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Miztpe Orev

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Mitzpe Orev (מצפה עורב) is an outlook point on Route 505, between Ma'ale Efrayim (מעלה אפרים) in the Samarian hills, 200m above sea level and moshav Petza'el (פצאל) in the Jordan Valley, at -290m.

The outlook offers a magnificent view of the Jordan valley with the mounatins of Jordan across the valley on the Eastern side, and the mountains of Samaria to the north, with mount Sartava showing its dominating peak (the highest point in the picture).

Besides the great view, every stone here breathes with history. Moshav Petza'el stands near the remains of the Jewish settlement of Phasaelis from the Second Temple era, named for Phasael (פסאל), the elder brother of Herod the Great.

Mt. Sartava was once used by the Great Sanhedrin to pass smoke signals from Jerusalem all the way to the Jewish diaspora in Babylon, to announce the beginning of a new month, synchronizing the calendars for holidays celebration. The lunisolar Hebrew calendar month starts with a new crescent moon, with an additional month normally added every two or three years to correct for the difference between 12 lunar months and the solar year. Until the calendar was codified and gradually replaced by the contemporary mathematically calculated one (between 70 and 1178 CE), the priests in the Jerusalem temple used some empirical rules to decide whether a month would have 30 or 29 days, and whether a year would have 12 or 13 months. Since nobody else knew the rules, everyone dependent on the "time signals" carried by the messengers or smoke signals.

One day a group of Samaritans decided to sabotage the Jewish timing network, lighting the fire on Sartava on the wrong day. Figuring there is no way to prevent it from happening again and missing the option of encrypting the signals, the Sanhedrin declared that smoke signals were no longer a viable option and stopped using it all together. From that point on, Jews in exile had to be dependent only on the messengers. Since Sukkot and Passover fall on the 15th day of their respective months, and a mounted rider would ride at most 50km a day over a hilly terrain, the messengers would only be able to reach settlements within the 700km radius circle centered on Jerusalem. The straight line distance from Jerusalem to Babylon is 800km, so the poor Babylonian Jews would have to celebrate 2 days of holidays instead of one, out of doubt, starting the second day of festivals in exile communities principle we still observe today.

Sartava also houses the ruines of Alexandrium, the once mightiest fortress in the land of Israel, built by Alexander Yannai, the second Hasmonean king of Judaea (103-76 BC). Two other Hasmonean fortresses, serving as military outposts, political prisons and gold reserves were Hyrcania (just south of Jericho), and Macherus (located on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea).

Alexandrium was conquered by Pompey, during the civil war betwen Yanai's sons, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, restored by Herod and finally razed by Titus during the First Jewish-Roman war, around 70 CE.

I should add that the outlook point itself is called Orev, in memory of two fallen IDF paratroopers from the Orev (Raven in English) anti-tank unit, who died in a car accident in 1986, on the way to an anti-terrorist mission, when their vehicle's breaks failed. Here's the memorial stone at the location:

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