by Yael Adar
At the end of a beautiful road, flanked by green fields on either side, you will find the country’s first meteorological station. Located in the Beit Jamal monastery it was established by Salesian monks in 1919. What is perhaps no less amazing is that it is still maintained as an official meteorological station, by the monks – to this day. Precipitation, wind, and temperature are all routinely measured here.
Beit Jamal is a place where more than just meteorology and theology mix, it is also a place where concerts are held and where nuns make and sell beautiful hand made pottery. The surrounding area is a great place for a picnic and the history of the place is certainly colorful.
In Hebrew the site is known as Beit Jamal – but you may find references to it as Beit Gemal or Beit Jimal. The name of the site is said to be from its local name (in years past), Kfar Gamla, purportedly so named for Rabban Gamliel I – president of the Sanhedrin. The Christian tradition believes that Rabban Gamliel I was buried here, as were St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr and Nikodimos. In fact, in 1873 – what were said to be their remains were removed, for re-interment on Mt. Zion.
The monks here belong to the Salesian Society, which was founded by St. John Bosco (Don Bosco), who was ordained as a priest in 1841. At the time, the industrial revolution was underway and many young people found their way to Turin, Italy where Bosco worked. Moved by the misery and abandonment of the youngsters who worked long hours in the ever growing number of factories, he set out to create youth clubs and founded the Salesian Society in 1854. Later, in 1872 the Salesian Sisters were formed, to work with girls. The Salesian monastery of Beit Jamal was originally established as an agricultural school in 1881 and later operated as a medical facility.
While there is a small group of nuns at Beit Jamal – they do not belong to the Salesian Sisters, but rather to the Sisters of Bethlehem, of the Assumption of the Virgin and of Saint Bruno. These nuns have taken a vow of silence. There are 32 nuns at Beit Jamal. They produce wonderful hand painted pottery and operate a small store on the premises. Work in the store is rotated every few years and the four nuns who work in the store are permitted to talk.
Today, one can visit one of two churches at Beit Jamal. A church that serves the Salesian monks was built over the remains of a fifth century church that was destroyed in the Persian invasion of 614. The inside of the church is ornately painted – much of the painting is made to look like a mosaic. Outside the church, you can see the remains of a real mosaic from the ancient church.
You can also visit the Sisters of Bethlehem’s church, which they built on their own. There is really a whole complex here, that includes a room with a video that explains about the life of the nuns and even a section designed as a synagogue. The nuns also have two or three rooms that they rent out to pilgrims who seek a place for introspection and solitude.
Concerts are typically held every two weeks(on Saturdays). Space is limited, so if you plan on attending you should make a reservation in advance. For details regarding upcoming concerts, and reservations see, Concerts at Beit Jamal.
Directions: Beit Jamal is located off Route 38, about 1.8 miles (3 kilometers) south of Beit Shemesh.
Visiting Hours: Monday – Saturday – 8:30 AM - 11:30 AM and 3:30 PM – 4:30 PM. Closed on Sunday.