Overview of Hebron - A Jewish Pilgrim's Companion

Excellent overview from the 1976 World Zionist Organization guide to Israel.

14.10.18, 12:04
Proceeding further south we experience a continuations climb. Into view on the far left comes Halhul -- mentioned in Yehoshua 15:58 with Beit Tzur and Gedor. Halhul occupies the highest position in the Judean hills 1020 m. above sea level. The relics of Beit Tzur can be observed on a ridge to the right of the road just before Halhul. Here are the remains of an ancient fortress, that played an important strategic role in the Hasmonean uprising. Here the Maccabean commander Eleazar attempted to slay his Greek counterpart, but was trodden to death by the general's elephant.
Inside Halhul, on the right, is a 13th century mosque. According to local tradition the Prophet Jonah, the Seer Gad and the Prophet Nathan are buried here. Midway between Halhul and Hevron the road turns right towards Beit Guvrin and the Shefelah (Maritime Palin).
Soon the outskirts of Hevron come into view. The Arab name El Khalil, "The Friend" (of the Lord), signifies our forefather Avraham.
Hevron lies 926 m. above sea level and has some 40 thousand inhabitants, mostly Moslem. The hub of an extensive rural are largely based on wine and olive oil production it boasts a renowned glass industry. The tourist trade has swollen by the influx of Jewish visitors whose chief destination is the cave of Machpela, the tomb of the Jewish Patriarchs and Matriarchs. 
Hevron was the capital of the Kingdom of Judah for seven years, until David's conquest of Yerushalayim. With Tzfat (Safed) Tveriah (Tiberias) and Yerushalayim, Hevron shares the title of a sacred city. It is one of the most ancient towns, with an unbroken record of settlement. The Bible reports Avraham's arrival at Kiryat Arba, "that same is Hebron" (Ber. 23:2), the seat of the Anakim (giants). It was visited by the spies sent out by Moshe and later served as an Ir Miklat, a 
haven for the inadvertent manslayer.
Jews continued to live in Hevron after the Babylonian Exile during the days of Yehudah Hamakabi (Judah the Maccabee), and in the Middle Ages. Eminent rabbinic scholars such as Ovadia of Bertinoro, Haim Yosef David Azulai (known as Hiddah) and Hayim Hizkiyahu Medini, the author of a rabbinic encyclopedia -- Sdeh Hemed made Hevron their home in the latter centuries.
In 1820 a group of Habad Hassidim settled in Hevron and by 1890 the Jewish community had increased to fifteen hundred, transforming Hevron into an important Talmudic centre. During the 1929 riots a savage attack upon the local Jews was unleashed, claiming sixty-seven victims, including 20 students of Yeshivat Slobodka. This Yeshiva was transferred to Yerushalayim and the remaining Jews too left Hevron.
During the Six-Day War Hevron capitulated without resistance. Arab fears of Jewish revenge proved to be unfounded.
The Cave of Machpelah is located in the centre of Hevron. The present structure rising above the tomb of the Patriarchs dates to the period of the Second Temple. 
Arab additions are marked by two minarets and an adjoining mosque. During the past hundred years Hews were barred from entering the Machpelah cave, beyond the seven permitted steps. The shrine was forcibly kept beyond their reach.
According to Arab tradition Yosef too was buried at this cave, despite the explicit testimony of the Book of Yehoshua (24:32) that Yosef was interred at Shchem. A footmark of Adam is pointed out at the Machpelah by the local Arabs.
The Midrash refers to the Cave of Machpelah as one of three sites which the Gentiles are unable to contest, Avraham having bought it, for the sum of "four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant ... the field of Ephron which was in Machpelah ... the field, and the cave which was therin" (Bereshit 23:16, 17).
The remaining sites are Yosef's plot at Shchem and Har HaMoriyah. Opposite the Patriarch's is the presumed grave of Avner ben Ner, the military commander of King Saul.
Soon after the Six-Day War a group of religious settlers, led by Rabbi Moshe Levinger, revived the age old Jewish presence in this town. They founded the suburb of Kiryat Arba on the eastern outskirts of Hevron. A Yeshiva, hotel and several industrial enterprises have sprung up beside the fast expanding residential quarters. The new settlers have opened the open shops and a restaurant neat Ma'arat Hamachpelah.
From the cave of Machpelah we turn north-west to Eshel Avraham where there is an ancient oak tree associated with Avraham.
Leaving Hebron in a northern direction, past Halhul a right turning beings us to Elonei Mamre, where Avraham recieved the three angels (Bereshit, Ch. 18). Here was a Roman slave marker, where Jewish prisoners, survivors of the Bar Kochba revolt, were sold. There are traces of ancient monumental building: a wall, cistern, alter, living rooms and also relics of a church. 
- Eretz Israel - old and new - A Jewish Pilgrim's Companion by Aharon Bier. English version: Avner Tomaschoff
Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora of the World Zionist Organization, Jerusalem 5736 / 1976.
Hebron has changed a lot since 1976. To visit the modern community contact us here:
United States contact info:

1760 Ocean Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11230
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hebronofficial
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/hebronfund

Israeli contact info:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hebron.machpela
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/hebronvideo