History

American Jewish Ambassador Makes Rare Visit to Tomb of Machpela in 1914

"Undoubtedly the most sacred [moments] I have ever spent in my life," said Henry Mongenthau of his rare visit to Hebron.

3.4.16, 15:36
(PHOTO: Ambassador Morgenthau visiting the Land of Israel. Source: The World's Work, 1918)
 
Henry Monenthau was the United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Born one of 11 children in a Jewish family, he went to Columbia Law School, became a supporter of President Woodrow Wilson and served as ambassador to Turkey from 1913 to 1916.
 
At the time, the Land of Israel was part of the Turk's Ottoman Empire and when World War I began, many Jewish residents were deported to Europe. Morgenthau played a critical role in rescuing the Jewish community by persuading President Wilson to let American ships send food and medicine "even though that technically meant providing supplies to a country with which the U.S. was at war," stated an article marking the 100th anniversary of the event.

The New York Times reported his visit to the Land of Israel on July 12, 1914.

"One of the incidents which marked the stay was a trip to Hebron and an inspection of the mosque over the Cave of Machpelah. This ancient Hebrew burial place of the Patriarchs is today most jealously guarded by the Moslems, who control it, and those of other faiths are not permitted to enter the sacred precincts. Less than a score of persons are today living for whom this rigid rule has been relaxed, and it is several years since any one has been thus favored, as was the small party  admitted  with the ambassador."
 
"...At Hebron a triumphal arch spanned the road and Jewish school children and songs of welcome. Within the mosque: Once a Christian church, parts of which go back to Hebrew times, are shown the catafalques of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, while through a small hole in the floor, one gets a view of the cave of Machpela itself, in which, says legend, the Patriarchs were buried... a special firman issued at Constantinople to Mr. Morgenthau made it possible for the party to enter this sacred shrine. While the party was in the mosque a double row of Turkish infantry was drawn across the entrance to keep out the fanatical mob."
 
 
Morgenthau also wrote about the Armenian genocide in the 1918 book Ambassador Morgenthau's Story.  In the epilogue, written by his gransdon, there is mention of his visit to Hebron. 
 
"The Morgenthau party traveled to the caves of Machpela, reputed to house the graves of the Hebrew patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their wives, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah. Muslims, who also hold these personages sacred, had built a mosque over the tombs and prohibited all non-Muslims from access. At Hebron, Morgenthau noted on several occasions "the black looks of instinctive hatred upon the faces of the Arabs." When their party was about to leave, he called for five minutes of silent prayer as they stood: Muslims, Christians and Jews at the tombs of their joint forefathers, "undoubtedly the most sacred [moments] I have ever spent in my life."
 
NOTES / BIBLIOGRAPHY
 
Ambassador Morgenthau's Story, with epilogue by Henry Morgenthau III
 
To arrange your visit to the Tomb of Machpela:
 
United States contact info:

http://www.hebronfund.org
1760 Ocean Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11230
718-677-6886
info@hebronfund.org

In Israel contact the offices of the Jewish Community of Hebron at:
http://en.hebron.org.il/
02-996-5333
office@hebron.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hebronofficial
 
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