History of Wholesale Market in Hebron

(PHOTO: A copy of the 1807 deed and other historic photos are displayed on the walls of the empty Mitzpe Shalhevet building. Temporary tables and chair are set up for the Shabbat Chayei Sarah weekend.)

Purchased in 1807, the neighborhood may finally be redeveloped after a controversial expulsion. It began in modern times with the murder of a baby. The incessant shooting attacks from the Abu Sneinah hills into the Jewish neighborhoods of Hebron eventually led to a sniper shooting a 10-month-old. It was then the Jewish residents began to … Read more

American Gets Warm Reception from Hebron Jews in 1868

Excerpts from The handwriting of God in Egypt, Sinai, and the Holy Land : the records of a journey from the great valley of the West to the sacred places of the East. by Reverend D. A. Randall. Published: JOHN E. POTTER & CO., 1868.

 

An American traveler gets warm hospitality from Jews in Hebron, a chilly reception from others.

Excerpts from The handwriting of God in Egypt, Sinai, and the Holy Land : the records of a journey from the great valley of the West to the sacred places of the East. by Reverend D. A. Randall. Published: JOHN E. POTTER & CO., 1868.
(ARTWORK from page 206 of D. A. Randall’s book.)

Excerpts from The handwriting of God in Egypt, Sinai, and the Holy Land : the records of a journey from the great valley of the West to the sacred places of the East
by Reverend D. A. Randall
Published: JOHN E. POTTER & CO., 1868.

page 207 – 213

FERTILE GRAPE COUNTRY

As we approached Hebron, we found the country more fertile, and in a better state of cultivation than any other portion we had yet seen. The valleys were broader, the hill-sides more sloping, and sometimes covered with brush-wood. Upon many of the steeper acclivities the old terraces were still kept up, and vineyards, and the olive and the fig yet flourished…

ABRAHAM’S OAK

…But here, too, is the Plain of Mamre, and there is Abraham’s oak, spreading wide its luxuriant shade… “But you do not believe,” says one, “this is the oak under which Abraham pitched his tent?” No; though some of the credulous Arabs about you will affirm it is the veritable one. But though not the one, it is a descendant, and a conspicuous one among the very few representatives of its ancient progenitor. There it stands, and there it has stood probably for a thousand years. This tree stands alone, the ground about it smooth and covered with a thick carpet of grass. It is twenty-three feet in circumference at the base, and its huge branches spread over a diameter of about ninety feet. It stands, one of the last of that sacred forest, where Abraham entertained angels as his guests, and communed familiarly with his Maker. A walk of about twenty-five minutes from Abraham’s Oak down the valley brings us to HEBRON.

MODERN HEBRON

Modern Hebron contains a population of about ten thousand. The houses are mostly of stone, two to three stories high, and very strongly built. For some half a mile before entering the city, we were traveling upon a road coarsely paved with large boulders, and walled on each side five or six feet high. An archway supporting a gate, seemed to be built merely to defend the road, as there is no wall about the town. A small garrison of Turkish soldiers are quartered here, as well as in all the other prominent towns of Palestine. We entered the place about two o’clock.

JEWISH HOSPITALITY

There is no hotel, or public house, for the accommodation of travelers. We made application to a Jew who had been recommended to us at Jerusalem. One of our number could converse with him in German, and in that language the negotiation was conducted. There were seven of us in company. He had but one room and one bed. It was at last arranged that we should have the room, lunch, supper and breakfast for five dollars. They were a kind-hearted family, and did the best they could for us ; but with the miserable, filthy cookery, the camp on the floor, and the multitude of fleas, we did not pass a delightfully pleasant night.

We learned from our host that there were about forty families of Jews in the place. Many of the race make a pilgrimage here to visit the home and burial place of their great ancestor, but Moslem intolerance prevents many of them from making it a home. Aside from a few Jews, Turkish soldiers and native Mohammedans make up the population. Franks and the Frank dress are much more of a novelty here than at Jerusalem and Bethlehem, as but few visit the place.

The people stared at us; the children followed after us; some of the ruder ones hooted at us, and occasionally a stone would come whirling along our path. We walked through the bazars, and bought oranges, figs and raisins, and visited some of the establishments where glass bracelets, beads and other ornaments are made, large quantities of which are manufactured here and exported to other cities.

