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Neot Kedumim is a very beautiful and fascinating 650-acre “Biblical Landscape Reserve” in the Shefelah. It was envisaged by Ephraim and Hannah HaReuveni and completed in 1924 by their son Noga HaReuveni. A botanist and a disciple of his parents, Noga was awarded the Israel Prize for this accomplishment. His was to recreate the ancient agriculture of the Land of Israel and to display flora mentioned in the Bible and later Jewish literature. Because of erosion of the soil to bedrock over the centuries due to overgrazing, conflict and neglect, thousands of tons of topsoil were trucked in and numerous trees and plants planted.

 

There is a 1.5 Km purple trail accessible to strollers and wheelchairs and a 3.5 Km orange trail which is described here. This is a different type of hike than others described on this website, and is more in the way of a guided walk. The paths are paved and one stops periodically, often on shaded benches, to read about the agriculture of ancient times, the flora of the country, and how this country’s botany is reflected in Jewish sources. 

Time: About 2 to 2½ hours.

Distance: 3½ Km.

Type of walk: Circular.

Difficulty: Very easy trail on paved paths.

Directions and parking: Enter “Neot Kedumim” into Waze. Enter through the attended gate and make your way to the second parking lot which is on your left and is the parking lot for the Visitor Center.

Admission: Neot Kedumim is open Sunday to Thursday 8:30 a.m. to 4.00 p.m., and Friday and holiday eves 8:30 a.m. to 1.00 p.m. Visitors may stay in the reserve until sunset, although the Visitor Center is closed at 4.00 p.m. The gates are closed on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Group tours lasting for 1½ to 3 hours are available and include hands-on activities, such as operating an olive press and tasting date honey. The entrance for adults is NIS 25 and 20 NIS for children and seniors. Admission for Hanukkah and for Chol Hamoed Sukkot and Passover is 40 NIS per person. There are shaded picnic benches in front of and behind the Visitor Center. Cold and hot drinks, ice cream, snack foods and books are available for purchase in the Visitor Center. There are restrooms behind the Visitor Center and at stations #7 and #16 on the orange trail. Their phone number us 08 977 0772. This is their website.

Public transport: Enter “Neot Kedumim” into Moovit. There is a bus stop 400 meter/5 minute from Neot Kedumim. There are a number of bus lines from Modi’in.

Olive press from Byzantine period at Neot Kedumim

An olive press from the Byzantine period.

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The botany of the HaReuveni’s

 

The botany of the HaReuveni’s, and hence that of Neot Kedumim, is a unique form of botany. Call it Biblical botany if you will. The intention of Hoga HaReuveni was to plant vegetation mentioned in the Bible and later Jewish sources so as to recreate a Bblical landscape and reconnect with Jewish history and tradition. The reserve was also intended to provide the opportunity for students and tourists, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, to appreciate the natural and cultural history of this region in an interesting and engaging way.

 

Ephraim and Hannah HaReuveni viewed their activities as academic work, and they conducted research on ancient agricultural practices, such as terracing, crop rotation and the use of ancient agricultural tools. Other Israeli botanists, however, who were not necessarily as enthusiastic about their botanical work, in that this was not the way that academic university-affiliated botany was progressing. The botanical garden on Mount Scopus, for example, which is affiliated with the Hebrew University, focuses on the biodiversity of the flora of Israel and the fact that three phyto-geographical regions meet in Israel - Mediterranean, Irano-Turanian and Saharo-Arabian. Mediterranean species reach their southern limit of distribution in Israel; Saharan or Asian desert species reach their northern limits of distribution here; and Irano-Turanian species reach their western limit. The Ein Gedi Botanical Garden focuses on desert plant species and ecosystems.

Within the writings of the HaReuveni’s are original biblical interpretations in relation to botany. They viewed the wording of the Bible in a literal way, in addition to its rabbinic interpretations. For example, the Bible talks of Israel as being a land of milk and honey, and honey is interpreted by the Rabbis as being date honey. The HaReuveni’s, on the other hand, saw this description as indicating that the land was fertile and rich in wildflowers. This would have appealed to the herdsmen and shepherds coming from Egypt who were looking for a land with rich pasture. The biblical Song of Songs is viewed in the Jewish tradition as an analogy of the love between God and the Jewish people. This park also recognizes the more literal love between a shepherd from the Gilead and a Shulamite woman.

 

I have been to this reserve quite a few times and have noted that the botanical aspects of the park have been receiving less and less attention over the years. Many of the botanical descriptions are faded. Notices point out certain plants, but there is no way of knowing if they are there any longer or have just dried up during the summer. The focus of the park now seems to be more on ancient agriculture and its equipment rather than plants. Ironically, the academic study of ancient agriculture is now wide open through the study of the DNA of ancient species, but this is not the type of research this reserve is set up to do.

No matter, walking through this park is still a wonderful and enriching experience.

Olive oil and wine making in ancient Israel

 

Olives and grapes were important crops in ancient Israel, especially in the Shefela and mountains of Judea and Samaria where they were grown on terraces and in the valleys. 

Vines and olive trees are uniquely adapted to the climate of Israel in that they are able to survive the long rainless summers because of their extensive root systems. The numerous wine and olive presses found here attest to the fact that both olives and grapes were extensively grown in the Israelite and Byzantine periods. 

The first step in the production of olive oil was to grind the ripe olives into a paste using a grindstone. The flesh and stone of the olive were ground together, since the stones also contain oil. Most of the oil presses initially had a single crushing stone and basin. Typically, the grinding stone was upright and connected to a handle turned by a human or animal. Over the centuries, the system became more technologically sophisticated and screw mechanisms were used for crushing. In the Mishna, the oil collected from this initial step was called the first press.

