For the first time ever, Israeli officials have upgraded beach facilities at the Dead Sea to cater to the needs of the observant Jewish public. Beginning Monday, men and women who, in keeping with Jewish customs regarding modesty, wish to swim separately can do so in style at “the lowest place on earth.”

Interior Minister Eli Yishai officially dedicated the separate swimming beach at the popular resort area in a ceremony attended by Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom and local notables, including a ram’s horn-toting rabbi.

Rabbi Shimon Elharar, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Dead Sea, brought along his shofar in keeping with the tradition to sound 10 blasts every day during the month preceding the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah.

“In this way, we were able to ensure that everyone was able to listen to the sound of the shofar,” explained the rabbi. “Chasidic thought teaches that this is the month when the King is in the field, so to speak; when He leaves His palace to come and be with His people.

“It’s ironic that this beautiful beach, which helps people preserve their modesty and holiness in the holiest of lands, was made in the lowest place on earth, right next to the traditional entrance to the biblical city of Sodom,” he added with a grin.

The new beach opened Sept. 19.
The new beach opened Sept. 19.

The beach, which Elharar watched take shape over a period of months, has already been listed on a website the rabbi maintains for both locals and visiting tourists. Massive trucks ferried the clean, bright sand to form a high shoreline that Elharar said could survive the next 10 years of rising salt flats.

“The government has taken into account the environmental problems that the area is facing,” he said. “Special measures were carried out to make sure that Jewish bathers will be able to enjoy this creation for a very long time.”

With the High Holidays barely a bit more than a week away, hotel rooms in the area are filling up fast, noted the rabbi. Many visitors spend the intermediate days of the festival of Sukkot, which begins the night of Oct. 12, relaxing on the shore.

“We’re going to be very busy. Tens of thousands of tourists will be arriving for the Hebrew month of Tishrei, and it is still warm enough for many people to swim,” he said. “We will have a sukkah on each of the two new separate beaches so that people will have a place to go to eat, no matter where they find themselves around the Dead Sea.”