Tiberias plays an important role in Jewish history. It was part of the land bequeathed to Naphtali (Joshua 19:35). The Sanhedrin (the High Court of Israel during the period of the Second Temple) relocated to Tiberias from Sepphoris.
Tiberias was an important spiritual center in the Mishnaic and Talmudic period. The Mishna was completed in Tiberias in 200 C.E. under the supervision of Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nasi (“Judah the Prince”). The Jerusalem Talmud was compiled in 400 C.E. After his death in 1204, the great Jewish sage Maimonides was buried in Tiberias. His tomb is on Ben Zakkai Street, a short distance from the town center. The street’s namesake, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, is also believed to be buried nearby. Yet another shrine is the Tomb of Rabbi Akiva.
A Samaritan center existed in Tiberias in the middle of the 4th century. The Crusaders later captured the city and made it the capital of the Galilee, but Saladin retook the city for the Muslim Empire in 1187. The city suffered a decline until it was revived by the Ottoman Turks. After the city was built up over a period of about a century, it was devastated by an earthquake in 1837.
The early Zionist pioneers established some of Israel’s first kibbutzim at the turn of the century in this area. After the establishment of the state, newcomers flocked to the city and the population quadrupled. Today, it is home to about 30,000 people.
Tiberias has been a popular destination for tourists for more than 2,000 years. As early as Roman times, this thriving recreation spa, built around 17 natural mineral hot springs more than 600 feet below sea level, welcomed visitors from every part of the ancient world. Built by Herod Antipas (one of Herod the Great’s three sons who divided up Palestine after their father’s death), the city was named Tiberias in honor of the Roman Emperor Tiberius.