Rachel’s Tomb Matters

Alex Joffe’s important essay “Why Rachel’s Tomb Matters” published on JewishIdeasDaily.com places the UNESCO decision to discount the Jewish connection to Rachel’s Tomb in the context of a broader theological struggle. The entire article is an important read.

Through the centuries, Jewish and Christian travelers and pilgrims often visited the site near Bethlehem and remarked on its pillar, made of eleven stones symbolizing the tribes of Israel, named after the sons of Jacob (excluding the twelfth and youngest, Benjamin, the ordeal of whose birth occasioned his mother Rachel’s death).  Of course, we cannot know whether the site is “really” the burial place of Rachel, the “eternal mother,” but it was firmly engraved as such in Jewish and Christian consciousness….

It is true that Muslims are not alone in the impulse to deny Jews their past: consider the regularity with which Jewish cemeteries continue to be vandalized in Christian Europe. But Islam seems especially intent on erasing Jews from history on theological grounds. Flashpoints like Rachel’s tomb (or “Ezekeiel’s tomb” near the site of ancient Babylon) are especially vulnerable because they represent personages specifically claimed by Islam, but they are joined by houses of worship like the Great Synagogue in Oran, Algeria, seized and converted into a mosque in 1960, and communal buildings like the Haim Benchimol hospital in Tangiers, suddenly seized and torn down this

year. Admittedly, there are showcase exceptions: the Maimonides synagogue in Cairo, the tiny Jewish communities in Morocco and Tunisia, preserved as if in amber for their considerable value as tourist destinations. But the vast number of sites that formed the living fabric of Jewish life—the cemeteries, synagogues, and schools, not to mention homes and places of work—are forever lost.



3 replies
  1. Julia
    Julia says:

    Hello again. One question: where there any Jews actually using any of those sites mentioned in the text, or had the Jewish communities in those places virtually disappeared during the time of their “seizure” by Muslims?

    Again, I would say that Muslims would have every right to build mosques on top of abandoned property if that abandoned property was acquired legitimately (i.e. through homesteading, not through force).

    I should use an analogy: if I needed a place to live, and I saw an empty house where no one had lived in ten years, would it be legitimate for me to possess it as my own? The only thing preventing my possession of that abandoned house would be the contract (something enforced by the state) of the person who owned it before regardless as to whether or not that person was using it. Things such as that contract or the “we were the first ones here, it doesn’t matter if we abandoned it years ago, it’s ours” seem very illegitimate to me.

    Read Proudhon’s work (the one I linked to in my other comment). Learn what constitutes legitimate property and what doesn’t.

  2. Danny
    Danny says:

    Julia. The debate isn’t a legal wrangle over what constitutes legitimate property or not. We could debate that until the cows come home. And so we should.

    The heart of the matter is the erasing of history. The Jews (known by Muslims as the ‘people of the book’) have the right at least to have their long and ancient history acknowledged. There is a concerted effort to both erase it, and claim it as something else by a faith that begun some 1,900 years after the events concerned.
    In any other language this is known as revisionism.

  3. Trisha
    Trisha says:

    Why is the tomb of Rachel so important to Muslims? She clearly is a mother of the Jewish people, Hager was the mother of Ishmeal who was the father of the Arabs right? I think the Muslims need to give that one up!

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