Berko Park, Aka Ancient Tiberias
King Herod Antipas unwittingly built Tiberias directly over a Jewish cemetery. Luckily, some 130 years later, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai decided to purify the place
After the death of Herod the Great in 4 BCE, the Romans who ruled the Land of Israel granted the Galilee to his son Antipas. In the middle of his reign, around 20 CE, Herod Antipas decided to erect a Roman-style capital city to rival the spectacular but hostile Jewish center at Tzippori. He built it on the western shores of Lake Kinneret and named it Tiberias after the ruling Roman emperor. Besides the glistening lake, which was to provide a handsome living for the city’s fishermen, the locale featured fertile farmland and hot springs that were famous for their miraculous healing properties.
Lain out in typical Roman grid patterns, Tiberias boasted handsome avenues lined with shops, impressive statues, a luxurious bathhouse, and a grandiose palace. Unfortunately for the Jews of Israel, who would have delighted in the free land, housing, and tax exemptions that Herod was offering new residents, the king had unwittingly located Tiberias directly over an ancient Jewish cemetery, and fear of contamination kept most of them away.
Some 130 years later, or so, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai emerged from the minuscule Galilee cave in which he had been hiding ever since the Romans sentenced him to death for studying Torah. In order to make his clothes last for the duration, he had removed them whenever he was not at prayer and had covered his nakedness with sand. As a result, when the decree was finally lifted over a decade later, the sage was feeling pretty grimy. Once outside the cave, he couldn’t wait to cleanse himself in the hot springs of Tiberias.