POOL OF DAVID

Among the curiosities of the place are two large pools, or reservoirs of water, evidently of great antiquity. The lower one is called the Pool of David.

It is a square, each side one hundred and thirty feet, the depth fifty feet. It is very firmly built, with large hewn stones. It affords an abundant supply of water, a large stream constantly flowing through it. This is supposed to be the pool over which David hung the murderers of Ishbosheth, as recorded in the 4th chapter of 2nd Samuel. Tradition also points out some other localities here, but they need evidence to authenticate them, or are too absurd to claim credence, and we did not inquire for them. Such are the tombs of Abner — of Jesse, David’s father — the spot where Abel fell beneath the murderous hand of Cain, and the red earth from which Adam was made. But the great attraction of the place, the sacred spot which Jew, Christian and Moslem alike reverence, is the CAVE OF MACHPELAH.

BANNED FROM THE TOMB OF MACHPELA

This cave is upon the hill-side, close upon the borders of the city. Of the identity of the place there can be little doubt. Through a long succession of near four thousand years it has been preserved ; Jews, Christians, and Moslems have in turn possessed it, and watched over it with jealous care. It is now inclosed by a massive stone wall, two hundred feet long, one hundred and fifty feet broad, and about sixty feet high. Within this harem, as it is called, or forbidden inclosure, stands a Turkish mosque, once a Christian church, and for aught I know, before that a Jewish synagogue. Beneath that mosque is the cave. The story of the little cluster of graves concealed there, is best told in the pathetic language of Jacob. In the land of Egypt he gathered his sons around his dying bed, and exacted an oath from them that he should not be buried among strangers in Egypt. “I am to be gathered unto my people ; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron, the Hittite. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife ; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife ; and there I buried Leah.”

And Joseph went up from Egypt with a great retinue of chariots and horsemen, and servants, and kindred, with great pomp and ceremony, and laid the embalmed body of his father to rest with his kindred. Here, then, within that massive wall, beneath the dome of that mosque, are enshrined the ashes of the six ancestors of the Hebrew nation. Is it any wonder that the Jew still lingers around this consecrated spot — that they should cling to it as they do to the moss-grown stones that mark the foundation of their Holy Temple?

Would you like to visit this sepulchral abode of the venerable dead? You attempt it at your peril. You will not have reached the bottom of the stone steps that ascend to the door of the inclosure, before a dozen Turkish soldiers will stand athwart your path, and a dozen gleaming bayonets will warn you back. Like the tomb of David, on Mount Zion, or the site of Solomon’s Temple, on Mount Moriah, it is too sacred a place to be polluted by the foot of a Christian. For many hundreds of years it has been thus jealously guarded and it has been only by accident or stealth that any knowledge of the interior could be obtained. Why is this? Mohammedans have a high regard for the patriarchs of Old Testament history, especially for Abraham, whom they call El-Khulil — “the friend of God.” In the long succession of wars that have taken place for the possession of these ancient and sacred places, in which Jew, Christian, and Mohammedan have alternately held the mastery, a deep and settled spirit of hostility has been nurtured. For many generations it has been perpetuated, and many more will elapse before it will be eradicated. After many changes, the Mohammedans, in 1187, succeeded in wresting this place from the crusading Christians. They converted the church into a mosque, closed the gates against the admission of Christians, and with most unwavering hostility, have not to this day relaxed in the least their jealous watchfulness over it…

I was aroused from my revery by a troop of young Hebronites, who came noisily upon me, with a lot of old coins, beads and relics, which they were anxious to dispose of for a few piasters. I stopped to barter with them, and they followed me to the foot of the hill and into the town, until I was forced, even with rudeness, to check their importunities.

Our visit to the home of the patriarchs was over. We had fifteen to eighteen miles to walk on our return, and the sun was already shining hot in the heavens. We bade farewell to the Jewish family that had opened their doors for us, left Hebron and all its interesting associations behind, and retraced our steps homeward.

* For full text click here.

