Hebron from the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia

The full text from the public domain archive.

22.3.17, 16:19
PHOTO: General View of Hebron. From a photograph by the American Colony, Jerusalem.
By: Gotthard Deutsch, M. Franco, Emil G. Hirsch, M. Seligsohn
1. A city of Asher, properly "Ebron"; called also Abdon.

2. Town in Palestine, about 17 miles southwest of Jerusalem; it has a population of 14,000, including 1,100 Jews—690 Sephardim and 410 Ashkenazim. In 1890 there was a Jewish population of 1,490, but it has been diminishing. Most of the Jews still live in a ghetto surrounded by walls, and known in Spanish as "El Cortijo" (the court). It consists of a maze of narrow and dark passages, into which the doorways open at distances of not more than three feet. In ancient times Hebron was known as "Kirjath-arba," after its reputed founder, Arba, father of the Anakim (Josh. xiv. 15, xxi. 11). But according to modern exegetes the name is equivalent to the "city of the four." The patriarch Abraham resided at Hebron (Gen. xiii. 18, xiv. 13, xviii. 1, xxiii. 2), and purchased a cave known as the "Double Cave," where Sarah was buried. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Leah were afterward buried there (see Burial; Caves in Palestine; Machpelah).
Jacob went from Hebron to Egypt (Gen. xxxvii. 14, xlvi. 1); the spies visited the city (Num. xiii. 22). In the time of Joshua, Hoham, King of Hebron, was captured there and put to death by the Israelites. Hebron and its territory were at first given to Caleb (Josh. xiv. 6 et seq., xv. 13; Judges i. 20), and then to the Levites of the family of Kohath; it ultimately became one of the six cities of refuge (Josh. xx. 7).
David lived there until the conquest of Jerusalem, and was there anointed as king (II Sam. ii. 1, 11; iii. 2 et seq.; v. 1 et seq.). Absalom's revolt began there (II Sam. xv. 9 et seq.); Rehoboam fortified the city (II Chron. xi. 10). Hebron was one of the towns which possessed a Jewish community after the return from Babylon (Neh. xi. 25), but the Idumeans appear to have afterward acquired it, since they were expelled by Judas Maccabeus (I Macc. v. 65).
Occupied by the Romans, it was taken by Simon, son of Gioras, one of the leaders of the insurrection; but the Roman general Cerealis retook it by storm, killed the garrison, and burned the city (Munk, "La Palestine," p. 57). Jews did not inhabit Hebron after the destruction of the Temple, nor under the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, or Crusaders.
Benjamin of Tudela found only a single Jew (1171) at St. Abraham, as Hebron was called by the Crusaders. He asserts, however, that the Church of St. Abraham had been a synagogue under the Turkish rule. Forty years later R. Samuel bar Shimshon, who explored Palestine in 1209, makes no mention of Jews in Hebron.
The Modern Community.
Local tradition attributes the foundation of the modern community to Malkiel Ashkenazi (1450?), in whose honor a service is held every year on the anniversary of his death. (Azulai, "Shem ha-Gedolim," p. 88). Fifty years afterward, however, it was difficult to form a "minyan" (quorum). The following were chief rabbis of Hebron: Israel Zebi (1701-31); Abraham Castel (1757); Aaron Alfandari (1772); Mordecai Ruvio (c. 1785); David Melamed (c. 1789); Eliakim (end of 18th cent.); Hayyim ha-Levi Polacco (c. 1840); Hai Cohen (1847-52); Moses Pereira (1852-64); Elia Sliman Mani (1864-78); Rahamim Joseph Franco (1878-1901); Hezekiah Medini (former chief rabbi of Karasu-Bazar in the Crimea; known as the "Hakam Bashi Wakili"; acting chief rabbi since 1901).
