Historic Sites...
Golden Gate

Prophet Jeremiah was born in a priestly family in the town of Anatoth belonging to the Tribe of Benjamin. He began his prophecies during the reign of   King Josiah's of Judah.   Jeremiah was one of the major prophets of the Bible whose life and sayings are collected in the Book of Jeremiah. His prophecies are among the most  pessimistic and sad in all of biblical literature. For that reason he's called the "weeping prophet".

Joseph’s Tomb is a small stone structure located in Nablus (Biblical Israelite city of Shechem) in the West Bank. Joseph,  son of Patriarch Jacob was sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers where he gained prominence by being able to interpret pharaoh's  dreams.
Even though Nablus has not been proven to be the actual burial place of Joseph Jews, Christians and Muslims venerated the site for  centuries.
Joseph's Tomb has been a point of contention between Palestinians and Israelis for many years.
The disputed site was firebombed and looted by the by Palestinian mob in 2000 in and 2015.
Jewish pilgrims are usually only allowed to visit the tomb once a month under heavy armed guard. During these visits, Palestinians routinely throw rocks at the troops, and sometimes attack them with Molotov cocktails and gunfire.



Rachel's Tomb

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far from delivering me and from my anguished roaring?(PSALMS 22:2)

The Tomb of Rachel (Kever Rahel) is a burial place of our forefather Jacob's wive Rachel and the third most sacred place in Judaism after the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. It's cituated only six miles from Jerusalem, on the northern outskirts of Bethlehem in the West Bank. It is currently  falls within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem.

The Cave of the Patriarchs is the resting place of Abraham, his son Issac and their wives Sarah and Rebecca. While Jacob is also buried there his wive Rachel, according to Biblical account, was put to rest on the side of the road near the place where Jacob dreamt of seeing angels and God, which he therefore named Bethel, which means "House of God."   

According to Geneses 35, the story of Jacob and Rachel goes as follows: God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and Remain there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”

 Jacob and his people came to Luz  in the land of Canaan. There he built an altar, and he named the place El-Bethel. Upon Jacob's return from Paddan Aram (Aramean Kingdom in Mesopotamia), God appeared to him again and blessed him: “You whose name is Jacob, you shall be called Jacob no more, but Israel shall be your name." (Geneses 35:10).

God also promised him a nation, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” (Geneses 35:11-12).

Rachel's Tomb

                   Rachel's Tomb, Bethlehem. G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection

As Jacob and his family traveled from Bethel to Ephrath (Bethlehem), Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty with it.  Her midwife said to her, “Have no fear, for you have another son.” Before Rachel breathed her last breath, she named her son Ben-Oni (son of my pain), but his father Jacob named him Benjamin. Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath. "Over her grave Jacob set up a pillar; it is the pillar at  Rachel's grave to this day." (Geneses 35:20).

The big question that is being asked is why would Jacob bury his beloved wive Rachel on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere when he was only a short distance away from Bethlehem and a day's walk (14 miles) away from Hebron. Jacob himself ordered his son Joseph to bury him there at the Cave of the Patriarchs but not Rachel.

The answer provided by Midrash (an ancient commentary on part of the Hebrew scriptures, attached to the biblical text) is that Jacob foresaw the destruction of the First Temple (597 BCE) and the eventual exile of the Jews from the holy land to Babylon. As the exiles passed by Rachel's grave they would cry out in despair and she would weep and mourn with them and try to comfort them. She would also intercede on their behalf, asking God for mercy and forgiveness.

The experience of exile is described very vividly by the Prophet Jeremiah, who has lived through those times: "A cry is heard in Ramah, wailing, bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children. She refuses to be comforted for her children, who are gone." (Jeremiah 31:15)

It's impossible to tell the story of Rachel without bringing up the history of her earlier life which may have also played a role in the way it ended. Her story begins with the arrival of Jacob to Harran, which is in Mesopotamia, the ancestral land of his grandfather Abraham.

As Jacob flees his brother Esau after deceiving him over the first born rights of inheritance he promptly meets Rachel, the daughter of his uncle Laban. Rachel is  described to be "shapely and beautiful" and makes an instant impression on Jacob who proceeded to show off by rolling the stone covering off the mouth of the well and watering the flock of his uncle.

"Then Jacob kissed Rachel and broke into tears. Jacob told Rachel that he is her father's kinsman and that he was Rebecca's son; and she ran and told her father. On hearing the news of his sister's son Jacob, Laban ran to greet him; he embraced and kissed him and took him into his house." (Geneses 29:11-13).

Laban offers Jacob a job who agrees to serve him for seven years. As his reward Jacob asked Laban for the hand of the younger of Laban's two daughters, Rachel. As seven years passed Jacob demanded his reward, as was agreed upon. On the wedding night an inebriated Jacob proceeds to have a marital relationship with the bride.

