The Good Word Of The Day

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Genesis 35:20 Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel's tomb.

Rachel's Tomb (Hebrew: קבר רחל‎; Arabic: translit. Qubbat Rakhil, trans. 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 in the central West Bank on the outskirts of Bethlehem.



[edit] Location and dimensions

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.[1] 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 neighbourhood 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.

The tomb located within the complex

The actual tomb consists of a rock with 11 stones upon it, one for each of the 11 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 1841, Sir Moses Montefiore was granted permission by the Ottoman Turks to restore the tomb. He built the large, two-room building seen today. A month before he died at Tamuz in 1885, he pledged to have it renovated and the dome structure was eventually enclosed by Sir Moses Montefiore, who added a second room. The dome was fortified and enclosed inside a building with a hall from the entrance in the 1990s, due to the deteriorating security situation.

In 1864, the Sefardi 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.

Others contend that Rachel's Tomb is located in northern Jerusalem at a site local Arabs call "the grave of the sons of Israel" which is near present day A-Ram, the site of Biblical Ramah. The place is mentioned in the "Prophets" section of the Hebrew Bible as the site of Rachel's burial when King Saul visits the site, in I Samuel 10:2. Later Jewish sources take the site near Bethlehem as the real site.[1][2]

[edit] History

During the Jordanian period (1948-1967), Jews were forbidden to visit the tomb despite assurances in the 1949 Armistice Agreements. 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.

[edit] Cultural icon

Rachel's Tomb on a 1927 British Mandate stamp. "Palestine" is shown in English, Arabic (فلسطين), and Hebrew, the latter includes the acronym א״י for Eretz Yisrael

Rachel's tomb has equal status with Machpelah (the Tombs of the Patriarchs), in Hebron, as the oldest place of prayer. Pilgrims stopped by her tomb on their way to and from Jerusalem on their way to Egypt hundreds of years before King Solomon built the Temple. Pilgrims journeyed regularly from Damascus and the Euphrates valley.

The Zionist movement had the building depicted on the Jewish National Fund collection boxes. 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. Following the 1967 Six Day War the local building was restored to Jewish (and international) visiting.

There is an ancient tradition regarding the 'segulah' (charm), a scarlet thread that is tied around one's neck or wrist as a protection against all forms of danger, this charm works especially for pregnant women. Before the thread may be used, it must first be wound around the Tomb of Rachel, transforming the thread into a special 'segulah'. Even today, women will circle the tomb with a scarlet thread in their hands.

This is done only at the Tomb of Rachel, because Rachel was considered the "eternal mother," caring for her people when they are ill.Rachel is also deemed the perfect mediator for a pregnant woman, especially when she goes into the delivery room.

There is also a tradition regarding the key that unlocked the tomb. The key was about fifteen centimeters long, made of brass by Reb Zalman of Jerusalem in such a way that the lock was unbreakable. 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.

"Please," came the voice of someone at the door. "So-and-so is having strong labor pains. We need the key."

As soon as the beadle gave the person the key, the person would dash to the bedside of the expectant mother and place the key under her pillow and almost immediately, the pains would subside and the delivery would take place peacefully.

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. Jewish tradition teaches that Rachel weeps for her children and that when the Jews were taken into exile, she wept as they passed by her grave on the way to Babylonia. Believers in Kabbalah sometimes wrap red string around the tomb and then make it into bracelets that serve as talismans.

[edit] Replicas

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.

[edit] Claims of Muslim origin

For centuries, Muslims as well as Jews recognized the site as Rachel's Tomb. Since 1996, Palestinians have referred to the site as the alleged "Bilal ibn Rabah" mosque in an attempt to claim it as their own. The claim is that it was built by Muslims at the time of the Arab conquest, despite the site's thoroughly documented history.[2]