According to the Book of Genesis, Abraham specifically purchased the land for use as a burial plot from Ephron the Hittite, making it one of two purchases by Abraham of real estate in the Land of Canaan, the Promised Land. The book describes how the three patriarchs and their wives, the matriarchs, were buried there.
- Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 23:1–20; Genesis 49:31)
- Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 35:29; Genesis 49:31)
- Jacob and Leah (Genesis 49:28–33; Genesis 50:4–5; Genesis 50:12–13)
The story of the liberation of Hevron during the Six Day War is nothing short of miraculous, as a single Israeli soldier seized the entire city of Hevron without having to fire a shot.
On June 8, 1967, the Chief Rabbi (and General) of the Israel Defense Forces, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, drove into the city, greeted by the sight of white sheets hung from rooftops and windows throughout the city. He understood that the 1967 Arabs of Hevron surrendered, frightened of Jewish retaliation (decades prior, Arab residents of Hevron had massacred 67 Jews).
Upon Jordanian surrender, Rabbi Goren and a small group of soldiers entered the Tomb of Machpelah (Cave of the Patriarchs) to blow the shofar and read from the Torah, just as they had 24 hours prior, when he had taken part in the liberation of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
According to the Hebron Fund, “this marked the first time in 700 years that Jews, Christians and non-Muslims were permitted to freely enter and pray in the Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs,” as the ancient building had been restricted by the Mamluks who invaded from Egyptian centuries before and forbade any Jew, Christian or non- Muslim to pray closer than the seventh step.
Until 1967, Muslims controlled the building and did not let Jews enter their holy site – they could only pray outside of the Tomb of Machpela (Cave of the Patriarchs) and could not go past the infamous “seventh step” of the staircase leading to the tomb. Those who attempted to go past the seventh step were beaten by the Arab guards stationed in the area.
Finally, Jews had returned to their precious Hevron and Tomb of Machpela. Jews and Israelis see the day as proof of G-d’s hand in the land. According to Rabbi Goren, after he hung an Israeli flag outside of the Tomb and brought a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) inside, Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan ordered him to take down the flag and remove the Sefer Torah and take off his shoes before entering, as the site had been a mosque. Rabbi Goren refused, so Dayan sent an officer into Hevron to remove the objects. After that officer was killed in a car accident on his way back from Jerusalem, Dayan rescinded his order to remove shoes in the Tomb.
According to the Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, Major general Rabbi Shlomo Goren’s autobiography on 8 June 1967, during the Six-day war, he made his way from Gush Etzion to Hebron. In Hebron he realized that the Arabs had surrendered and quickly made his way to the Cave of the Patriarchs. He shot at the doors of the mosque with his Uzi submachine gun. But when that was ineffective in prying the doors open, he attached chains to his Jeep and the doors, proceeding to pull them down. He entered the mosque and began to pray, becoming the first Jew to enter the compound for about 700 years. While praying, a messenger from the Mufti of Hebron delivered a surrender note to him, whereby the rabbi replied “This place, Ma’arat HaMachpela, is a place of prayer and peace. Surrender elsewhere.”
The first Jew to enter the underground caves was Michal Arbel, the 13-year-old daughter of Yehuda Arbel, chief of Shin Bet operations in the West Bank, because she was slender enough to be lowered into the narrow, 28 centimetres (11 in) wide hole on October 9, 1968, to gain access to the tomb site, after which she took photographs.
According to Yishai Fleisher, the international spokesman of the Jewish community of Hevron, “while Jerusalem is theological – where G-d is – Hevron is genealogical – where the founders of our nation followed G-d and became the first commonwealth in the land. In some ways, Hevron is the ancestor of Jerusalem and now, we are back there today.”
Header: The Cave of the Patriarchs at Hebron built over the Tomb of Machpelah