January 22, 2019

5 Hebron facts the UN needs to know

On July 12, I joined hundreds of people from around the world at the Machpelah Cave in Hebron, the sacred resting place of our patriarchs and matriarchs. We came to pray and to strengthen one another, to honor and seek blessings from our ancestors, and to express love and appreciation for the brave Israel Defense Forces soldiers who protect the site.

Six days earlierUNESCO, the United Nations’ (U.N.) world heritage body, sought to erase 3,753 years of history. In a shameless attempt to minimize the Jewish connection to this most ancient and revered Jewish site, it voted (by secret ballot, no less) — as reported by The New York Times — to declare the Machpelah Cave a “Palestinian World Heritage Site.” Jews and non-Jews from around the world, and from across the religious and political spectrum, united in expressing outrage at this latest endeavor to rewrite history. Lately, we’ve come to expect such attempts, as vilifying Israel has become the new “normal” at the United Nations.

To dispel this latest obfuscation of truth, here are five historical points ignored by the U.N. that testify to the connection between the Jewish people and this holy site:

1. As documented in the Torah and classic Jewish texts, Hebron was Abraham’s home for 75 years. He purchased the Machpelah Cave in Hebron as a family burial plot (Genesis 23:1-20) after his wife Sarah died. Thus, Hebron is the first part of the Land of Israel that officially became “Jewish property.” Ultimately, Abraham was buried there himself (Genesis 25:9-10), as were his son Isaac, Isaac’s wife, Rebecca, (Genesis 35:29, 49:31), Isaac’s son Jacob, and Jacob’s wife Leah (Genesis 49:31, 50:13). Hebron was Isaac’s home for most of his life, and Jacob lived in Hebron and inherited the Machpelah Cave.

Later, the Bible recounts how after the Jewish people left Mount Sinai, in order to enter the Land of Israel, Moses sent scouts to investigate the land prior to their entry. According to the Talmud, Caleb, one of the scouts, sensed that the other scouts were planning to dissuade the people from entering the land, so he went to the Machpelah Cave to pray that he not succumb to their scheme. When the scouts returned, only he and Joshua encouraged the people to prepare to enter the land. Subsequently, the city of Hebron was awarded to Caleb.

2. Hebron was King David’s first capital city. Archaeological evidence points to the fact that David was first crowned king in Hebron (875 B.C.E., 2 Samuel 2:1-4) over his own tribe, Judah, and then, seven years later, he was accepted in Hebron as king by the other tribes, as well (in 868 B.C.E., 2 Samuel 5:1-5). After this, he moved his capital to Jerusalem.

Let us urge the United Nations to turn its attention to where its efforts can be truly fruitful to humanity … Delegitimizing Jewish history is not an endeavor worthy of the United Nations.

3.  The Temple’s continual connection to Hebron. In 831 B.C.E., David’s son and successor, King Solomon, built the First Temple in Jerusalem. Every morning, the Temple priests did not begin the daily service until the sun rose and Hebron became visible, in order to link the merit of the patriarchs and matriarchs to the Jewish people’s daily connection to God (Tamid 3:2; Yoma 3a).

4. For millennia, Hebron has been recognized as Judaism’s second-holiest city, after Jerusalem. According to the Zohar, the second-century classic of Jewish mysticism, the cave is called Machpelah (“double”) because it is the connecting point between our physical world and the upper, spiritual worlds, and that when a person dies, his soul enters the afterlife via the Machpelah Cave. For the same reason, the city is called “Hebron” (Chevron, related to chibur), which means “connection.”

5. Jewish settlement in Hebron has been documented and uninterrupted throughout the generations, save for 20 years between 1947 and 1967, when Hebron was under Jordanian rule and Jordan banned Jews from living within its borders. In 1967, when Israel was attacked by the surrounding Arab countries in an unprovoked war, Israel reclaimed its historic heartland, including Hebron.

This year marks 50 years since the city of Hebron and the Machpelah Cave once again became accessible to Jews and to people of all faiths. For the preceding 700 years, beginning with the rule of the Mamluks (1260 C.E.), access to the cave was granted solely to Muslims.

Let us urge the United Nations to turn its attention to where its efforts can be truly fruitful to humanity — by helping to stop the massacre of innocent civilians in Syria; combating ISIS and other terrorist groups; and ending world hunger, disease, war and discrimination. Delegitimizing Jewish history is not an endeavor worthy of the United Nations.

RABBI CHAIM N. CUNIN is director and general editor of Chabad House Publications and associate rabbi at the Beverly Hills Jewish Community, which meets weekly at the Beverly Hills Hotel. This article is adapted from the newly released Kehot Chumash (Chabad House Publications).