed to stop and make a plan for preserving any wood or waterlogged artifacts, and how to fund it," Read recalled.
“Similar mikveh complexes have been found in Germany and the Netherlands dating back at least to the 1500’s. The first congregation here was German, and they brought that cultural template to America.” Read explained.
"It was a very busy place for this small community of German immigrants," said Read. She explained that mikvaot were integral to Jewish life, were men bathed before Friday prayers, women purified themselves after monthly periods, and converts were cleansed before entering the fold.
Reprinted with permission from Shalom Life
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