Cave of the Patriarchs

Jerusalem Day is observed widely throughout Israel and the Jewish world. What is less known although central to Jewish history is Hebron Liberation Day.

The People of Israel celebrated Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) this week on Wednesday, commemorating the historic reunification of the Holy City by the Jewish State in the miraculous Six Day War in 1967. For thousands of years, the Jewish People have longed to return to their ancient capital, and on the 28th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, that dream came true. Yet there is even more reason for jubilation and profound spiritual joy at this time of year: The IDF, on the day following the capture of the Old City of Jerusalem 47 years ago, liberated the city of Hebron, also known as the City of the Patriarchs.

The second-holiest city according to Jewish tradition, it is where our forefather Abraham purchased a burial plot for his wife Sarah and where they – as well as Rebecca, Isaac, Jacob and Leah – were laid to rest. (Rachel, the fourth matriarch, died in childbirth en route to the Land of Israel and is buried outside Bethlehem.) In fact, 11th-century Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1104), the most famous Torah commentator to this day and known by the acronym Rashi, comments on the fact, as recounted in the Bible, that the elders of Hebron had been willing to allow Abraham to bury his beloved wife in the field of Ephron at no cost. Our astute forefather refused the offer and paid a meaningful sum to purchase the Cave of the Patriarchs and the adjoining field from the children of Heth. By doing so, Rashi explains, he ensured that the field rightfully belonged to the Jewish People forever.

Men praying inside the Tomb of the Patriarchs. (Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Cave of the Patriarchs is the most ancient holy site for Jews. In a moving piece in the Jerusalem Post acknowledging that “48 years ago it couldn’t have happened,” David Wilder, spokesperson for the Jewish community of Hebron, tells the truly remarkable story of the liberation of Hebron and how the late Rabbi Shlomo Goren, then-Chief Rabbi of the IDF, courageously broke the barrier to the neglected Tomb of the Patriarchs.

Hebron: ‘Jewish Obstinacy over 4,000 Years’

On Aug. 23, 1929, after living peacefully among the Arab population for many years, the Jewish community of Hebron was massacred; 67 were killed, and their homes and synagogues were destroyed. The few hundred survivors left the city and for the first time in centuries, there were no remaining Jews. Between 1948 and 1967, the city was in Jordanian hands. On Passover 1968, Rabbi Moshe and Miriam Levinger appealed to Jews to return to Hebron. The Jewish population today numbers roughly 800, including approximately 300 yeshiva students. It is the second largest city in Judea and Samaria with an Arab population estimated at close to 150,000.

Together with the neighboring Jewish town of Kiryat Arba and other smaller communities, the Jewish population numbers approximately 10,000.

As noted by historian Paul Johnson: “So when the historian visits Hebron today, he asks himself: where are all those peoples which once held the place? Where are the Canaanites? Where are the Edomites? Where are the ancient Hellenes and the Romans, the Byzantines, the Franks, the Mamluks and the Ottomans? They have vanished into time, irrevocably. But the Jews are still in Hebron.” This city is the perfect example of “Jewish obstinacy over 4,000 years,” Johnson affirmed.

Written by United with Israel Staff