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Hebron

Hebron (Chevron) is one of Israel’s four holy cities. Abraham (1813-1638 BCE) was the first Jewish resident of Hebron: “Abram made his camp and came and settled in the Plains of Mamre that are in Hebron, and he built an altar to the Almighty.” (Genesis 13:18). Critical events in Jewish and world history were in Hebron: the covenant of circumcision between G-d and the Jewish people was made; Abraham impressed monotheism on the world’s consciousness; Judaism was born.

Further on in the Torah (Numbers 24), the story of the twelve spies is related and Hebron is mentioned as the location where they saw the colossal local produce. Caleb ben Yefuneh (born 1351 BCE) went to the resting place of our ancestors, the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron, to pray for strength to withstand the pressure of the other spies who planned to bring back an evil report of the land.

Hebron is also the birthplace of the Jewish people’s royal dynasty. As described in II Samuel, David was anointed king in Hebron and spent the first seven years of his reign there.

From Biblical times up until this very day, Jews have always lived in this holy city except when foreign rulers banned their presence.

On Friday, August 23, 1929 and on Shabbat, Arabs armed with knives, axes and pitch forks launched an attack on the 1,500 Jewish residents of Hebron, killing and wounding many. Three days later, the British evacuated the remaining Jews from the city.

In June of 1967, during the Six-Day War, the Israeli army gained control of Hebron without a single shot fired. To prevent the government from immediately giving the holy city back into Arab hands, Chabad chassidic artist Baruch Nachshon, his courageous wife Sara, and their three young children settled in Hebron, together with five other families. Despite dangerous Arab hostility and a lack of basic amenities, the Nachshon family planted the seeds of Hebron’s Jewish presence today.

Avraham Avinu Neighborhood

During the sixteenth century, Spanish Jews established the Jewish Quarter of Hebron, and built the Avraham Avinu (Abraham our Patriarch) synagogue, at the time one of Israel’s most magnificent and famous synagogues.

In 1879, Avraham Romano, a wealthy Jew from Turkey, built a beautiful house known as Beit (House of) Romano. In the 1900s an additional floor was added, and it was turned into a medical clinic known as Beit Hadassah.

On property adjacent to the Avraham Avinu Synagogue, Rabbi DovBer Shneuri (the “Mitteler Rebbe”, 1773- 1827) built a synagogue. This shul became known as the Avraham Avinu Ashkenaz Shul, as it was frequented mainly by Jews of European descent. This was the first in a string of properties purchased by Chabad Rebbes over the years. Many of these properties are in what is today the Arab section of Hebron and, for the most part, are inaccessible to Jews. The synagogue has been refurbished through the efforts of Rabbi Danny Cohen, the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s emissary to Hebron, and is commonly also referred to as the “Mitteler Rebbe’s Shul.”

A large building at the center of Hebron’s Jewish community bears the name Beit Schneerson (Schneerson House). As its name implies, this building served as the headquarters for the Chabad community of Hebron from the mid 1800s until the massacre of 1929. A plaque at the entrance to the building confirms that Rabbi DovBer’s daughter, the illustrious Rebbetzin Menuchah Rachel Slonim (1798-1888), and her husband Rabbi Yaakov Culi Slonim, resided in this building.

Rachel’s Tomb

Our Matriarch Rachel (Rachel Imeinu) (1585– 1553 BCE) passed away outside of Bethlehem (Beit Lechem) soon after giving birth to Benjamin. Jacob buried her there “on the way to Efrat” (Genesis 35). Rashi comments that Jacob buried her there knowing that in the future, when the Jewish people would be exiled to Babylonia, they would pass this place, and compassionate Rachel would plead for Divine mercy for them.

The Midrash says Rachel’s prayers at that time elicited G-d’s promise to her that the Jewish people would ultimately be redeemed: “Your children shall return to their own border” (Jeremiah 32).

Rachel’s Tomb (Kever Rachel) has always been an important location where Jews engage in heartfelt prayer. Some people have a custom to wear red thread that has been wound around Rachel’s Tomb as an amulet to protect against misfortune.

Resting Place of Rebbetzin Menuchah Rachel Slonim

Rebbetzin Menuchah Rachel Slonim, who emigrated with her family to Hebron from Russia in 1845, was revered by both her Jewish and Arab neighbors for her piety and wisdom. She was believed to be endowed with unique spiritual powers, and Hebronites regularly sought her blessing, counsel, and guidance.

For many decades, Jews were not allowed access to this righteous woman’s burial place in the Chabad cemetery of Hebron. Through the tireless efforts of Rabbi Danny Cohen it was recently made accessible to Jews, and a yeshivah was established at Rebbetzin Menuchah Rachel’s gravesite. Efforts to refurbish an old building on the premises, and to use it for the yeshiva, are nearly complete.

The Cave of the Machpelah

One of the most famous pieces of real estate on earth is the Cave of Machpelah (Me’arat HaMachpelah, also known as the “Cave of the Patriarchs”). “Machpelah” means “doubled” in Hebrew and alludes to the four prominent couples who were buried there. (The couples are Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah.)

The Zohar says the Cave of Machpelah is the gateway to the Garden of Eden. Adam recognized the uniqueness of the location when he saw a ray of light emanating from the area.

Years later, Abraham again uncovered the uniqueness of the cave when he mistakenly stumbled upon it. As recounted in Genesis 23, Abraham purchased the cave and the surrounding field in 1677 BCE as a burial place for his wife, Sarah (1803-1676 BCE), making it the first plot of land in the Holy Land to become the legal possession of the Jewish people. When Abraham died, he was buried there, as well. When Jacob (1653-1506 BCE) died in Egypt, his son Joseph fulfilled his promise to carry Jacob out of Egypt and bury him with his ancestors in the Cave of Machpelah.

The large imposing stone building that stands above the cave today was built by Herod in the 1st-century BCE. (In fact, this building, with six-foot-thick stone walls, is the only fully intact Herodian structure.) The cave wherein lie our Patriarchs and Matriarchs is beneath this structure. Around the 1490s, access to the cave was closed, and remains closed to this very day.