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December 15, 1989 - Image 45

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-12-15

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

SIMON GRIVER

Special to The Jewish News

t 25 million years, the
Soreq Cave is probably
Israel's oldest tourist
site in a land renowned for its
ancient attractions. Within
the cavern, stunningly
beautiful stalagmites reach
up from the cave floor in all
manner of shapes and sizes, to
meet needle shaped
stalagtites stretching down
from the ceiling.
It takes five million years
worth of water drippiing
through the rocks for a
stalagmite and stalagtite to
join and form a column "This
kind of time scale," observes
Emanuel Eshed, director of
the Soreq Cave, "conflicts
with the Orthodox Jewish
belief that the world is only
5,750 years old. When Or-
thodox groups visit, we avoid
this controversial aspect of
the cave. But many Orthodox
rabbis offer interpretations
that reconcile the cave's age
with traditional beliefs. Man,
they argue, has defined the
length of a year?'
Some 20 miles southwest of
Jerusalem, the cave is located
in the Avshalom Reserve
amidst some of the most spec-
tacular landscape of the Ju-
dean Hills. The cave was
discovered by accident in
1968 when the hillside was
dynamited for quarrying. The
explosion opened a crack in-
to a magical and fantastic
"world which had been hidden
beneath the ground.
The Nature Reserves
Authority prepared the cave
for public exhibition. With a

A

Richard Nowitz, WZPS

Hidden
Treasur

Israel's Soreq Cave
hides its beauty underground.

total area of 4,800 square
meters, the Soreq Cave is
much smaller than the
Carlsbad Caverns in the
United States. However, the
abundance of remarkable
geological phenomena within
a relatively small space
makes the Soreq Cave a com-
parable attraction. All the
crystallized formations that
can be seen in the Carlsbad
and Mammoth caves can be
viewed here.
First opened to the public in
1978, the Soreq Cave proved
so popular that there was a
waiting list for reservations of
more than a year. The
number of visitors was fixed
at 400,000 per year so as to

limit potential damage to the
cave. With almost every
Israeli having seen the cave,
the waiting list was dispens-
ed with in 1985. Never-
theless, with 200,000 visitors
last year the cave remains
one of the country's most
popular sites.
"The greatest pleasure in
my job," says Eshed, "is wat-
ching the awesome and amaz-
ed expressions of people see-
ing the cave for the first time,
especially children. For
younger children, the cave is
not so much a chance to learn
about geology but an oppor-
tunity to exercise their im-
aginations and tell us what
the stalagtites resemble."

The stalagtites are most fre-
quently compared to Mexican
hats, pagodas, citadels and
wedding cakes. The many
stalagnates (a single column
of stalagtite and stalagmite
stretching from roof to floor)
often have indiscernible
meeting points. In some
places, several stalagnates
have joined together to form
curtains and screens that
divide the cavern into
separate chambers.
Another unusual curiosity
in the Soreq Cave is the helec-
tite. This unusual form seems
to defy gravity by sprouting
out in all directions in all
manner of shapes. The
romance of the helectite is

enhanced by the fact that
scientists have been unable to
explain the reasons for this
phenomenon.
Such formations occur only
in caves made from limestone
or dolomite rocks. The Soreq
Cave is a mixture of these two
stones. When a drop of water
is saturated with limestone
solution on the roof or floor of
the cave, carbon dioxide
escapes and the limestone
crystallizes. Drop upon drop of
water crystallizes, enabling
the columns to grow at a rate
of 0.2 millimeters per year.
"The saddest thing" says
Eshed, "is when people ig-
nore the instructions not to
touch the formations. A
single second of thoughtless
negligence can destroy
millions of years of nature's
work. It should be stressed,
however, that such incidents
are extremely rare?'
All the same, serious
damage is being done to the
cave simply by having it open
to the public. The thousands
of visitors, as well as the
lighting system within the
cave, have raised the
temperature by three degrees
and increased levels of carbon
dioxide. This process is caus-
ing a worrying degree of
dessification. However,
various measures are being
taken to combat this drying
out effect, including the
replacement of the lighting
system with cooler bulbs.
Two smaller, similar caves
have been uncovered in the
region, but they will not be
opened to the public so that
they can be better preserved
for research and posterity. ID

World Zionist Press Service

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

45

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