Hebron possesses four synagogues within the ghetto and four batte ha-midrash without. The oldest synagogue, that of Abraham Abinu, is supposed to date back three centuries. It was restored in 1738 and enlarged in 1864. The others are Keneset Eliyyah Mani (like the former, Sephardic), and two Ashkenazic. There are three yeshibot, the oldest having been founded by Israel Zebi (d. 1731); the second was formed by the union of four older yeshibot. It possesses the library of Vivas, a native of Leghorn, and is very rich in Spanish works. Hebron possesses four Talmud Torahs for Sephardim and one for Ashkenazim. There are three mutual-aid societies and a free dispensary. The Sephardic community is administered by the chief rabbi and a council of seven members; the Ashkenazic by the chief rabbi and a council of three. Most of the Jews are supported by the "Halukkah," but there are a few carpenters and shoemakers. Among the antiquities are the Double Cave, revered by the Mohammedans; the ruins of Abraham's house; the tombs of Gad, Nathan the prophet, Abner (David's commander-in-chief), and others. The modern name of the town is Al-Khalil (lit. "the friend" [i.e., of God], a name by which Abraham was known; comp. Isa. xli. 8).
Numerous rabbinical authors have lived at Hebron, including Elijah de Vidas (1525), author of "Reshit Hokmah"; Solomon Edni (1622), author of "Meleket Shelomoh"; Moses ha-Levi (1668), author of "Yede Mosheh"; Israel Zebi (1731), author of "Urim Gedolim"; Abraham Conque (1740), author of "Abak Derakim"; Ḥayyim Abraham Israel Zebi (1776), author of "Be'er Mayim Hayyim"; Aaron Alfandari (1772), author of "Yad Aharon" and "Merkebet ha-Mishneh"; Mordecai Ruvio (1785), author of "Shemen ha-Mor"; Judah Divan (1792), author of "Zibhe Shelamim"; Elijah Sliman Mani (d. 1878), author of "Kisse Eliyahu"; Rahamim Joseph Franco (d. 1901), author of "Sha'are Rahamim"; Hezekiah Medini, author of "Sedeh Ḥemed."
PHOTO: Entrance to the Mosque at Hebron, Containing the Traditional Cave of Machpelah. (From a photograph by the American Colony, Jerusalem.)

Azulai, Shem ha-Gedolim;
Hazan, Ha-Ma'alot li-Shelomoh, Alexandria, 1889;
S. Munk, La Palestine, Paris;
Benjamin II., Acht Jahre in Asien und Afrika;
Abraham Ḥayyim Penso, Minḥat Ḳena'ot, Jerusalem, 1879;
Luncz, Jerusalem, 1895-1901.
3. Third son of Kohath, son of Levi and founder of the Levitic family, the Hebronites (Ex. vi. 18; Num. iii. 19, 27; xxvi. 58). The Hebronites are often mentioned in the enumerations of the Levites, under the name either of "Ha-Hebroni" (Num. iii. 27, xxvi. 58; I Chron. xxvi. 23, 30, 31) or of "Bene-Hebron" (I Chron. xv. 9, xxiii. 19). In the time of David the chief of the Hebronites was called Jeriah (I Chron. xxiii. 19, and elsewhere). In the fortieth year of David's reign the Hebronites were settled at Jazer in Gilead, of whom 2,700 mighty men were appointed by the king superintendents over the two and one-half tribes, and 1,700, under Hashahiah, held similar positions on the west of the Jordan (ib. xxvi. 30, 31).
4. One of the tribe of Judah, a descendant of Caleb (ib. ii. 42, 43).
By: Emil G. Hirsch, M. Seligsohn, Solomon Schechter
Name of a field and cave bought by Abraham as a burying-place. The meaning of the name, which always occurs with the definite article, is not clear; according to the Targumim and the Septuagint it means "the double," while Gesenius ("Th."), with more reason, connects it with the Ethiopic for "the portion." It appears to have been situated near Mamre, or Hebron, and to have belonged to Epbron the Hittite.
