Blog  Masada: More Than Just a 3AM Hike

Masada: More Than Just a 3AM Hike

The beginning of the day started bright and early. Well, not necessarily bright, but early! At 3:30 am, our bodies awoke from our peaceful slumber at the crack of dawn (literally!) so we could venture out onto our hike at Masada. With breakfast consisting of bread, jam, cheese, eggs and fresh vegetables already prepared, we boarded our group buses and embarked to the base of Masada. It was a brisk, dark and somewhat blustery morning, as we scurried to eat as soon as we departed the bus, using our dim lit iPhone flashlights to carefully select each piece of food to consume.

Following our morning meal, we ascended at the bottom and began our treacherous trek. We took the route called the Snake Path, which is a long, curvy path with many twists and turns, and contains over 700 steps. It is 1,312 feet or 400 meters from the Dead Sea.

The Hebrew word, Masada, means fortress. King Herod, who had been made the King of Judah, built the fortress of Masada during 37-31 BCE. His palace was built directly on the mountain, and was a multi-layered kingdom. Herod chose Masada as a refuge for himself in the event of a revolt. The three layers on Masada contained a Western Palace, a Northern Palace, and a Casemate Wall. The central area in the Western Palace contained three smaller rooms, as well as a storeroom and an army barracks. It also included a Byzantine Church and a Synagogue for worship. The Northern Complex housed a water gate. Herod’s water system had cisterns for rainwater. Bathhouses and Mikvahs were important regarding the use of water. Caldariums were hot public bathhouses. Each Caldarium had dome-shaped ceilings that prevented the steam condensing into water and dripping onto the ground, which was an innovative design created by the early Romans. Mikvahs were used for the purpose of ritual immersions based on the sense of purity in order to enter the temple. A Casemate Wall enclosed the entire site of Masada, except for the Northern Palace. The Casemate layer included a double wall that operated as living chambers for soldiers.

The Zealots, also called the Kana’im, was a Jewish sect who vehemently believed in the removal of Romans and their influence on Jerusalem and Judaism. The Zealots conquered Masada because it was easily defendable. It was protected and guarded since it was positioned on top of a mountain, as the only way up was to climb up the snake path, which winded up the side of the rock. This made is easy to see potential conquerors and rebels. Kana’im changed Roman rule as they changed Jewish daily aspects. An example of redefining the Jewish society was the adjustment of non-kosher food to kosher food. Their ultimate goals and their intentions were to assimilate the Roman culture into a continuous Jewish culture. We understand that the Zealots eventually decided to commit a communal suicide because they did not want to surrender to the Romans as a part of their religious and political scheme as resistance fighters.

In Judaism, when we say, “Masada will not fall again” we are referring to the hardships faced by the Jews from Roman rule. In the end, hiking Masada was more than just a “morning hike with a sunrise”. It was more than the pictures we took, the small tefilah we had upon arrival, and the gorgeous view. Walking around Masada as a former Latin and Geology student made me realize just how important each structure was, and I could understand the historical significance of the certain names and figures prevalent in society during the Great Revolt.

Marlo Sgro is a junior from Orinda, California. She belongs to Temple Isaiah, is a member of NFTY- CWR and regularly participates in social justice events.