(article originally appeared here)

The Slumbers of Hebron

The Cave of Machpela

The Midrash says: And I will remember my covenant with Jacob.

This is what the Psalmist is referring to when he said: ”You took the vine from Egypt, etc.”( Psalms 80:9) Just like the vine is supported by dry trees and is still moist, so too, the people of Israel rely on their Forefathers merit -even though the forefathers are asleep.( Vayikrah Rabba 36)

In a very deep spiritual dimension, though asleep, dead and buried, the Forefathers beg for their children: “The rabbis have taught: Six (people) were not under the jurisdiction of the angel of death: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron and Miriam…”( Talmud Bavli: Baba Batra 17a)

Every time when the world is in need of mercy and the living are stressed, prayer is recited and the Forefathers:

“The Slumbers of Hebron”-rise and go to the earthy Garden of Eden where all the spirits of the righteous are found and they wrap themselves with a crown of light; they consult with them, and declare a decree. The All-Mighty is bound by that decree and does their will to show mercy on the world. And when the world is in need of mercy and the living go and inform the souls of the righteous and weep over their graves-then the righteous people who are on the proper level to bond their soul with those of the righteous departed.
Then the souls of the departed righteous awaken and gather to go to the “Slumbererss of Hebron”[the Forefathers] and inform them of the world’s plight and all go up to the gate of the garden of Eden and inform the wind, Those spirits who are surrounded with the Garden of Eden have supreme angels among them and all of these inform the Neshama (a supreme soul) and it informs the All-Mighty and all together beg mercy for the living and for their sake, the All-Mighty bestows His mercy on the world. (Zohar Beresheet 39:1)

Furthermore:

When G-d remembers His children He drops two [of his] tears in the great sea. The sound of these tears falling among the waves reaches the Cave of Machpela and awakens the Forefathers. They rise surmising that the All-Mighty wants to destroy the world. Soon a voice is heard: ”Do not fear holy and beloved ones? It is for you that G-d remembers your children and wants to redeem them… and so you will see.

In many daily prayer books we can find the “Elijah’s Introduction” prayer. It reads:

Rose Rabbi Shimon and said: ”To you G-d is the greatness, the power, the eternity and the glory. “(Chron. I. 29:11) Hear O Supreme ones! Those who dwell in Hebron and [Moses] the loyal shepherd! Awaken from your slumber! Awake and sing, you that dwell in the dust. These are the righteous who are of the position of: ”I am asleep but my heart is awake” and are not dead and that is why it is said of them: “…awake and sing, you that dwell in the dust…” You loyal shepherd, you and the Forefathers, awake and sing, to awaken the Divine Presence [Shechina] which is dormant in the exile, as the righteous ones who also sleep in their caves. Soon the Divine Presence gives out three sounds in front of the loyal shepherd (Moses) and says to him: ”Rise, loyal shepherd…” Soon he rises and with him the holy Forefathers.

According to the Talmud, it is Elijah the prophet who will awaken the Forefathers. This talmudic tale tells us that Elijah the Prophet was accustomed to visit Rebbi’s (Rabbi Judah the Prince) Yeshiva.

One day, the first of the Jewish month, Rebbi awaited him but he never came. When he finally came Rebbi asked Elijah why he tarried?
He answered that he goes to the Cave of the Machpela and waits until he awakens Abraham who washes his hands and prays as do Isaac and Jacob.

Asked Rebbi: ”Why don’t you raise them all at once?
Elijah answered: “So geat is their prayer that if they will all pray at once -they might bring the Messiah before his time.”( Bavli Tract Baba Metsiah 85b)

A Brief Overview of Hebron

History of Hebron
History of Hebron
(Photo: Public domain / Wikimedia Commons)

Hebron, located 32 km. south of Jerusalem in the Judean hills, is the site of the oldest Jewish community in the world. The Book of Genesis relates that Abraham purchased the field where the Tomb of Machpela is located as a burial place for his wife Sarah. According to Jewish tradition, the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah are buried there.

Hebron was one of the first places where the Patriarch Abraham resided after his arrival in the land of Israel. King David was anointed in Hebron, where he reigned for seven years. One thousand years later, during the first Jewish revolt against the Romans, the city was the scene of extensive fighting.