Abraham needed a burying-place for Sarah, and bought the field of the Machpelah, at the end of which was a cave, paying four hundred silver shekels. The cave became the family burying-place, Sarah being the first to be buried there; later, Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Leah, and Jacob were placed there (Gen. xxiii. 9, 16-20; xxv. 9; xlix. 30-31; 1. 13).
It is designated twice only as the "cave" of the Machpelah (Gen. xxiii. 9, xxv. 9); in the other instances it is called "the cave of the field of the Machpelah" or "the cave in the field of the Machpelah." No further reference is made to it or to the burying-place of the Patriarchs, though some scholars find an allusion to it in II Sam. xv. 7, 9.
Josephus speaks of the purchase of Ephron's field at Hebron by Abraham as a place of burial and of the tombs (Μνημεῖα) built there by Abraham and his descendants, without, however, mentioning the name "Machpelah" ("Ant." i. 14. 22). In the twelfth century the cave of the Machpelah began to attract visitors and pilgrims, and this aroused the curiosity and wonder of the natives.
Benjamin of Tudela relates: "At Hebron there is a large place of worship called 'St. Abraham,' which was previously a Jewish synagogue. The natives erected there six sepulchers, which they tell foreigners are those of the Patriarchs and their wives, demanding money as a condition of seeing them. If a Jew gives an additional fee to the keeper of the cave, an iron door which dates from the time of our forefathers opens, and the visitor descends with a lighted candle. He crosses two empty caves, and in the third sees six tombs, on which the names of the three Patriarchs and their wives are inscribed in Hebrew characters. The cave is filled with barrels containing bones of people, which are taken there as to a sacred place. At the end of the field of the Machpelah stands Abraham's house with a spring in front of it" ("Itinerary," ed. Asher, pp. 40-42, Hebr.).
Samuel b. Samson visited the cave in 1210; he says that the visitor must descend by twenty-four steps in a passageway so narrow that the rock touches him on either hand ("Pal. Explor. Fund," Quarterly Statement, 1882, p. 212). Now the cave is concealed by a mosque; this was formerly a church, built by the Crusaders between 1167 and 1187 and restored by the Arabs (comp. Stanley, "Sinai and Palestine," p. 149). 
Tomb of Adam and Eve.
—In Rabbinical Literature:
The name of "Machpelah" (= "the doubled one") belongs, according to the Rabbis, to the cave alone, their reasons for the name being various: it was a double cave, with two stories (Rab); it contained pairs of tombs (Samuel); it had a double value in the eyes of people who saw it; any one buried there could expect a double reward in the future world; when God buried Adam there He had to fold him together (Abahu; 'Er. 53a; Gen. R. lviii. 10).
Adam and Eve were the first pair buried there, and therefore Hebron, where the cave was situated, bore the additional name of "Kirjath-arba" (= "the city of four"; i.e., of the tombs of Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah ('Er. 53a; Soṭah 13a; comp. Gen. R. lviii. 4).
According to Pirke R. El. xxxvi., the cave of Machpelah was at Jebus, and the reason that induced Abraham to buy it was the following: When Abraham went to fetch the calf for his guests (comp. Gen. xviii. 7) it escaped to the cave of Machpelah. Abraham ran after it, and when he entered the cave he saw Adam and Eve lying in their beds as though they were sleeping, while lighted candles were around them, exhaling a fragrant odor. Abraham, filled with a desire to possess the cave, determined to buy it at any price. The Jebusites, however, refused to sell it to him until he had sworn that when his descendants conquered the land of Canaan they would spare the city of Jebus (Jerusalem). Abraham accordingly took the oath, and the Jebusites inscribed it on brazen idols which they placed in the markets of the city. This was the reason why the children of Benjamin did not drive out the inhabitants of Jebus (Judges i. 21).
Abraham secured his purchase of the cave of Machpelah by a formal deed signed by four witnesses: Amigal, son of Abishua the Hittite; Elihoreph, son of Ashunah the Hivite; 'Iddon, son of Ahira the Gardite; Aḳdul, son of 'Abudish the Zidonite ("Sefer ha-Yashar," section "Ḥayye Sarah," p. 37a, Leghorn, 1870).
