Dear Rabbi,

Why is the city on the banks of the Kinneret in northern Israel called Tiberias?


It is widely known that Tiberias, or as it is known in Hebrew, Tiveryah (טבריה), was built by Herod and named for the Roman emperor, Tiberius.

However, everything happens by Divine providence, and so, as with other Hebrew names, the name of the city must be intrinsically related to its nature. This is especially so with regards to Tiveryah, one of the four sacred cities in Israel and the last seat of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court of the ancient Land of Israel.

In fact, two sages in the Talmud give us a deeper understanding of Tiveryah’s name.1

One sage, Rabbi Jeremiah, taught that the name has to do with its geographical location. Tiveryah, situated in the center of the Land of Israel,2 is related to the Hebrew word for navel, tabur (טבור).

The other sage, Rabba bar Nahmeini, known throughout the Talmud as Rabbah, cited a tradition that the name “Tiveryah" stands for the Hebrew words for “her sight is goodly,” “tovah re'iyatah” (טובה ראייתה).

There are several explanations as to why the sight of Tiveryah is goodly. One is because it is nestled on the banks of the Kinneret, surrounded by orchards and gardens, and it is strikingly beautiful.3 The second is that, in addition to its physical beauty, the city once was the seat of great Jewish scholarship and was thus beautiful in the spiritual sense as well.4

On an allegorical level, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, once explained that the “goodly sights” of Tiveryah can refer to each of us as individuals choosing to view each other in a positive light.

The Rebbe explained that the tradition that the messianic renewal will originate in the city of Tiveryah5 is most appropriate, as it will come about through increasing our love and appreciation of others—something that happens when we train ourselves to view our fellows positively.6

See our minisite on Tiberias.

Rabbi Menachem Posner
Ask the Rabbi @ The Judaism