The following morning he discovers that Laban deceived him by substituting Rachel with her older syster Leah, who was "less attractive and with the weak eyes". When Jacob demands an explanation, Laban responded with following; "It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the older. Wait until the bridal week of this one is over and we will give you that one too." (Geneses 29:26-27).

Jacob ended up working for Laban for another seven years and during that time Leah gifts Jacob with six sons and a daughter while Rachel remains barren. The traditional belief is that Leah was rewarded by God for being unloved by her husband.

But Rachel's patience was eventually rewarded. One day during the wheat harvest, Leah's son Reuben came upon some mandrakes in the field that had medicinal properties. Rachel asked Leah to share the mandrakes with her, to which her sister replied; "Was it not enough that for you to take away my husband , that you would ask also for my son's mandrakes." (Geneses 30:15).

Two sisters agreed to a deal with Rachel getting some mandrakes and Leah getting to spend more time with Jacob. In due time Rachel conceived and bore her first son with the following words; “God has taken away my disgrace". So she named him Joseph, which is to say, "May the Lord add another son for me.” (Geneses 30:23-24).

This part of Rachel's life has been an inspiration for many Jewish women throughout the history. The Rachel's tomb has become a place of pilgrimage and prayer for women who are seeking help with fertility issues, ask for safe pregnancy or just looking for a mate.

Rachel's Tomb, Women's Section, Bethlehem

      Rachel's Tomb, Tamar Hayardeni, Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Life of Rachel is a life of the quintessential Jewish mother who sacrificed her love for her husband in order not embarrass her older sister. For years she suffered humiliation for not being able to bear children while her sister had half a dozen of them. And lastly she gave up her chance to be buried beside her beloved husband Jacob at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, so she could comfort and inspire her exiled children from the lonely grave on the side of the road.

According to tradition, at the time of the Babylonian exile Rachel tried to appeal to Hashem (Hebrew God) on behalf of her children (children of Israel) but found herself in line behind Abraham, Isaak, her husband Jacob and Moses none of whom were successful in their efforts.

She reminded God of the pains and sucrifices she went through in her life and yet she found forgiveness in her heart. If she could give up her love for the sake of her sister, could't Lord set aside his anger for the sake of his children?

We find an answer in the Book of Jeremiah (31:16-17).

Thus said the Lord: " Restrain your voice from weeping, Your eyes from shedding tears, For there is a reward for your labor. They shall return from the enemy's land. And there is a hope for your future. Your children shall return to their country."

As it was prophesied by Jeremiah, in 539BCE, Persian king Cyrus the Great conquered the Babylonian Empire and issued a decree allowing Jews to return to their homeland and rebuilt the Temple. The Jews praised the Persian king in the Bible as a savior to whom God gave power over other kingdoms.

Rachel's Tomb history goes back thousands of years and so noted in the Bible. Over that period of time the structure had gone through a number of renovations. The 7th century witness accounts speak of the site as a stone pyramid without any ornamentation.

The 12th century Muslim cartographer Abu Abdullah Muhammad al-Idrisi, describes his experience  with the following commentary: "On the road between Bethlehem and Jerusalem is the Tomb of Rachel, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. The tomb is covered by twelve stones with a vaulted dome above."

A medieval geographer and Jewish historian, Benjamin of Tudela, extensivly traveled throughout 12th century Asia and wrote about his explorations in the book called The Travels of Benjamin. He visited the tomb and describes it as a "pillar made of 11 stones and a cupola resting on four columns." He also talks of Jewish pilgrims who "pass by and carve their names upon the stones of the pillar".

The 15th century documented accounts describe the frequent visits to the tomb by the members of all three faiths which inevitably created some tensions.

In 1622, after multiple requests from the Jewish community, the Ottoman governor of Jerusalem, Mohammad Pasha, granted Jews the exclusive rights to the tomb and also allowed the major renovation of the structure by walling off four pillars that supported the dome.

During the 18th and 19th century the Arabs began using the site as a cemetery surrounding the shrine from three sides. There are a couple of explanations for this tradition. First, it is good for the soul of the deceased person to be buried next to the such holy person as Rachel. The other explanation is that the Arabs wanted to scare off the visiting Jews with the superstitions attached to the grave sites.

 In 1830, the Ottomans issued a firman (decree)  that recognised  recognized Rachel’s Tomb as a Jewish holy site. In fact the governor of Damascus sent a written order to the mufti of Jerusalem to fulfill the sultan’s order: "Regarding the Tomb of esteemed Rachel, the mother of our Lord Joseph. They (the Jews) are accustomed to visit it from ancient days; and no one is permitted to prevent them or oppose them."

