Hebron Casbah - Historical Home to Jewish Neighborhood

Kabbalists Corner and Menorah Lintel are some of the remnant of what once was the "Jewish ghetto."

19.3.18, 14:58
Today, the casbah (kasbah) is a bustling outdoor marketplace, similar to the shuk in the Old City of Jerusalem. Located parallel to King David Street (Shuhada Street) in the H2 section of the city, it is unfortunately off limits to Israeli civilians except for a pre-arranged touring schedule, usually on Shabbat afternoon.
Before the 1929 Hebron massacre, Jewish life used to thrive in the narrow alleyways and evidence of the past residents can still be seen such as niches on doorposts where a mezuzah once was embedded in the stone.
In Ladino, the language of the Spanish-Portuguese Jewish community, it was called the Cortezo, and in Hebrew "HaRova HaYehudi," or Jewish Quarter. Many historical writings refer to it as "the ghetto" making it the only known place in Israel to be referred to by what is generally a term used for European Jewish communities.
The neighborhood has it's roots in the returning exiles who fled the Spanish Inquisition and were repatriated to the land of Israel. Rabbi Malkiel Ashkenazi led a group of Sephardic Jews to the Land of Israel. In 1517, when the Ottoman Turks invaded, Sephardic Jews living in Ottoman Salonika were allowed to move to the Holy Land. In 1540, Rabbi Ashkenazi purchased a walled compound in Hebron and founded the Avraham Avinu Synagogue which became a center of study for Kabbala. Today the synagogue still stands and the Torah scrolls used there are the original ones used from Rabbi Ashkanazi's time.
The modern Avraham Avinu neighborhood and Casbah are separated and the 1997 Hebron Accords resulted in the restriction of access to areas outside the Jewish neighborhoods, even within Israeli-controlled zones. However the community still makes use of the limited access to document the once thriving community.
One of these locations was called Kabbalists Corner where a Beit Midrash once stood. Jewish stars decorated the doorway.  Other properties were purchased by the Magen Avot organization. Today it is a cow shed. The old Chabad yeshiva, prior to their relocation to  Beit Romano, still stands. Another historic building is Beit Hausman, where Benzion Hausman and his family once lived. 
Lintel of the Menorahs
Another historical landmark was the "Mashkof HaMenorot" or Lintel of the Menorahs which was a chiseled archway of three seven-branched candelabras, the familiar Jewish symbol. Two are right-side up, with the one in the middle upside down. The original stones were estimated to be from the Second Temple Era.
Sefer Hevron by Oded Avisar related a tradition about the archway:
"Back in one of the dark alleys of ancient Hebron, a gate still has a lintel with three ashlars, each of which has a menorah engraved on it. However, the two outer ones stand upright with the middle upside down.  When the elders of Hebron, at the beginning of this century, were asked about the nature of this lintel, they would tell a wonderful legend: 

Rabbi Jacob ben Yosephia came to Rome and stood by the Arch of Titus. He stood and wept until he made a vow, for if the Holy One, blessed be He, brought us up to the Holy Land, his house would be built in the City of the Patriarchs. When Rabbi Jacob ben Yosephia arrived in Hebron, he set up a lintel with three carved ashlar stones on the gate of his house. But they would ask: Why are two standing upright while the third, the middle one, is the opposite? And there were three answers: a symbol of the three towers that were built at the time on the graves of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But when the Crusaders came and approached the Cave of Machpela, the wrath of Isaac our father struck and smote those who came with blindness. The Crusaders left and their eyes opened again. When they returned for a second time, he struck them with blindness again, but when they dared to enter the cave, Yitzhak's tower fell on his face, leaving only the other two towers of Abraham and Jacob, who were merciful and forgiving. Standing on the ground to this day."  

And so are the three menorahs: the first and last stand upright while the middle - upside down with its head down."

Edward Atkinson writing in the Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement mentions seeing the lintel. His article, which includes sketches, is entitled Note on the Ancient Synagogue at Meiron and describes the similarity ancient synagogues in northern Israel with what he saw in Hebron.
He writes: "Speaking of Jewish symbols introduced as architectural ornaments, I find in my sketch-book a note of a door I saw at Hebron in 1856. What was the building of which it formed a part, or whereabouts situate, I cannot now recall — not even whether the building were occupied or a ruin. One thing appears certain— namely, that the sculptured lintel is not in its original position. It may have belonged originally to the same structure, and even to the same door, but the three stones with the seven-branched candlesticks (two upright and one reversed) enclosed in a moulding or entablature, while evidently belonging to one another and in their proper relative position, have been built into their present place, above the true lintel, at some time subsequent to their first employment. This is evident from the abrupt termination of the moulding. The use of this sacred symbol stamps these stones as Jewish, and suggests their having belonged to a synagogue. This, if true, would be very interesting, occurring in Southern Judea, while all the ancient synagogues hitherto described have been in Galilee and the north. The sculpture has all the appearance of antiquity."
For years, the Palestinian Authority tried to chipped away at the archway. Finally in 2014 the decorative archway was removed completely and paved over with concrete. A replica had been made prior, and in 2019 it was affixed to a nearby archway with a plaque posted on the wall of the original. 
Mezuzah holes belonging to Jewish homes in the Casbah have also been found to have been sealed up in an attempt to erase Jewish history.
Prior to the 1997 division of the city, the casbah was frequented by Jews and Arabs alike.  It was here that the first modern terrorist attack in Hebron took place, in which an Arab man shot and murdered a Jewish man in 1980. 
Yehoshua Salome was born in Denmark and moved to Israel where he worked on a kibbutz and served in the Israel Defense Force. His friends set up a memorial for him at the spot where he was murdered, but the monument has been frequently vandalized.
The nearby community of Beit Haggai was named in his honor as well as two other students who were also murdered in Hebron during the course of the year 1980.
The Jewish Community of Hebron continues to hold regular tours of the casbah on a  weekly basis, which is usually limited to one hour. 
Local Hebron resident Aryeh Klein published a book in 2007 entitled "Chatzerot Be Ir HaAvot" (Courtyards of the City of the Patriarchs) in which he delves into much of the history of the neighborhood.
Plan your visit to Hebron today:
United States contact info:
1760 Ocean Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11230
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Israeli contact info:
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Hebron Casbah - Historic Jewish quarter | 28 Images