Rachel's Tomb (Hebrew:קבר רחל Kever Rochel; Arabic: Qubbat Rakhil, Dome of Rachel), is the traditional gravesite of the Biblical Matriarch Rachel and is widely considered the third holiest site in Judaism. It is located south of Jerusalem on the outskirts of Bethlehem, in the Judean Mountains of the central West Bank.
Over the years, Rachel's Tomb has been a place of pilgrimage for Jews, especially Jewish women unable to give birth. Many come to visit on the 11th of the Jewish month of Cheshvan, the anniversary of her death.
According to the Bible, on the outskirts of Canaan, Rachel, wife of Jacob, went into a difficult labour with her second son, Benjamin. She died during childbirth on Cheshvan 11. The Bible records the event:
"And Rachel died, and was buried on the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day." — Genesis 35:19-20
Today, along the biblical Bethlehem-Ephrath road, adjacent to the Israeli settlement of Gilo at the northern entrance to Bethlehem, stands an ancient tomb traditionally believed to be that of Rachel. This location is mentioned by Jewish travelers since c1300. Although it stands within the built-up area of Bethlehem, this tomb is now enclosed within an enclave on the "Israeli" side of the West Bank barrier.
Others contend that Rachel was buried in north-east of Jerusalem at a site called the "Tomb of the Sons of Israel" which is near present day A-Ram, the site of Biblical Ramah. The place is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as the site of Rachel's burial when King Saul visits the site, in I Samuel 10:2. Later Jewish sources accept the site near Bethlehem as genuine.
The tomb site in Bethlehem consists of a rock with eleven stones upon it, one for each of the eleven sons of Jacob who were alive when Rachel died in childbirth. Over the centuries, the rock was covered by a dome supported by four arches.
In 1864, the Sephardi Jews of Bombay donated the necessary money to dig a well. Although Rachel's Tomb is only an hour and a half walk from the Old City of Jerusalem, many pilgrims found themselves very thirsty and unable to obtain fresh water.
Sir Moses Montefiore and Judith, Lady Montefiore visited the Land of Israel seven times. Lady Montefiore first saw Rachel's Tomb on their first visit, in 1828. The couple were childless, and Lady Montefiore was deeply moved by the tomb, which was in good condition at that time. Before the couple's next visit, in 1839, the Galilee earthquake of 1837 had heavily damaged the tomb. The Montifiore's paid for the building to be restored.
Following the 1936-1939 Arab attacks against the growing Jewish population in Palestine, the ultra-orthodox Jews were evacuated from most of the older cities, including Hebron and Bethlehem, and later houses and workshops were erected on the site.
During the Jordanian period (1948-1967), Jews were forbidden to visit the tomb despite assurances in the 1949 Armistice Agreements. Following the 1967 Six Day War, the local building was restored to Jewish (and international) visiting. Recently, the site has been surrounded by a barrier to separate it from Bethlehem. Access is now restricted to pilgrims and tourists approaching from Israel.
The dome was fortified and enclosed inside a building with a hall from the entrance in the 1990s, due to the deteriorating security situation.
The Torah Ark Rachel's Tomb is covered with a curtain (Hebrew: parokhet) made from the wedding gown of Nava Applebaum, a young Israeli woman who was killed by Palestinian terrorists in a suicide bombing at Cafe Hillel in Jerusalem on the eve of her wedding.
Rachel is considered the "eternal mother", caring for her children when they are in distress especially for barren or pregnant woman. A few traditions have grown out of this belief.
There is a tradition regarding the key that unlocked the door to the tomb. The key was about 15 centimetres (5.9 in) long and made of brass. The beadle kept it with him at all times, and it was not uncommon that someone would knock at his door in the middle of the night requesting it to ease the labor pains of an expectant mother. The key was placed under her pillow and, according to tradition, almost immediately, the pains would subside and the delivery would take place peacefully.
To this day, an ancient tradition regarding a segulah or charm persists. A scarlet thread wound around the tomb is tied around one's neck or wrist as a protection against all forms of danger, according to belief, this charm works especially for pregnant women. Believers in Kabbalah wear the red string as a bracelets that serve as talismans.
The tomb of Sir Moses Montefiore, adjacent to the Montefiore synagogue in Ramsgate, England, is a replica of Rachel's Tomb. During an 1841 visit to Palestine, Montifiore obtained permission from the Ottoman Turks to restore the tomb.
Claims of Muslim origin
For centuries, Muslims as well as Jews recognized the site as belonging to Rachel. Recently, Palestinians have referred to the site as the "Bilal ibn Rabah" mosque. The claim is that it was built by Muslims at the time of the Muslim conquest of Syria.
- ↑ Melamed, Zalman Baruch, "The Anniversary of Rachel's Death,"
- ↑ http://www.christusrex.org/www1/ofm/mad/articles/NashefTradition.html
- ↑ http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07419a.htm
- ↑ Rachel weeping: Jews, Christians, and Muslims at the Fortress Tomb, Frederick M. Strickert, Liturgical Press, 2007, pp. 112-3
- ↑ ' Review of The Story of Rachel's Tomb, Joshua Schwartz,Jewish Quarterly Review 97.3 (2007) e100-e103 
- ↑ Sharman Kadish, Jewish Heritage in England : An Architectural Guide, English Heritage, 2006, p. 62
- ↑ Nadav Shragai (2 December 2007). "The Palestinian Authority and the Jewish Holy Sites in the West Bank: Rachel's Tomb as a Test Case". Jerusalem Viewpoints. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. http://www.jcpa.org/JCPA/Templates/ShowPage.asp?DBID=1&LNGID=1&TMID=111&FID=442&PID=0&IID=1923. Retrieved 2007-11-25.
- le Strange, Guy (1890), Palestine Under the Moslems: A Description of Syria and the Holy Land from A.D. 650 to 1500, Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, http://www.archive.org/details/palestineundermo00lestuoft , London, (Muhammad al-Idrisi: p.299)
- Sharon, Moshe (1999), Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum Palaestinae, Vol. II, B-C, BRILL, ISBN 9004110836, http://books.google.com/books?id=EPFDU8POrXIC (p.177, ff)
- Rachel's Tomb Website General Info., History, Pictures, Video, Visitor Info., Transportation
- A site dedicated to Rachel's Tomb
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