the book of Ezekiel the prophet receives a Divine revelation at the River Kevar.
In Psalms 137 the exiles mourn and weep for Zion "by the waters of Babylon."
And, by the River Ahva, the Jewish leader Ezra proclaims a fast for the people
who are about to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem.
The emphasis on religious activities which take place near river banks cannot
be merely coincidental but must point to some special connection. Indeed, the
midrash on Ezekiel gives us a direction.
The Rabbinic Sages were
undoubtedly troubled by the fact that Ezekiel was a prophet who received some
of his revelations outside of the Holy Land; they apparently had a tradition
that limited prophecy to the Land of Israel. In order to surmount this problem
the midrash states: "Although [Ezekiel] received Divine communication outside
of the Holy Land, it was granted him in a pure place", i.e., near a body
To solve the dilemma of
prophecy outside of Eretz Yisrael, the Sages came up with the theory that since
water serves to purify those who have been contaminated (presumably from idolatry
which was rife throughout the land of Babylon)
even the area near a body of water can be considered sufficiently pure for Divine
revelation. This may indeed have been the way the Judean exiles solved the dilemma
of living surrounded by idolatry: They simply gathered for Jewish religious
activities near rivers or other bodies of water such as canals, as these were
considered unpolluted areas fit for Jewish worship.
Another possible explanation
may be that Jews wished to purify themselves by bathing prior to engaging in
religious activity, and that the gathering near rivers was simply a matter of
convenience. A third explanation may be related to the fact that Jews sought
to escape the prying eyes of their idolatrous Babylonian neighbors; river banks
were a places of isolation where they were free to conduct their own kind of
rituals and where they could pray for the restoration of Zion without being
accused of treason.