Wine and Prophecy: The Rebirth of Shomron

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“Have you ever seen a prophecy come true?

…Would you like to hold one in your hand?”

That is how I opened up my sixth grade history class in Jerusalem, seven years ago (2010).

It was inspired by a very powerful experience on that year’s Rosh Hashana in which, I recall, my family and guests consumed fourteen bottles of wine. I daresay that I was a key player in the consumption thereof, and my passion for Israeli wine has only increased over the years.

This is a story about wine, but mostly about the Shomron (Samaria – the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Ten Lost Tribes, and a general name for the region). If you too enjoy good wine, especially Israeli wine, you will find some practical information in this series of articles.  But even if not – you may discover wonderful things. This series of three articles is intended for the Three Weeks [1] in which we reconnect with the First and Second Temple destruction periods, so it will also focus on the rebuilding of the Land, appropriate as is for its aftermath.

This, being the first part, will lay the foundation for the discussion about the Shomron, and the context that makes its wines so special.

The second part will deal with the broader historical context of the story as well as less known details that are learned from Assyrian archaeology. Furthermore, it will raise some important questions regarding the nature of the Ten Lost Tribes.

For the third part, I interviewed two people who are involved in the rebuilding of Judea and Samaria in unique ways. The first is Tzvi (Greg) Lauren, co-founder of West Bank Wines, who is involved in the distribution of Israeli wines in the United States. The second is Gabi Sackett, co-founder of Build Up Israel, a nonprofit supporting community building projects in a unique way. The article will include audio and transcriptions, as well as important links and social media information.

Now back to the sixth grade history lesson. Actually, let’s go back to that Rosh Hashana in the Old City of Jerusalem, 2010.

On the second day of Rosh Hashana, my father was appointed to read the Haftarah, a selection of prophecy of comfort from the book of Jeremiah (31:1-20). Perhaps the most famous verse from that portion is “A cry is heard in Ramah— Wailing, bitter weeping— Rachel weeping for her children. She refuses to be comforted, for her children, who are gone.” (ibid, 15) A poignant description of the utter shock and devastation of the Exile of the Ten Tribes, which have been deported by several kings of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. But what moved him to tears, as he was reading, was an earlier verse:

I will build you firmly again, O Maiden Israel! Again you shall take up your timbrels and go forth to the rhythm of the dancers. Again you shall plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria; Men shall plant and live to enjoy them. (ibid, 4-5)

What was so moving about these verses? I did not really understand…but when I held one of the bottles in my hand during the next meal, it hit me. It was a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from Barkan Winery, and though later I discovered their vineyards are not actually in the Shomron, the Barkan industrial section is. I then realized that not only a winery in the Shomron, but a booming wine industry, was indeed the fulfillment of a prophecy which, in the disastrous times of the prophecy, was inconceivable. It was then that this lesson was born.

I saved that empty bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, brought it to my 6th grade classroom, and made an entire lesson out of it.

Weep, oh Shomron!

So what exactly happened?

The short and familiar story is as follows: Pekah, King of Israel in the north allied with his northeastern neighbor Rezin, King of Aram (Damascus) against Ahaz in southern Judah (II Kings 16:5). They were part of a coalition to stop local kings from joining the Assyrian empire, whose main goal was keeping Assyria out of the geopolitical game in the region.

This didn’t turn out well for the coalition. Tiglath-pileser III came to the aid of Ahaz, accepting Judah as a vassal kingdom, killing Rezin and deporting large parts of the Kingdom of Israel twice over the course of a three year campaign. He deported the many captives and repopulated them across the Assyrian Empire, settling the Samaria hill country with deportees from other areas of the empire (I Chronicles 5:26, II Kings 15:29 and cf. Rashi on II Kings 17:1).

In the days of King Pekah of Israel, King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-beth Maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor—Gilead, Galilee, the entire region of Naphtali; and he deported the inhabitants to Assyria. (II Kings 15:29)

Later, during the reign of Shalmaneser V, King Hosea of Israel was caught sending a convoy to Seis, King of Egypt, (II Kings 17:4-6), a clear act of rebellion against Assyria. Shalmaneser did not like it, and after a three-year siege over Shomron, the king of Assyria destroyed it, and deported all the remaining citizens of Israel across the empire.

