Avrohom Shimon Tendler: Preserving Israel's Past for Our Future

While growing up in Monsey, NY, Avrohom Shimon Tendler never imagined that one day he would be an excavation supervisor for the Israel Antiquities Authority, safeguarding material culture and other vestiges of by-gone millenniums. But since August 2011, the Bar-Ilan MA candidate in the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and

Archaeology has been overseeing salvage excavations at construction sites for new highways and neighborhoods – since there’s no telling where artifacts may turn up in a country richly steeped in history.

 

Carefully surveying the terrain, he and his team search for hints of ancient settlement, excavating and meticulously recording any important finds. Recently, they found a fully preserved 6th-century Byzantine olive press in a cave in the city of Modi’in. In accordance with Israel’s strict Antiquities Law, some 300 salvage excavations are

conducted annually, before construction proceeds.

 

A recipient of the Rector’s Prize for outstanding academic achievements, Tendler is specializing in the history and archaeology of the late Second Temple period (1st century BCE – 2nd century CE). His MA thesis examines the development of institutionalized Jewish prayer after the Temple’s destruction. “I wanted to gauge the reaction to the trauma, how the Sages unified the people through prayer,” he expounds. “I am very interested in the history of ideas – how ideologies, dreams, and beliefs evolved.”

 

Tendler, who holds a BA from the Department and a BIU teaching certificate, “fell in love with the scenery and sites of the Land of Israel” while studying at Hesder Yeshiva and serving as a combat soldier in the IDF’s Armored Corps. He later took a tour-guide course that he enjoyed immensely, and decided to pursue academic studies in the field.

 

In October 2008, he enrolled at BIU “because of its unique interdisciplinary approach. Here you get a strong grounding in the history, geography, archaeology, botany, and zoology of the Land of Israel.” This, he says, has proved to be a real asset while on the job excavating or touring the country.

 

Moreover, enthuses the father of two, “Beyond the extensive knowledge, just being introduced to the world of academic research has changed my life. The faculty taught me how to ask questions and search for answers in many ancient sources.” Accruing valuable hands-on field experience, he spent three seasons digging at the excavations at Tell es-Safi identified as Philistine Gath (home of the Biblical Goliath), under the direction of BIU Prof. Aren Maeir. In 2011 he was part of a team that excavated a two-horned stone alter of a Philistine temple. He has also gained expertise in field techniques with BIU Prof. Boaz Zissu, conducting archaeological surveys on 2nd-century caves and hiding complexes from the Bar-Kochba period. “Once we stumbled upon a mikvah (ritual bath) in the Judaean foothills, which we measured and recorded.” The Department’s weekly field trips included elucidating on-site excursions in Jerusalem with BIU Prof. Amos Kloner, a leading Israeli archaeologist.

 

Availing himself of Bar-Ilan’s premier Faculty of Jewish Studies, Tendler took courses in Bible, Jewish History and Talmud. He also learned Ancient Greek in the Dept. of Classical Studies (“almost a necessity if you wish to study that period”). “I enjoy my studies and feel that even while dealing with critical academic research, my BIU professors haverespect and a passion for the field.” He says he was “privileged to study under great scholars who widened my horizons, including the late Prof. Hanan Eshel, famed researcher of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bar Kochba Revolt, who nurtured my passion for the history of ideas; and the late Prof. Anson F. Rainey, a world-renowned scholar in the historical geography of Land of Israel, who translated many ancient Egyptian texts.”

 

Tendler plans to continue toward his PhD and hopes to teach and conduct research. He certainly has what to offer with his superb BIU training, complemented by his strong yeshiva background (and studying rabbinic lit with his scholarly grandfather, Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, and his uncle, Rabbi Shabtai Rappoport, who heads the Ludwig and Erica Jesselson Institute for Advanced Torah Studies Beit Midrash). “I feel that I can contribute to the University and Israeli academia by fusing a wide range of source materials, including ancient Jewish texts and material culture, in order to attain a clearer picture of the Land of Israel.” And that, says BIU’s Avrohom Shimon Tendler, “will give us a better understanding of our connection to the land, and why we are here.”