After Isaac's death, Jacob, desirous of becoming sole owner of the cave of Machpelah, acquired Esau's part of it in exchange for all the riches left him by his father. This sale was also ratified by a document, which Jacob put in an earthen vessel to preserve it from decay (ib. section "Wayesheb," p. 77b). Nevertheless, at the burial of Jacob the cave was the subject of a violent dispute between Jacob's children and Esau. The latter opposed the burial of Jacob in the cave on the ground that there was room only for four pairs, and that Jacob, by burying Leah, had filled up his part. Naphtali returned to Egypt for the title-deed, but meanwhile Hushim, the son of Dan, struck Esau on the head with a stick so that the latter's eyes fell on Jacob's knees (Sotah l.c.; comp. "Sefer ha-Yashar," l.c. pp. 97a-98a, where it is said that Hushim cut off Esau's head, which was buried on the spot). There is another tradition, to the effect that Esau was slain by Judah in the cave of Machpelah at Isaac's burial (Midr. Teh. xviii.; Yalḳ., Gen. 162).
By: Frank H. Knowlton, Joseph Jacobs
A famous and venerable oak (Quercus pseudo-coccifera) which still stands at Mamre, half an hour's journey west of Hebron, and is surrounded by a wall over which it projects. Josephus probably refers to it ("Ant." i. 10, § 4), or a predecessor on the same spot, when he mentions that Abraham dwelt by an "ogygian" (prehistoric) tree. According to tradition, it was opposite this oak that Abraham's tent was pitched at the time that the angels came to him and promised him a son and heir; also when he was negotiating with Ephron the Hittite for the cave of Machpelah (Gen. xviii. and xxiii.).
Some have connected the oak with an earlier stage of tree-worship. In Jerome's time, fairs were held under it. During the Crusades Abraham's Oak was visited frequently by the pilgrims; and it became customary to hold the Feast of the Trinity under its shadow, connecting the subject of the feast with the three angels of the Biblical narrative. The inventive traveler Odoricus (1286-1331) connects the oak with the legend of the Cross ("Itinerarium," chap. xlvi.). Josippon states that it lasted until the days of the Emperor Theodosius, when it withered. Its wood was used for medicinal purposes, the belief being that such a use prevented any illness up to the day of death (Chronicle of Jerahmeel, pp. lxxi. and 78).
Abraham's Oak in 1847. Abraham's Oak as it appeared in 1897.
Near the oak in former times, on its north side, stood a terebinth, which, according to Josephus ("B. J." iv. 9, § 7), had existed since the beginning of the world. It was under this tree that, in Hadrian's time, the great sales of Jewish slaves, numbering, it is said, no less than 135,000, took place.
Abraham's Oak has become considerably weakened in recent years, as is shown by the accompanying illustrations, taken in the years 1847 and 1897 respectively. In 1852 a large branch was broken off by lightning; and the wood from it formed eight camel loads.
Sepp, Jerusalem und das Heilige Land, i. 611-626;
Palestine Exploration Fund, Quarterly Statement, 1899, pp. 39, 40.
By: Kaufmann Kohler
Often mentioned in the Book of Jubilees as a mansion of great importance, said to have been built on the height of Hebron by Abraham, who bequeathed it to Jacob, his grandson (xxii. 24; xxix. 16, 19; xxxvi. 12-20; xxxvii. 14; xxxviii. 4, 8).
A midrashic fragment at the close of Masseket Soferim IX. mentions an iron citadel built by Abraham, of such a height that the sun's rays could not penetrate it: it received its light from a disk made of precious stones. Abraham gave it to the sons of Keturah, and when at the last days sun and moon shall pale before the full light of God's glory, this tower will be opened in order to shelter God's own.
J. Müller, Masseket Soferim, 1878, p. 301.
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