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Judaism

Jewish sites in Jordan: sacred spaces to visit during your trip

The holiest sites for Judaism are in Israel, not surprisingly, as well as in the Palestinian Territories. However, in neighboring Jordan there are also important sacred spaces for this religion, which can be visited by any traveler, whether they are Jews, profess another religion or simply feel interested in this important cultural aspect of the area. On this page we tell you which are the main Jewish places in Jordan, where they are located and how you can include them in your circuit.

Table of Contents

Historical Context and Current Situation

The State of Israel was created in 1947-48, following World War II, fulfilling the desire of the Jewish people to have their own modern state, as until then its members were dispersed across different countries around the world. Since then, in the following years and decades, the movement known as Aliyah has facilitated mass immigration to this new state, reaching the current population of approximately 9 million inhabitants.

The creation of the State of Israel has generated controversy, conflicts, and instability in the region, as is known, largely due to the lack of agreement on the establishment of borders (with even part of the Arab population resisting the recognition of Israel as a state). These borders were based on the geographical references contained in the Torah, which traditionally constitutes the Land of Israel, roughly coinciding with the historical kingdoms of Judah and Israel.

In any case, this disagreement about the borders does not exist with Jordan. At least since the peace treaty of 1994 between the two countries, the current territorial boundaries were agreed upon. In fact, as described in different passages of the Torah and Nevi’im (Numbers 34:1-12 and Ezekiel 47:15-20), the Land of Israel would not include territory from Jordan, as it establishes the Jordan River, the Dead Sea, and Wadi Araba as its limits, mainly.

However, there are important Jewish sites in Jordan because some of their prophets passed through here and played significant roles described in the sacred texts of Judaism, also accepted in Christian tradition through the Old Testament of the Bible.

Currently, Jordan does not have a significant Jewish population. Given the proximity of the State of Israel, the natural choice for Hebrew people is to reside in the neighboring country. Furthermore, although Jordan has recently played a role of certain mediation between Israel and Arab countries, the situation can be defined as ‘tense calm,’ especially regarding the management of the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, which was assigned to Jordan in the aforementioned peace treaty of 1994.

Shared Sacred Places with Christianity and Islam

It is perhaps this situation that explains the discreet presence of Hebrew symbols in the Jewish sites in Jordan, while references to Christianity are much more visible and noticeable, with churches and commemorative monuments included.

This is because these places are also considered sacred by Christianity. In some cases, Christian institutions were responsible for restoring and highlighting the place, often because Byzantine churches were built in these same spaces centuries later.

This is evident in sacred places such as Mount Nebo, whose current appearance is mainly due to the reforms carried out by the Franciscan order in the 1930s. But also in other places such as the Cave of Lot, where churches can be recognized among the ruins of the archaeological site.

Furthermore, since Jewish and Christian prophets are also considered prophetic figures in the Quran, Islamic religion also attributes a sacred character to some of the places described here (although to a lesser extent than other more symbolic places related to Muhammad), so it is not uncommon to come across Muslim pilgrims from time to time.

What are the Jewish sites in Jordan?

The proximity of Jordan to the Land of Israel means that some of the episodes narrated in the sacred texts of Judaism can be found here, as their protagonists lived in this territory during some of the most significant moments of their lives. Here is a list of the most significant ones.

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Lot's Cave, near Sodom, at the Dead Sea

The first of the episodes narrated in the sacred texts that would be located in Jordan is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, which are believed to have been located on the southern shores of the Dead Sea. These two cities were burned with fire and sulfur by Yahweh as punishment for the sins of their population.

Lot (Abraham’s nephew) is said to have fled from Sodom along with his family, seeking refuge in a small cave beyond the Lisan Peninsula, where he lived with his daughters. Inscriptions (one of which could mention Lot by name) and remains of a Byzantine church with mosaics can be found in the cave.

During their escape, Lot’s wife was said to have been turned into a pillar of salt for looking back, despite being warned by angels not to do so. Today, a rock formation located on top of a hill near the eastern shore of the Dead Sea is often identified with her.

