This is thought to be the statue of the goddess Mylitta, the Babylonian representation of the Greek Aphrodite.
At the end of the day Hillel left the workshop with Menahem, after arranging with the Master that he should come back tomorrow. He wanted to have a few days worth of pay in his hands, so that he could comfortably arrange for his studies with Shemaya and Avtalion but still keep enough for rent and food. Menahem promised to tell the Teachers that a new student would arrive on Yom Rishon, the first day of the week, after the Sabbath day of rest was over.
They stopped on their way to purchase cheap garments for Hillel from one of the merchants of old clothes, and then went to the baths. Entering the house, Hillel saw there were two staircases – one that was used to go down into the pools, and the other that was used after bathing, so a man who had already bathed would not be contaminated by those who had not yet purified themselves. The baths were dug into the rock itself, quite deeply. The water in them was constantly refreshed by “living water,” a continuous stream that flowed from a large reservoir containing water collected from various sources – rain water, river water, or any water that was never stored in a vessel. Additional shallow basins had several purposes, such as washing the hands or purifying containers. There were also places where one could wash his clothes.
Hillel took off his tunic and loincloth, laid them in a shallow basin full of soapy water to soak, and entered the water. His aching muscles responded to the comfort of the water, and he sank in with a sigh of content and closed his eyes. The cool “living water” that dripped into the warm water of the bath made him feel as if he were back at home, in the beautiful bath the family had owned. For a few seconds he drifted into a half sleep and a pleasant dream mixed with his thoughts. He felt that maybe, if he opened his eyes, he would see his beloved Penina, holding a soft, thick cloth for him to dry himself, as she used to do so often… he woke up with a start when an attendant brought him a piece of soap made of ashes and olive oil; unlike the soap in Babylon, this was a simple one, lacking the fragrant herbs or the pine oil added, and the strong odor of olive oil banished Penina’s dream presence. He sighed again, this time with sorrow. In the bath next to him Menahem was busily washing himself.
"So now that I am a rich man,” Hillel said to Menahem with a smile, “shall we go and have something to eat?”
“Yes, of course,” said Menahem. “I know a peddler who sells perfectly decent food for very little.”
“Yes, I must conserve as much money as I can,” said Hillel. “For the Academy.”
“If you like, when you get some more money, I can take you to the women some day,” suggested Menahem.
“Are any ladies of your family here? It will be kind of you to introduce me, but why would I need money?”
Menahem laughed. “No, I meant the Syrian prostitutes,” he said.
“Oh, no, my friend. Thank you, but I am married and would not consider it,” said Hillel.
“Yes, I know you are married, but these women are not of our faith, they are Syrians,” said Menahem, surprised. “You did not think I would suggest Jewish women?”
“No, of course not,” said Hillel. “But I would not like to have this kind of relations with any woman but my wife.”
“But you know that if they are of a different faith it is not considered a sin,” said Menahem. “Even a wife would not mind; they are no competition to her. Didn’t you ever go to the young Babylonian women, either?”
“What young Babylonian women?” asked Hillel.
“Well, you know, the custom where they have to serve the goddess once before they are allowed to get married… We hear that even rich women, who would never even mingle with the population, and certainly ordinary women, have to come to the temple of the goddess Mylitta and sit in the square, wearing a specific kind or crown, or special garments. There are passages marked for men to come into the square, view the women, and pick one to have intercourse with. He throws money into her lap, and says to her, ‘I invite you in the name of Mylitta.’ The money is whatever he can afford, and she follows him to a place outside the Temple where they have intercourse. The money, I understand, is considered sacred. After one time, she can say she had discharged her sacred duty to the goddess, and so she can go home. The beautiful women manage to go home quickly and are ready for marriage, while those who are not attractive may stay there for a couple of years, naturally.”
“Naturally, except that the whole thing does not exist,” said Hillel, laughing.
“What? It’s all a lie?”
“It’s just a story made up by a Greek traveler, a long time ago. Some say such a custom used to exist in Cyprus, in the old days, but even that is not a certainty.”
“And I thought it is a good and kind thing to go to them, so that they can be married.”
“No, not at all... A Babylonian woman is not valued by her husband unless she is pure, a virgin. I think the story was believed because many real prostitutes work in the temples of the gods. But they are professional prostitutes and never marry.”
“Then they are not forbidden to you, either,” said Menahem. “You never visited the professional prostitutes?”
“I never thought about them,” said Hillel. “It would not cross my mind. You see, Penina is the only woman I will ever want.”
“Naturally, as your wife,” said Menahem, “but visiting the prostitutes would be just for the sake of relaxation and relief.”
“I know, I know. I would not hold it against anyone if they wish to visit them. But you have to understand that it’s very different with me and Penina. We grew up together as children, her parents lived next door and she was a playmate for my little sister and me. My brother Shebna was five years older than me, and while he was the best of brothers, his interests were always more mature. But little Leah was only one year younger than Penina and me, and we played together every day … we were the best of friends, never quarreled or fought… and then one day I looked at her and saw that she was so beautiful, and I started noticing it more and more and also realized that something was happening to me physically, that my body was changing, and finally I understood that I loved her. I was very confused as to what to do about it and it was all so awkward.”
“So what did you do?” asked Menahem, amused by the youthful love story.
“I went to my parents to ask them what was happening to me.”
“Your parents? You were not embarrassed, not afraid?”
“Oh, no. My father used to say that the strict man cannot teach, and the bashful one cannot learn… and my mother… you could say anything at all to her and she would understand.”
“So what happened at that interesting conversation?”
“ I went to them when they were alone in the store, and told them that I feel strange about Penina… they started laughing and my mother said, ‘my dear boy, she is your intended. We had just been waiting for you to realize that.’ I was stunned. ‘You mean I am supposed to marry her?’ I asked, incredulously. ‘Yes,’ said my father. ‘It has been arranged between us and her parents years ago.’ I was so shocked I
just looked at them, and they laughed even more. So I started laughing too. And very soon after, when we were fourteen, we were married. You see, we almost think the same thoughts, we are like the same person. It’s hard to explain.”
Menahem was quiet for a minute. “No,” he said. “It’s not hard to understand. You are a very happy man. Will she join you soon?”
“I hope so. It won’t be easy, with the child, and I have no idea how to arrange for it, but it will be arranged, I am sure of it; everything always falls into place.”
He got out of the bath, dried himself with a cloth and put on his new clean new clothes. “I feel so much better now,” he said to Menahem. “I hate being dirty. One must respect one’s body and treat it well.”
“You are in very good shape,” said Menahem. “Your muscles do not seem to be just the product of wood chopping and the hard journey. They are more like the muscles of a trained athlete.”
“Yes, in Babylon I used to go to the gymnasium and exercise and wrestle and so on,” said Hillel. “Since the body is the home of my soul, it must be kept as best I can.”
“You had a good life there,” said Menahem. “Coming here must be a great sacrifice.”
“Yes. But the study of the Torah is above all, and I must be more accomplished in it,” said Hillel. “I cannot wait to start going to the Academy; I have so many questions, Menahem.”
“Well, if anyone can answer them, Shemaya and Avtalion are the ones,” said Menahem.
“You will be very pleased with the studies.”