LYDDA (Heb. לֹד, Lod), town in the coastal plain of Israel, 10 mi. (16 km.) S.E. of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Lydda first appears in the Canaanite period (1465 B.C.E.) when it is mentioned in Thutmosis III's list of towns in Canaan. According to the Talmud (Meg. 1:3b–4a; TJ, Meg. 1:1), the city was fortified "in the days of Joshua the son of Nun," but according to the Bible, it was built by Shemed, a Benjamite (I Chron. 8:12). It appears with Ono and Hadid in the list of places resettled after the return from the Babylonian Exile (Ezra 2:33; Neh. 7:37), and it occurs with Ono and Ge-Harashim in the list of Benjamite settlements (Neh. 11:35).
In the Hellenistic period the town was outside the boundaries of Judea; it was detached from Samaria and given to Jonathan the Hasmonean by Demetrius II in 145 B.C.E. (I Macc. 11:34; Jos., Ant., 13:127), becoming a toparchy of Judea (Jos., Wars, 3:55). In Maccabean times it was a purely Jewish town; Julius Caesar restored the privileges of the Jews of Lydda (Jos., Ant., 14:208). In the Roman period it was counted as a village, although it was as populous as a city (Jos., Ant., 20:130). In 43 B.C.E. its inhabitants were sold into slavery by Cassius, the governor of Syria (Jos., Ant., 14:275). Quadratus, the Syrian governor in the time of Claudius, executed several Jews there; Cestius Gallus, the Roman proconsul of Syria, burned it on his way to Jerusalem in 66 C.E. It was within the command of John the Essene at the beginning of the First Jewish War (66–70); Vespasian occupied it in 68 C.E.
According to talmudic sources, Lydda was situated on the boundary of the Shephelah and the coastal plain, one day's journey from Jerusalem; other sources call the plain around it the Shephelah of Lydda (Ma'as. Sh. 5:2). The town flourished between the First and Second Jewish Wars. It had a large market; cattle were raised in the area; and textile, dyeing, and pottery industries were established. A Christian community existed there in the time of Peter (Acts 9:32–35). It was the seat of a Sanhedrin; famous talmudic scholars, such as R. Tarfon, R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus, R. Akiva, Joshua b. Levi, Judah b. Pazi, Eleazar bar Kappara, and Ḥanina bar Ḥama taught there. Among its synagogues was one specially maintained by a community of Tarsians. After the war of Bar-Kokhba (132–135), Jews remained in Lydda, though its agricultural hinterland had been destroyed. The patriarch R. Judah I leased estates in its plain.
In 200, the emperor Septimius Severus established a Roman city at Lydda, calling it Colonia Lucia Septimia Severa Diospolis. Its territory consisted of the combined toparchies of Lydda and Thamna. The town remained partly Jewish. It took part in the revolt against the emperor Gallus in 351 and was punished when the revolt failed; according to one Mid-rash, out of ten measures of poverty in the world, Lydda had nine. The Samaritan element became more powerful in Byzantine times, although the town, part of Palaestina Prima, was predominantly Christian and had a bishop. Justinian built a church there. It was the legendary birthplace of St. George; hence its name Georgiopolis in late Byzantine and crusader sources. It was captured by the Muslim general ʿAmr ibn al-ʿÁṣin 636 and until the foundation of Ramleh (c. 715) it served as headquarters of the province of Filasṭīn. In 1099 it was occupied by the crusaders and became a seigneurie with a vicomte in charge. The crusaders built a Church of St. George there, still partly preserved. In 1170, Benjamin of Tudela found only one Jewish family there. After Saladin's reconquest of the town in 1191, more Jews settled in it. In the 14th century, Estori ha-Parhi found a Jewish community there. Under the Mamluks Lydda was the seat of an administrative district. The town seems not to have been inhabited by Jews during the early Ottoman period. Ancient remains in modern Lydda include a mound, a Jewish tomb, and a Greco-Samaritan inscription. A magnificent mosaic floor within a large villa was uncovered in recent archaeological work in the city; the floor has Nilotic scenes with sea creatures and boats.
In the 19th century a small Jewish community existed in Lydda, but the 1921 Arab riots compelled the last of its Jewish inhabitants to leave. Further attempts to reestablish the community during the British Mandate failed because of ensuing violence. The town, which numbered only a few hundred families at the beginning of the century, expanded quickly and in 1919 became an important railway junction. In 1944, Lydda numbered about 17,000 Arab inhabitants, one-fifth of them Christians and the rest Muslims.
During Israel's *War of Independence , Lydda was occupied by Israel forces in Operation Dani on July 10, 1949, and the great majority of its inhabitants abandoned the town. The first Jewish settlers went to Lydda at the end of 1948 when its population numbered 1,200, with 1,050 of them Arabs. In 1949 it received municipal council status. In 1955, in the spirit of a prototype plan made by architect Michael Bar, the Jewish settlers were housed in modern houses in the northern part of the city, and the Arab population was housed in the east. This separation has continued until today. The new parts of Lydda
contrast with its ancient nucleus, which has preserved an Oriental character and retains its mosques and churches.
At the end of 1969 its population was 28,000, including 2,900 Muslims and Christian Arabs. In the mid-1990s, the population was approximately 49,500, with approximately 10,180 non-Jews. By the end of 2002 the population had risen to 66,500, including 18,000 non-Jews (26% of the city's population) and 15,000 new immigrants (mostly from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia). The city's area is about 4 sq. mi. (10 sq. km.). The growth of the Arab population, together with the departure of the veteran Jewish population, has created racial tension in the city and a reputation as the drug capital of Israel. Income was well below the national average.
The nearby airport, Israel's international airport for passengers and freight, was originally built by the Mandatory government in 1936, with the Israel government greatly expanding its facilities. It serves as the home base for *El Al Israel Airlines. New passenger sections were completed in 1970. Now known as Ben-Gurion Airport, it has expanded still further with the construction and opening of the impressive Terminal 3 in 2005. Some 115,000 passengers passed through the airport in 1950, over a million in 1970, and five million in 2004. The airport served the town as an important source of employment, as did Israel Aircraft Industries.
[Shlomo Hasson / Shaked Gilboa (2nd ed.)]
Press, Ereẓ, S.V.; EM, 4 (1962), 430–1 (incl. bibl.); S. Abramsky, Ancient Towns in Israel (1963); Benvenisti, Crusaders in the Holy Land, index. Add. Bibliography: J.J. Schwartz, Lod (Lydda), Israel. From its Origins Through the Byzantine Period, 5600 B.C.E.–640 C.E. (1991); Y. Tsafrir, L. Di Segni, and J. Green, Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea – Palaestina. Maps and Gazetteer (1994), 171; B.-Z. Rosenfeld, Lod and Its Sages in the Period of the Mishnah and the Talmud (1997).
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.