Jews lived in Hebron almost continuously throughout the Byzantine, Arab, Mameluke, and Ottoman periods. It was only in 1929 – as a result of the riots in which 67 Jews were murdered and the remainder were forced to flee – that the city became temporarily devoid of Jews. After the 1967 Six Day War, the Jewish community of Hebron was re-established. It has grown to include a range of religious and educational institutions.

Hebron contains many sites of Jewish religious and historical significance, in addition to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. These include the Tombs of:

  • Othniel Ben Kenaz, the first Judge of Israel (Judges 3:9-11)
  • Avner Ben Ner, general and confidante to King Saul and KingDavid
  • Ruth and Jesse, great-grandmother and father of King David

Victims of the 1929 riot, as well as prominent rabbinical sages and community figures, are buried in Hebron’s ancient Jewish cemetery. The site of the Terebinths of Mamre, or Alonei Mamre (Genesis 18:1) and King David’s Pool (II Samuel 4:12) are also located in Hebron.

The Tomb of Machpela

The Tomb of Machpela, or “Maarat HaMachpela” in Hebrew, is the world’s most ancient Jewish site. The cave and the adjoining field were purchased, at full market price, by Abraham some 3700 years ago (Genesis 23:1–20). The Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the Jewish People, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah are all later buried in this location. The only one who is missing is Rachel, the second wife of Jacob, who was buried near Bethlehem where she died in childbirth.

The double cave, a mystery of thousands of years, was uncovered beneath the massive building, revealing artifacts from the Early Israelite Period (some 30 centuries ago). The structure was built during the Second Temple Period (about two thousand years ago) by Herod, King of Judea, providing a place for gatherings and Jewish prayers at the graves of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs
Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs

This uniquely impressive building is the only one that stands intact and still fulfills its original function after thousands of years. Foreign conquerors and invaders used the site for their own purposes, depending on their religious orientation: the Byzantines and Crusaders transformed it into a church and the Muslims rendered it a mosque. About 700 years ago, the Muslim Mamelukes conquered Hebron, declared the structure a mosque and forbade entry to Jews, who were not allowed past the seventh step on a staircase outside the building.

Upon the liberation of Hebron in 1967, the Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, the late Major-General Rabbi Shlomo Goren, was the first Jew to enter the Tomb of Machpela.

Over 300,000 people visit the site annually. The structure is divided into three rooms: Ohel Avraham, Ohel Yitzhak, and Ohel Ya’akov. Presently non-Muslims have no access to Ohel Yitzhak, the largest room, with the exception of 10 days a year.

Historical Background

Hebron was founded (Numbers 13:22) around 1720 BCE. The ancient city of Hebron was situated at Tel Rumeida. The city’s history has been inseparably linked with the Cave of Machpela, which the Patriarch Abraham purchased from Ephron the Hittite for 400 silver shekels (Genesis 23), as a family tomb. As recorded in Genesis, the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca and Leah, are buried there, and – according to a Jewish tradition – Adam and Eve are also buried there.

Hebron is mentioned 87 times in the Bible, and is the world’s oldest Jewish community. Joshua assigned Hebron to Caleb from the tribe of Judah (Joshua 14:13-14), who subsequently led his tribe in conquering the city and its environs (Judges 1:1-20). As Joshua 14:15 notes, “the former name of Hebron was Kiryat Arba…”

Following the death of King Saul, G-d instructed David to go to Hebron, where he was anointed King of Yehuda (II Samuel 2:1-4). A little more than 7.5 years later, David was anointed King over all Israel, in Hebron (II Samuel 5:1-3).

The city was part of the United Kingdom of Israel and – later – the Southern Kingdom of Yehuda, until the latter fell to the Babylonians in 586 BCE. Despite the loss of Jewish independence, Jews continued to live in Hebron (Nehemiah 11:25), and the city was later incorporated into the (Jewish) Hasmonean kingdom by John Hyrcanus. King Herod (reigned 37-4 BCE) built the base of the present structure – the 12 meter high wall – over the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

Ottoman Empire Period

In 1540, Jewish exiles from Spain acquired the site of the “Court of the Jews” and built the Avraham Avinu (“Abraham Our Father”) synagogue. One year – according to local legend – when the requisite quorum for prayer was lacking, the Patriarch Abraham himself appeared to complete the quorum; hence, the name of the synagogue.