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Mount Nebo: Where Moses Viewed the Promised Land

Upon his return from Egypt, the prophet Moses and the Israelites who followed him reached Mount Nebo, located in the hills overlooking the Dead Sea on the Jordanian side. Although Moses was denied entry into the Promised Land, he was able to view it from here in the 13th century BCE.

And today, travelers can do the same, as the panoramic views are truly spectacular. An information panel at the viewpoint explains what can be seen on a clear day: the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, Jericho, and the Sea of Galilee or Lake Kinneret.

Unable to enter the Promised Land, Moses decided to stay here until the end of his days, and it is believed that he died here at the age of approximately 120 years. The exact location of Moses’ death is unknown and is still a subject of study, so there is no funeral or commemorative monument for it.

Also near Mount Nebo, about 2.5 km away, you may find the Spring of Moses (there is another location that could also correspond to it, which we explain below): it is a simple rock from which water only springs on rainy days, marked by some simple eucalyptus trees around it.

Wadi Musa and the Most Accepted Spring of Moses

As mentioned before, there is another possible location for the Spring of Moses: a simple natural spring that flows with water permanently, located on the outskirts of the town of Wadi Musa. In this case, it is marked by a small structure with three domes, where souvenirs of the place are also sold. As a result, it is one of the main Jewish sites in Jordan.

Let us recall that Moses, upon his arrival from Egypt, struck a rock with his staff in search of water to quench the thirst of his followers. This miracle could have taken place here, and centuries later, the Nabateans of Petra benefited from this water, as it was channeled to provide service to that prosperous city located amidst canyons.

The Tomb of Aaron, Brother of Moses

One of the followers who accompanied Moses on his journey from Egypt was his brother, Aaron. According to belief, Aaron may have died on Mount Hor (Jbel Harum), a mountain in the vicinity of Wadi Musa and Petra, precisely at the moment when the entourage passed by here and could quench their thirst at the spring.

Currently, there is a small Islamic building (14th century) that marks the possible location of Aaron’s tomb, who is also remembered in history as the first high priest of Israel.

The Birthplace of the Prophet Elijah in Aljoun

The Prophet Elijah is another figure closely associated with this land: two of the Jewish sites in Jordan are dedicated to him. The first one is the place of his birth, which is believed to have taken place in the late 10th century BCE. The Book of Kings indicates that Elijah was originally from Tishbe, in Gilead, which could have been located in the vicinity of Ajloun.

On the outskirts of this city, one of the trails in the beautiful Aljoun Forest Reserve leads to an archaeological site (Mar Elias) where it is believed that Elijah could have been born. At this site, there are mosaics, reliefs, and even remains of a Byzantine church that could have been built in his honor.

The Place of Death and Ascension to the Heavens of the Prophet Elijah in Bethany

The circle of Elijah’s life also comes to a close in Jordan, in the mid-9th century BCE. And it happens precisely in a place loaded with symbolism: Bethany Beyond the Jordan, that is, very close to the place of Jesus’ baptism.

In this environment, located on the banks of the Jordan River, there is a trail that leads to the Hill of Elijah (Tell Mar Elias), so called because it is believed that the prophet ascended to the heavens from here in a whirlwind generated by Yahweh. Currently, the most recognizable remains are those of a Byzantine church, although it is actually a frequent pilgrimage site for Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike.

How to integrate these sites into your trip

As you can see, there are many Jewish sites in Jordan. To integrate them into your trip, our agency offers circuits of different durations: from a few days to over a week. Our flagship proposals are combined circuits that include visits to both Israeli and Jordanian territories, reaching symbolic places such as Jerusalem.

However, we also customize trips: if you want to plan a trip that only includes the Jewish sites in Jordan, we can take you to all of them, explain their history and significance, and arrange the necessary services for your circuit. Contact Jordan Exclusive and create an unforgettable trip with Judaism as the central theme of your program.

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