Experience Hebron from the Biblical Era to Modern Times
The first Jewish community to be established in the city of Hebron settled here in Biblical times. Today, there is still a strong – albeit small – Jewish community within the predominantly Muslim city. A trip to Israel is an excellent opportunity to familiarize yourself with the history of this ancient, significant and colorful locale.
Start your tour with a visit to the Cave of Machpelah, purchased by Abraham as a burial place for his wife Sarah. Jewish tradition has it that four couples were buried at this site: Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. As a result, Jews have come to pray at the cave for centuries, and King Herod built an impressive edifice around it. The cave is open for Jewish prayer every day except for Muslim holidays. Prayer at this site is especially meaningful for visitors, since mystical sources identify the cave as the threshold to the Garden of Eden.
King David was crowned king of Judea in the city of Hebron. According to tradition, Avner, a prominent military leader from David's time, was buried in a cave not far from the Cave of Machpelah. The tomb here still stands.
Despite the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the subsequent exile, a small Jewish community continued in Hebron throughout the centuries. In the year 1540, Rabbi Malkiel Ashkenazi purchased land and built the Jewish Quarter and the Avraham Avinu Synagogue.
In 1929, during an Arab revolt against British rule, nearly all of Hebron’s Jewish inhabitants were massacred, and Jews were banished from the city. The Avraham Avinu Synagogue was destroyed, and the site was used as a sheep sty and public bathroom. The Jordanians gained control over Hebron during the War of Independence, but Israel took over administration of the area in 1967, and the synagogue was rebuilt. Visit the beautifully restored synagogue and hear the legend of how the patriarch Abraham himself joined the prayers on Yom Kippur of the year 1619.
The story of the renewal of Jewish life in Hebron is best experienced with a tour of Beit Hadassah. This building was purchased in the late 19th century to be an infirmary for the poor but was attacked during the Arab uprising. In 1979, a group of women and children moved in here in an effort to receive Israeli government approval for the restoration of Jewish homes in Hebron. Don’t miss the first-floor museum, which features a sound and light show on the history of Hebron and a memorial to the victims of the 1929 massacre. English-speaking members of the community lead tours, which they pepper with personal stories of Jewish residents of Hebron past and present.
Another restored Jewish building is Beit Romano, where you can visit the famed Yeshivat Shavei Hebron (yeshiva of the Hebron returnees), once a guest house and home to the Istanbul Synagogue. Today, the building stands five stories tall and is a symbol of the rejuvenation of the Jewish community in Hebron.