In 1831 an additional furman was issued ordering the free access and protection for the visiting Jews: "To inform and demonstrate to all interested parties and the appointed officials, the right of the Jews who are residents of holy Jerusalem to visit the grave of Rachel, the mother of the Prophet Joseph, peace be upon him, without hindrance"

In 1841 British financier and philanthropist Moses Montefiore and his wive Judith visited Jerusalem fully committed to provide help to the struggling Jewish community. The first item on their to do list was the restoration work at Rachel's Tomb since Judith was childless and according to tradition visiting the site helped women to conceive.

After Montefiore obtained a license from the Ottoman authorities he proceeded to add a vestibule like entryway to the tomb that leads into the main room. The door was installed and keys were given to the Ashkenazi and Sephardi caretakers. In order to accommodate Muslim visitors a mihrab (a niche in the wall of at the point nearest to Mecca, toward which the congregation faces to pray) was built into the structure.

Rachel's Tomb with an olive tree has become a recognisable Jewish symbol appearing in books, paintings and photographs.

Jerusalem's Jews welcomed the Montefiores with open arms and were especially happy to see major renovations done to the holy places. They also asked him not to flash too much money as that would promt Ottoman administration to levy the Jews with heavier taxes.

There was also an ongoing issue with members of the local Taamra Bedouin tribe whom been  extorting the protection money from the Jews for centuries. In 1856 an eye whiteness named James Finn, who served in Palestine as a British consul, wrote that Jews are forced to pay "100 lira a year to the Taamra Arabs for not wrecking Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem."

 As a result of the 1948 War of Idephendence, Rachel's Tomb fell under control of Jordanian forces and the Jews were denied any visitation rights. Only after 1967 Six Day War Jewish visitors have regained the access to their beloved shrine.  

Unfortunately to this day Jewish holy sites located in the West Bank are under constant danger from hostile local Arabs. Good example is Joseph's Tomb located in Nablus (Biblical Shechem ). It has been torched and desecrated during the 2003 and 2015 riots when tensions between Israel and West Bank Palestinians reached the boiling point.

Up until 2002 Rachel's tomb was accessible to anybody who wanted to visit the holy site. That has changed after the second Palestinian intifada which targeted Jewish holy sites and the visiting worshipers. During that period the tomb was under siege for 41 days. Armed militants indiscrimenatly fired at it, causung the damage to the structure and inflicting casualties to the Israeli defenders.

Riots at the Rachel's Tomb, 2002

     Palestinian Riots at Rachel's Tomb, Bethlehem, 2002. By Amos Ben Gershom, NPC Israel

 To avoid the repeat of violent attacks on the Rachel Tomb, Israeli authorities took the it under the wing of Jerusalem municipality and for security reasons erected the walls with watchtower along the way to the site.

Rachel's Tomb was attacked by the Arabs number of times. A bomb was thrown at the compound on April of 2005, and another on December of 2006. On February of 2007, scores of Palestinians attacked the site with rocks. In 2013 a Palestinian mob attacked the tomb with pipe bombs and the rocks. Under the current setup Israeli military is patrolling the site around the clock.

In 2010 UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) declared Rachel’s Tomb the Bilal Ibn Rabah mosque, a Palestinian claim that first began to surface in 1996. The UNESCO vote was designed to annul Israel's decision to include Rachel's Tomb along with the Cave of the Patriarchs to the official list of Jewish heritage sites.

 The Israelis immidiately responded to this one sided resolution aimed to  appropriate the third holiest site in Judaism: " We strongly condemn this resolution that is tainted with blatant political bias. It ignores the historical fact that Rachel's tomb was never a mosque."

Bilal Ibn Rabah was an Ethiopian slave who has become one of the most trusted supporters of the Prophet Mohammed and is considered to be a first muazzin, a person who calls for the prayer from the minaret five times a day. Bilal Ibn Raba is a revered figure in Islam but he was buried in Damascus and there is no historical account of him ever visiting the site of Rachel'd Tomb.

Moreover, up to 1996 Muslims have historically referred to the site as “Kubat Rahel,” the Arabic term for “Rachel's Dome". Rachel's story about Joseph crying upon approaching the grave of his mother when the caravan of his captors passes by the site is mentioned in the Jewish sources just as it is noted in the Koran and other Muslim texts. Christians to this day consider the site as the burial place of Rachel the matriarch.

Appropriation of Jewish holy places has been practiced for thousands of years and continues     to this day. One may even argue that today it is as bad as it has ever been with massive propaganda efforts emanating from Palestinian supporters in the United Nations and around the world. They can try to erase the history of the Jewish people, but not their faith, especially when it comes to their Biblical     mother named Rachel.