JERUSALEM-the 50 sites you may overlook

In a historic and religious city like Jerusalem there is so much to see no matter how much you tour. When time is a limiting factor, even the most efficient tour guides have to compromise while deciding what to incorporate in the itinerary. Although it depends on the interest of the individual visitor as well, there is still a huge must-see-list in Jerusalem that cannot be avoided. At every stop so much information is thrown on a visitor that sometimes s/he tends to forget the details after leaving the place.

I remember when I first visited the Church of Holy Sepulcher, it appeared to me more like a small museum than a church. I was virtually clueless inside a dark and dull overcrowded massive complex of more than 25 chapels with several curious artifacts and antiques scattered under some dusky arches and dingy columns. It took me at least three visits with a proper map in hand to understand the Church complex. A normal visitor for instance would be satisfied with Golgotha, the ‘Stone of Unction’ and the ‘Holy Sepulcher’, but the oldest part of the complex, viz. the first century tombs inside the Syrian Orthodox Chapel could be easily missed.

In the upcoming posts I plan to upload 50 such sites from Jerusalem that I believe can be easily overlooked or go unnoticed by an average visitor. I am incorporating the following sites from my previous visits, again with no specific order of importance. I am sure that a serious traveler who loves history, traditions and the Bible has noticed or been to most of them.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

White Weeping Broom or Juniper or Rotem (Retama roetam).

The broom of the wilderness (Retama roetam) is one of the most common shrubs found in the deserts of Israel. The plant is an excellent source for shade, food and fuel. Beduins still use roots of rotem as fuel for keeping warmth in the cold desert conditions. The wood of white broom is used extensively for making charcoal. It is said to be of especially fine quality and burn extremely well even when not made into charcoal.

Rotem is frequently mentioned in the Holy Bible. It is under a broom tree (rotem), Prophet  Elijah rested when he went into the wilderness, until the danger of dehydration became life-threatening (I Kings 19:4-5). In KJV, the plant is translated as juniper, however in original Hebrew texts the word "rotem" is retained.  In the book of Job we are told of impoverished desert-dwellers that make use of: "the roots of broom for warmth" (Who cut up mallows by the bushes, and juniper roots for their meat-Job 30:4). In the Book of Psalms,  the long-burning qualities of coals made from broom/rotem has been mentioned. "Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper" (Psalms 120:4). Talmudic sources mention the heat retentive capacity of "rotem" as which can last as long as twelve months! Jewish traditions attribute Rotem  to the story of the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael by Abraham. The tradition goes as "Hagar went forth and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba; and the water from the bottle was finished and she cast the child under one of the shrubs-which is identified as Rotem (Genesis 21, 15-16). The “Rithmah” of Numbers 33:18-19, is a variant of the same Hebrew word, meaning “place of broom”, and probably refers to the abundance of these plants at that locality.

In Christian legends, while Jesus was praying in the garden of Gethsemane he was continually disturbed by the noisy crackling and “sawing” of  rotem. When he was finally led off by the soldiers he said to the broom: “May you always burn with as much noise as you are making now.” Another legend says that the crackling of the broom plants among which they were hiding almost revealed the whereabouts of Mary and the infant Jesus to the soldiers of Herod.

In Arabic, "Rotem" turns into "Ritmah" which is actually a string tied around the finger as a reminder. It is said that rotem designates a ribbon which the Arabs tie before embarking on a journey. If, upon their return they find the ribbon as they left it, they assume from this that their lovers have not been unfaithful, if the oposite is true - it is a sign that she has betrayed him. It is said that the ribbon is tied only onto a plant called rotem (Ritma).

Information taken from:


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