Two types of presses were in use in Israel by the Roman period. The earliest was a direct pressure lever press. By the 1st century BCE, however, screw processes were also used. In both type of presses, the mushed olives were placed in baskets one on top of each other and squeezed between round press boards. Pressure was exerted by weights hanging from the beam in a direct pressure lever press or by the screw. The so-called "second oil” extracted by this process dripped into a central vat below the press or into collecting vats by its side. The whole process was then repeated again, beginning with the crushing. The oil obtained this time round was called the "third oil.”

The beam on which pressure was exerted either by weights or by a screw mechanism was called in Hebrew a "bad" (בד), and the olive press was called a "beit bad – the house of a bad" (בית בד). When they were harvested, the olives would have been quite juicy and there would have been water mixed together with the oil. However, this would separate within a few days and the oil could be scooped up.

 

Obtaining the juice from grapes used a different process, since the grape seeds were not pressed because it imparted a bitter taste to the juice. Therefore, the juice extraction was a gentler process, usually by foot on a flat service in a hewed-out area in the bedrock. This would have been a joyous communal event. In Byzantine wine presses, the flat area was often tiled. Channels acting as filters by their size led the juice to fermentation areas also hewed into the bedrock but at a lower level. The juice remained in the wine press for a few days and was then transferred into jugs for continuation of the fermentation process.

During the Roman and Byzantine eras, especially, there was considerable demand for wine for the Roman soldiers and this could account for the proliferation of wine presses throughout the country. The strong wine produced was usually diluted with water.

The trails:

There used to be 4 trails that were somewhat thematic and these have been joined up into 2 trails - orange and purple. Their themes are also now mixed. Both trails start from the back of the Visitor Center. The two trails split a short distance from the exit of the Visitor Center.

We will focus just on the orange trail. There are 22 stations to examine, so this walk is not to be done at a fast pace. Do not miss any of the stops as the arrows follow from one stop to the next. For example, you may feel like missing stop #19 as it is close to the end of the hike. However, if you do not go up to the stop and continue instead on the main path you will miss the arrow and may get lost.

The entire area where stations #3 to #5 are located was once part of a village covering about 15 acres and dating from the 1st to the 7th centuries. It was occupied by Jews in late Temple times, until the time of the Bar Kochba Revolt. This is evident from the finding of mikvaot. After the Bar Kochba Revolt, all of Judea was depopulated by Rome. The village was occupied again during the Christian Byzantine period (4th to 7th century CE) and the village, which was close to the main road from Jaffa to Jerusalem. served as a hostel for Christian pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem. There are, of course, no shortage of ruins in Israel, but the ones here do provide a sense of the flow of history from the perspective of a typical agricultural area in the Shefelah. At station #3 You will come to a reconstructed olive press from the 5th century CE, which is in the Byzantine period.

The focus of the reserve on botany has, unfortunately, been somewhat neglected. At station #8, for example, the notice informs us that the thorny caper bush was chosen as the emblem of Neot Kedumim because of its hardiness. Its scientific name is Capparis spinosum and in Hebrewצלף  (tzelef). Unfortunately, there no example here (or at least I could not find it), nor any picture. Similarly, station #9 speaks about the lowly hyssop, but it is difficult to know what plant exactly they are referring to, and again there is no picture.

From the Pool of Solomon, both the orange and purple paths pass the Sharon Forest. This was planted as a representation of the natural forest of the Sharon Plain. It contains particularly Tabor Oaks, which predominated in biblical times. The ascent from station 16 or 17 is the Ascent of Spices and this formerly had more botanical descriptions along the way.                                                                                          

Industrial wine press at Neot Kedumim.jpeg

An industrial winepress from the Byzantine period transferred from Ramla.

Threshing floor at Neot Kedumim.

The threshing floor at Neot Kedumim.

Sycamore fig tree in Neot Kedumimeg

The sycamore fig tree was very plentiful in ancient Israel, particularly in the Shefelah. 

Village ruins at Neot Kedumimeg

Ruins of the agricultural village here that illustrates nicely the historical progression from Second Temple to Byzantine times.

waterwheel at Neot Kedumim.jpeg

The waterwheel at Solomon's pool. This would have been seen in Egypt but not in ancient Israel. 

Capon plant.

The capon plant (this picture is not from Neot Kedumim).This plant was adopted as the symbol of Neot Kedumim because of its hardiness.

Nearby places of interest:

Carlebach Heritage Center: This contains Shlomo Carlebach's private library, photographs, digital archive, and a short film about Carlebach's life. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach lived in Moshav Mevo Modi'im from 1976 to 1994, and the moshav was built up by his followers. Shlomo Carlebach can be considered the founding father of modern religious Jewish music and his music remains extremely popular to this day. The Carlebach Foundation has ambitious plans to create a "Living Memorial" on the life and times of Shlomo Carlebach, including a performing arts center. But they are not quite there yet. Send an e-mail before you visit to see what they have to offer - info@shlomocarlebachfound.

The Monkey Park and Sanctuary is in the Ben Shemen Forest at the entrance to Kfar Daniel. It offers outdoor entertainment for the whole family - an interactive tour of the various species of monkeys, entry into the living areas of two species of monkeys, a craft corner, large gymboree, and a sports area for kids. Additional activities are offered according to the season. The park contains 250 species of monkeys from around the world, and the sanctuary offers care and rehabilitation for monkeys that have been rescued from a life of abuse and neglect as 'pets', monkeys that have been confiscated by the authorities, monkeys taken from research labs, and any other monkey requiring help. The ticket office is open Sunday to Thursday and on Saturday from 10.00 AM-3.00 PM during the winter and from 10.00 AM- 4.00 PM during the summer,

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