History

Hebron Liberation Day Celebrates Freedom of Worship

Rabbi Shlomo Goren helped liberate Judaism's second holiest city on that fateful day on June 8, 1967.

2.6.16, 13:31
(PHOTO: Rabbi Shlomo Goren, chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces lifts a homemade flag over the Tomb of Machpela in Hebron, June 8, 1967.)
 
This Sunday, the nation will be celebrating Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, when the capital city was reunited and freedom of access to holy sites was gained by all. 
 
On June 7, 1967 (the 28th of Iyar, 5727) Rabbi Shlomo Goren, chief rabbi of the IDF blew the shofar at the Western Wall, where Jewish people had been banned from accessing for the past 19 years.
 
What is lesser known is Yom Hevron, Hebron Liberation Day which took place a day later on June 8, 1967. Rabbi Goren is credited with single-handedly liberating Israel's second holiest city in a daring solo mission accompanied only by a driver. The story has been told in interviews, books and in Rabbi Goren's autobiography.
 

(PHOTO: Rabbi Shlomo Goren and IDF soldiers affixing a homemade Israeli flag to one of the entrances of the Tomb of Machpela, June 8, 1967.)
 
According to a news report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency dated June 9, 1967,
 
"Israeli Jews may soon have more noted shrines to visit, including Rachel'’s Tomb near Bethlehem and the historic burial cave at Hebron. Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the army chief chaplain, holding the Torah Scroll he used yesterday in leading services for Israeli troops at the Wailing Wall, proceeded to Rachel'’s Tomb, where he prayed, and then to Hebron, where he became the first Jew to enter the cave proper. Even before the 1948 War of Liberation, the Arabs barred Jews from entering the cave where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are buried. Now it is open to Jews again."
 
The mention of the baring of Jews refers to the 700-year-old ban on non-Muslim access first instituted by the Mamlukes and continued throughout the Ottoman Empire.
 

(PHOTO: After Rabbi Goren's daring action, the top brass of the IDF joined him in Hebron. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan (center) with General Uzi Narkis and General Rehavam Zeevi, June 8, 1967. Credit: Moshe Milner, Government Press Office, National Photo Collection. http://gpophotoeng.gov.il/)
 
The following account of the dramatic story of Hebron Liberation Day was written in English by David Wilder, veteran spokesperson for the Jewish Community of Hebron who personally heard the story from both Rabbi Goren in 1994 and from his army driver who accompanied him on that fateful day.
 
The story is also detailed in With Might and Strength: The Autobiography of Rabbi Shlomo Goren, in the chapter titled "Bethlehem and Rachel's Tomb; Hebron and the Cave of Machpela," page 281.
 
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The story of our return is well known. Following the liberation of the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the then Chief Rabbi of the IDF, Rabbi Shlomo Goren zt"l, traveled from Jerusalem to Gush Etzion, about half-way between Hebron and Jerusalem. There he met up with the Israeli forces who had, that same day, freed that area too. Knowing that the next morning they would be leaving for Hebron, he made a short speech about the importance of Hebron, and lay down to rest for a few hours.
 
When he awoke, the site was empty of people. Rabbi Goren woke up his driver, saying, "They left without us -- – get in the jeep, we'll catch up with them."
 
So it was that a Rabbi and his driver, alone, drove from Gush Etzion south, towards Hebron. Driving into Hebron, Rabbi Goren quickly realized the Arab enemy had surrendered, viewing white sheets hanging from windows and rooftops. The city's Arab residents remembered all too well the 1929 massacre, when 67 Jews were slaughtered by their next-door neighbors in August of that year. Fearing retribution, the Arab men fled the city, with the women and children waiting for the liberating forces.
 
Rabbi Goren quickly made his way to Ma'arat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, which had been totally off-limits to Jews for 700 years. This, the first Jewish possession in the first Jewish city in Israel, second in sanctity only to Temple Mount in Jerusalem, was finally back in Jewish hands.
 
Rabbi Goren ran up the western staircase, only to find the doors closed and locked. Unable to open them, he shot at the doors with his Uzi submachine gun. However, the doors remained locked. He backed his jeep up the stairs, attached chains to the jeep and the doors, and proceeded to pull then down. At last inside, he began to pray, thanking G-d for the miracles happening.
 
(PHOTO: Today, the bullet holes on the door left by Rabbi Shlomo Goren can still be seen.)
 
The Mufti of Hebron sent a messenger, wanting to surrender. Rabbi Goren sent him away, saying "This place, Ma'arat HaMachpela, is a place of prayer and peace. Surrender elsewhere." Which is what happened.
 
Rabbi Goren later explained, "I have the rank of general. Why should I give them the honor to surrender to a general? Let them surrender to a lower ranking officer." Which too happened.
 
Recall however, that when the rabbi left in his jeep from Gush Etzion, his goal was to catch up with the army. Where were they?
 
What he didn't realize was that the IDF was unaware that Hebron's Arabs were about to surrender. They had made their way to the western side of Gush Etzion, to prepare the attack. They had also sent a contingent to enter the city from another direction.
 
In other words, Rabbi Goren liberated Hebron for the Jewish people, single-handedly.

That's how we came back to Hebron.
 
We again reaffirm our allegiance to this so holy a place.
 
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Today, the Tomb of Machpela is open to people of all faiths, in contrast to the directives of the Mamlukes in 1267. Over 700,000 people visit Hebron every year and a thriving community has developed in the old city and the adjacent city of Kirya Arba and towns in the surrounding Hebron Hills Region which makes up about 10,000 residents.
 
This year on Hebron day, we give thanks for this watershed event in history and the men and women who made it possible.
 
NOTES AND REFERENCES:
 

To arrange a guided tour of the ancient Jewish cemetery of Hebron contact us.
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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