Since United with Israel visited the Chatmar Military Base near Shechem last week, this week’s focus is on that intrinsically Jewish city and the nearby settlement of Elon Moreh.
By Atara Beck
Although currently under the administration of the Palestinian Authority, the ancient city of Shechem, located approximately 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of Jerusalem, holds a key to the soul of the Jewish people.
The population of 130,000 is completely Arab; no Jew is permitted there.
One of the holiest sites in Shechem is Joseph’s Tomb, the burial place of the Hebrew forefather Jacob’s 11th son.
As recorded in the Bible, when the patriarch Abraham first went to the Land of Canaan (Israel), according to instructions from the Almighty, his first stop was in Shechem-Elon Moreh. It was there that God promised the Land of Israel to the Jewish people, after which Abraham built an altar in gratitude under Elon Moreh – literally, an oak tree.
Renowned 13th-century Hebrew mystic and sage Nachmanides affirmed that this was the beginning of the Jewish people’s presence in the land.
Upon Jacob’s return from his uncle Laban’s home, where he had fled from his brother Esau and worked for 14 years, his first destination in the Land of Israel was Shechem-Elon Moreh. He bought a piece of land there, with 100 silver coins, as a place for his descendants to settle upon their return from the Egyptian exile that he foresaw.
The Hebrews’ first stop in the Land of Israel, too, was Shechem-Elon Moreh, as described in the Book of Joshua. Before his death, after leading the People of Israel into the Promised Land, Joshua assembled the Elders and Judges of Israel in Shechem, giving final instructions to adhere to God’s commandments.
The name Shechem is likely derived from the Hebrew word for shoulder – a suitable description of the city’s location in the valley between Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal, where the ancient Hebrews sealed their covenant with God.
During the reign of Israel’s kings, Shechem was a major city.
The Romans ruled the land from 64 BCE to 134 BCE, and they renamed Shechem “Flavius Neopolis.” In the 7th century, after the Arab conquest, the name was shortened to Neopolis, and to this day they have kept that name, pronouncing it “Nablus.”
The region also has critical strategic value. “From the naked eye, one can see westward towards most of the dense coastal strip of the State of Israel, and eastward towards the Jordan Valley,” explains the Shomron [Samaria] Liaison Office website.
The modern community of Elon Moreh, which was established in 1980 and is home to roughly 250 families, lies on the southern slopes of the Kabir mountain range, about five kilometers east of Shechem. It was the first established settlement in Samaria since the liberation of the territory in the 1967 Six Day War.
Elon Moreh “represents the pioneering spirit of rebuilding the Land of Israel after 2000 years of exile,” the shechem.org website says.
In modern days, under Palestinian control, the synagogue in Joseph’s Tomb has been destroyed, and the site repeatedly vandalized.
The People of Israel has not lost its connection to its heartland, and groups continue to visit Joseph’s Tomb, notwithstanding the challenges and the danger. Most recently, as reported on Arutz-7 news, “more than 2,000 people took part in an emotional all-night Hanukkah prayer session at the Tomb of Joseph (Kever Yosef) in the ancient Biblical city of Shechem…. The prayers were organized by the Samaria Regional Council and the ‘Shechem Ehad’ (One Shechem) organization, with security provided by the IDF’s Samaria Brigade.”
According to archaeological evidence, the city was razed and rebuilt at least 22 times over the ages.
(With files from Jewish Learning Institute, Shomron Liaison Office, Shechem.org, American Friends of Elon Moreh and Jewish Virtual Library)