A Guide to Israel
and its Holy sites
The ancient walled city of Acco, also called Acre, is rich
in history. It is located in the portion of land belonging to the Shevet of
Asher (Jud. 1:31) Acco is located in the northwestern part of the country,
on the eastern shore of the Meditereanan Sea. The city projects out into
the sea and is surrounded by water on three sides.
The Medrash tells us that in the days of Enosh there were
two great floods. As the waters of the first flood approached the city of
Acco, Hashem said- "Ahd ko!," until here and no more. "Ahd
shortened to the name, Ahko, or Acco. (Med. Rab. Bereishis 23:7)
To yeshiva bochrim, the city of Acco is well known from the
first Mishna in Gittin. Acco is mentioned in connection with the
of "gittin" as the northernmost city in Eretz Yisroel. But, Acco is more
famous than that. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in
the whole world. The city is mentioned in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics
dating back 3,500 years.
In ancient times, all ships that arrived in Eretz Yisroel
from abroad would dock at the port of Acco. There is a famous story
recorded in the Gemarah about a miracle that occurred in this very
A wealthy man named Nicanor had two great bronze doors made
in Alexandria, Egypt for the second Bais HaMikdash. Nicanor went to
Alexandria to bring his doors back to Eretz Yisroel by ship. On the way, a
great storm broke out and threaten to sink the ship with its precious
cargo. The sailors threw one of the doors overboard so as to lighten the
load, but the ship continued to flounder. They were ready to throw the
other bronze door into the sea when Nicanor grabbed the door and yelled
'Cast me in with it!' Suddenly the storm stopped. But Nicanor was still
deeply saddened by the loss of the other door. As the ship arrived in the
harbor of Acco, the door that was tossed into the sea suddenly broke forth
from the waters and floated to the ship.
All the doors in the Bais HaMikdash were plated with gold,
except the two great Nicanor doors. The kohanim did not wish to hide from
sight, even under a plating of gold, Nicanor's two miracle doors. (Yoma 38a)
Another story that relates to the Bais HaMikdash occurred in
Acco many years later. About 50 years after the churban Bais
the Roman Emperor Hadrian wanted to Jews to respect him. He gave them
permission to rebuild the destroyed Bais HaMikdash. A great feast was held in Acco.
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananiah presided over the festivities.
Meanwhile some of the evil Kussim (Samaritans) told the
emperor that the Jews planned to use the Temple as a fortress and would
rebel against Rome. Hadrian asked the Kussim what he should do since it
would not be proper for him to revoke the grant to build the Bais HaMikdash. The
Kussim suggested that he order the Jews to make the
building larger than before or perhaps tell them to build it according to
the proper measurements but in a different location. Since the Jews are
not permitted to do either one of these, they would stop their plans
immediately. Hadrian agreed to the plot of the Kussim.
While the celebration was going on in Acco, Roman messengers
arrived and announced Hadrian's new orders. The assembled Jews were
greatly distressed and were ready to start an uprising against the Roman
Emperor. Rebbe Yehoshua ben Chananiah addressed the crowd of Jews with the
A lion killed an animal and immediately began to eat it.
While eating the carcass, a bone became stuck in the lion's throat. The
lion was unable to cough it out. The lion announced than anyone who would
remove the bone would be greatly rewarded. A heron flew to the lion and
said that he could remove the bone with his long beak. The lion opened his
mouth and the heron stuck in his head and removed the bone. When the heron
asked for his reward the lion said now you can boast that your head was in
the lion's mouth and you came out alive. That shall be your reward.
Rebbe Yehoshua ben Chananiah turned to the assembled and
said that we have had dealings with the cruel emperor, we too have had our
heads in the emperor's mouth and we too have come out alive. Let that
alone be our reward. (Med. Rab. Bereishis 64:10)
Many of our great sages lived in Acco. Among them were
Rabban Gamliel, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, Rebbe Yosi,
and Rebbe Abba.
Many Greeks were attracted to the coastal city of Acco. One
of these Greeks brought a statue of the Greek god Aphrodite into the
public bathhouse. This did not deter Rabban Gamliel from bathing in the
bathhouse. Once, inside the bathhouse, a Greek asked Rabban Gamliel
the Sage was permitted to bathe in the presence of an idol. Rabban
told the Greek that he would answer him as soon as they left the bathhouse
since words of Torah are not permitted inside. When they were outside the
bathhouse, Rabban Gamliel responded "I did not come into Aphrodite's
bathhouse. She came into mine." (Mishna Avodah Zora 3:4)
Many famous non-Jews visited Acco. When Alexander the Great
subdued the Middle East, he came to Acco and establish a mint for issuing
coins. The Roman Emperor, Julius Caesar, visited the city during his reign
and for many years all the documents written in Acco were dated from the
year of Caesar's visit. The famous Italian adventurer, Marco Polo,
likewise visited the city. Napoleon desperately wanted to "visit" the city
but was unable. But, that is a story that I shall tell short while.
Throughout history many battles were fought in and around
Acco. When the Maccabees were fighting the Syrian-Greeks, many of their
battles occurred in Acco. Yonason, one of the Maccabean sons of Yochanan
Kohain Gadol, was killed in Acco.
The most intense period of warfare in Acco was during the
1200's. The Christian Crusaders from England and France, the Mamalukes
from Egypt, the Syrian Moslems, the Chinese Mongols all fought over Acco.
But, for the most part of that century, the district was under Crusader
control and it is the remains of Crusader fortresses and walls that remain
there today. There is also a vast underground secret complex, first
started in the 1100's and completed by the Crusaders, that can also be
By the end of the 1200's, Acco was in the hands of the
Moslems. In 1799, Napoleon of France was planning an invasion of Acco. The
governor of Acco, fondly called Ahmed the "Butcher", together with some
British troops successfully defended the city against Napoleon's forces.
That ended Napoleon's grand desire to conquer the world. As Napoleon left
for home he said "Had Acco been mine, the world would have been mine." If
Napolean had been successful in "visiting" Acco, perhaps all of us today
would be speaking French.
Acco today is a picturesque port, hosting mostly small
fishing boats. The crusaders' fortress and underground city are quite
interesting. During the British mandate, many of the captured
members of the Irgun, the Jewish underground, were held prisoner here.