In 1870, a wealthy Turkish Jew, Haim Yisrael Romano, moved to Hebron and purchased a plot of land upon which his family built a large residence and guest house, which came to be called Beit Romano. The building later housed a synagogue and served as a yeshiva.

In 1893, the building later known as Beit Hadassah was built by the Hebron Jewish community as a clinic, and a second floor was added in 1909. The American Zionist Hadassah organization contributed the salaries of the clinic’s medical staff, who served both the city’s Jewish and Arab populations.

In 1925, Rabbi Mordechai Epstein established a new yeshiva, and by 1929, the population had risen to 700 again.

Insert picture #3 with caption and link to source: (Photo: “Hebronite Jews, 1921”, Public Domain / Wikipedia)

Hebronite Jews, 1921
“Hebronite Jews, 1921”, Public Domain / Wikipedia

The Riot of 1929

On August 23, 1929, local Arabs devastated the Jewish community by perpetrating a vicious, large-scale, organized, pogrom. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica:

“The assault was well planned and its aim was well defined: the elimination of the Jewish settlement of Hebron. The rioters did not spare women, children, or the aged; the British gave passive assent. Sixty-seven were killed, 60 wounded, the community was destroyed, synagogues razed, and Torah scrolls burned.”

A total of 59 of the 67 victims were buried in a common grave in the Jewish cemetery (including 23 who had been murdered in one house alone, and then dismembered), and the surviving Jews fled to Jerusalem. However, in 1931, 31 Jewish families returned to Hebron and re-established the community. This effort was short-lived, and in April 1936, fearing another massacre, the British authorities evacuated the community.

Israeli Independence

Following the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, and the invasion by Arab armies, Hebron was captured and occupied by the Jordanian Arab Legion. During the Jordanian occupation, which lasted until 1967, non-Muslims were not permitted to live in the city, nor — despite the Armistice Agreement — to visit or pray at the Jewish holy sites in the city. Additionally, the Jordanian authorities and local residents undertook a systematic campaign to eliminate any evidence of the Jewish presence in the city. They razed the Jewish Quarter, desecrated the Jewish cemetery and built an animal pen on the ruins of the Avraham Avinu synagogue.

The Re-established Jewish Community

Israel returned to Hebron in 1967. The old Jewish Quarter had been destroyed and the cemetery was devastated. Since 1968, the re-established Jewish community in Hebron itself has been linked to the nearby community of Kiryat Arba. On April 4, 1968, a group of Jews registered at the Park Hotel in the city. The next day they announced that they had come to re- establish Hebron’s Jewish community.

Rabbi Shlomo Goren in Hebron, 1967
Rabbi Shlomo Goren in Hebron, 1967

The actions sparked a nationwide debate and drew support from across the political spectrum. After an initial period of deliberation, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol’s Labor-led government decided to temporarily move the group into a near-by IDF compound, while a new community — to be called Kiryat Arba — was built adjacent to Hebron. The first 105 housing units were ready in the autumn of 1972. Today, Kiryat Arba has over 6,000 residents.

The Jewish community in Hebron itself was re-established permanently in April 1979, when a group of Jews from Kiryat Arba moved into Beit Hadassah.

Following a deadly terrorist attack in May 1980 in which six Jews returning from prayers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs were murdered, and 20 wounded, Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s Likud-led government agreed to refurbish Beit Hadassah, and to permit Jews to move into the adjacent Beit Chason and Beit Schneerson, in the old Jewish Quarter. An additional floor was built on Beit Hadassah, and 11 families moved in during 1986.

Since 1980, other Jewish properties and buildings in Hebron have been refurbished and rebuilt. Today, over 700 Jews live in Hebron.

Today on Parshat Chaya Sarah, the Bible chapter dealing with the purchase of the Cave of Machpela, thousands of Jewish people from around the world make the pilgrimage to Hebron.

Other popular times to visit are during Sukkot and Passover where the bi-annual music festival takes place.

Source (Ahavat Israel)

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