…and the King of Assyria deported the Israelites to Assyria. He settled them in Calah, along the Habor [and] the River Gozan, and in the towns of Media. (II Kings 18:11)

Rashi (II Kings 17:1) adds a detail about Sennacherib deporting a small portion of the remaining Ten Tribes. He bases this on the Seder Olam. Speaking of the Seder Olam, it should be noted that only recently has this famous jewish chronological work been made available to the scientific community. Professor Chaim Milikowsky just released the very first – and long awaited – scientific publication (in Hebrew) [2].

I have not had the benefit of holding a copy in my hand, yet, but strongly encourage doing so.

In any event, this is the story we all know.

It is hard to imagine the magnitude of this devastation. The Ashkenazi current Jewish population is mostly from Judah and Benjamin, Levi, and perhaps a few scattered families from across the ten tribes. There are Sephardim with origin traditions from specific tribes. The primary reason there are “Jews” and Jewish communities in the world today is because the kingdom of Judah was left in place over a century afterwards, was exiled en masse by Babylon and stayed together in large groups, who are thus traceable in Europe and the East; and with some Jews staying in the Land, as described in Kings and in Ezra-Nehemiah.

While the Judahites were exiled they returned, rebuilt the Temple and Jerusalem – and, centuries later were exiled again and dispersed around the Roman world – and they have miraculously returned to the Land of Israel again, after nearly two millennia.

The Ten Tribes have not.

The Ten Tribes are… lost… we call them “The Ten Lost Tribes” because their whereabouts as a rule are indeed as yet unknown, despite a recent resurgence of research into their fate..

In the next article I will expand the story through archaeology and discuss some broader issues regarding the Ten Lost Tribes.

I would like to share with you a poignant lamentation about this topic. Every Tisha b’Av (the fast of the 9th of Av), Jews around the world sit on the ground in mourning, and recite different lamentations, composed over the last two millennia, which describe the horrors of the destruction, persecution, pogroms and holocaust which have transpired over the generations. Entire jewish communities which have been destroyed by the crusaders, the Spanish inquisition, burning of Torah scrolls and other horrors are remembered.

One of these lamentations is called “Samaria lifts up her voice”, by Solomon ibn Gabirol, an 11th century Spanish-Jewish poet and philosopher. Translation is from the Tisha B’av Compendium, Judaica Press, NY 1989 and I have only brought the part relevant to this article, but you can research the entire lamentation at your leisure.

Some things to notice:

First of all, the lamentation attributes the exile only to Tiglath-pileser. Perhaps for poetic reason, he also only includes several of the locations to where the tribes were exiled.

Second, the name of Shomron is Aholoh (אָהֳלָה), literally translates as “His Tent”. This name appears in the full length of the lamentation, in which Jerusalem and Shomron bemoan their disastrous fate, and compare them one against the other’s. While “His Tent” is clearly a reference to the Tabernacle, which was in Shiloh, in the Shomron for 369 years [3], it is also a curious reference to wine [4]. Indeed, the iniquities of the kingdom of Shomron – and their subsequent exile – have a lot to do with wine:

They drink [straight] from the wine bowls and anoint themselves with the choicest oils—but they are not concerned about the ruin of Joseph. Assuredly, right soon they shall head the column of exiles; They shall loll no more at festive meals. (Amos 6:6-7)


[1] “The Three Weeks” is the period in which Jews consciously engage with the nature of the destructions which have befallen the Jewish People (Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Laws of Fasts 5:1-4). The three weeks is the span of time between two National fast days, corresponding to the approximate date of the two final stages of the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem: The breach of the walls of Jerusalem (17 of Tammuz) and the burning of the Temple (9 of Av).

[2] Seder Olam: Critical Edition, Commentary, and Introduction. Milikowsky, Chaim (2013): Yad Ben-Zvi Press, Israel

[3] Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Laws of the Chosen Temple 1:2

[4] The word “Aholo” is also found in the story of Noah’s drunkenness (Gen. 9:21), where he was exposed in his own tent, naked. The word for nakedness and exposure in Hebrew (va’yit’gal) is the same as Exile (gal’ut). See Rashi’s commentary on that verse.

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