The History of Chabad in Hebron

The Chabad-Lubavitcher hasidic movement has deep roots in the City of the Forefathers.

1.1.19, 15:42
The Chabad-Lubavitch hasidic movement has deep roots in Hebron going back to the years 1816 - 1823 when a wave of hasidic Jews migrated from Tzfat in Israel's north, to Hebron at the behest of the Mitteler Rebbe, Rabbi Dovber Schneuri of Lubavitch. 

His daughter, Menucha Rochel Slonim moved to Hebron in 1845 with the blessing and encouragement of her cousin, the Tzemach Tzedek, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn.  

Together with her husband, a descendant of the famous 16th century Rabbi Moses Isserles, they revitalized the city. For over 40 years they were respected by Ashkenazic and Sephardic communities. Both Jewish and Muslim women in the city sought Rebbitzen Menucha Rochel for advice and blessings, especially for help in fertility and childbirth.
At the time, Chabad invested more in Hebron than in any other city in the Land of Israel and Chabad hasidim accounted for most of the Ashkenazic community.

The Menucha Rochel Synagogue 

Over the years, the community grew, instititions were established and properties were aquired. Among these is the synagogue which is today called the Menucha Rochel shul. This site was the first Lubavitcher house of worship in Hebron, and the very first Chabad-owned property in the Land of Israel. The Mitteler Rebbe himself purchased the property and it was henceforth named after him. Because of its close proximity to the Avraham Avinu synagogue, built by the Sephardic community in 1540, it was sometimes referred to as the "Ashkenazic Avraham Avinu shul."

In 1967 when Hebron was liberated during the Six Day War, Jewish properties including the Mitteler Rebbe's Shul were found in terrible condition. The once distinctive Avraham Avinu synagogue was turned into a sheep pen and other holy sites made into public latrines. Through the efforts of Prof. Bentzion Tavger and many of the dedicated settlers of Hebron, the Mitteler Rebbe's synagogue was restored.

In 1990, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson instructed Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh to establish the Kollel Menucha Rochel in honor of the historic Chabad matriarch. Since the Six Day War, the Rebbe had consistently maintained that the old Chabad properties were never to be relinquished. He gave his blessing to Rabbi Moshe Levinger and the new Jewish community of Hebron to use the buildings as they saw fit. 

In 2005 the site was restored by Chabad of Hebron under the leadership of Rabbi Danny and Batsheva Cohen. Today it is a fully functioning synagogue with daily services. 

The synagogue includes several artifacts from the Old Yishuv days. One of these items is a handwritten letter from Rabbi Moshe Goldshmidt to the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn describing the deteriorating state of the synagogue and the harsh conditions of the Jewish community. Rabbi Goldshmidt was the local kosher butcher for the Jewish community and murdered in the 1929 massacre. His children and grandchildren have often visited Hebron and voiced their support for the modern community.

Other items on display include a handwritten letter from Menucha Rochel Slonim, and mezuzot and plaques rescued from the old Chabad yeshiva that operated from 1889 - 1912. The building was located in what was then called the "Jewish ghetto" and what is today called the Arab Casbah

Another plaque is dedicated to Zev Dov Slonim, a local community leader who was wounded in a dispute with a non-Jewish neighbor over building rights at the historic Avraham Avinu synagogue. Despite his injuries, Slonim appeared in a Jerusalem court with a delegation and succeeded in preventing construction on top of the synagogue which worshipers surmised would lead to an eventual takeover. He died from his wounds in 1898. His grandson was named in his memory and became a well-known rabbi in Jerusalem. 

Magen Avot Yeshiva

The Magen Avot Yeshiva and the Talmud Torah (boys’ religious school) were established under Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda Eliazarov some 100 years ago. Its first location was the largest building in town at the time, the historic Beit Romano, built in 1879 by the wealthy Turkish merchant, Haim Yisrael Romano. 

It later served as the home and study of Rabbi Haim Hezekiah Medini, Sephardic chief rabbi of Hebron and author of the monumental Talmudic encyclopedia the Sde Hemed.

After Rabbi Medini's passing in 1904, the mansion and surrounding courtyard was purchased by the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn for 22,000 silver rubles — 10,000 of that as the down payment. The land was further expanded with the purchase of an adjacent lot for 3,100 silver rubles. Though the local community was impoverished and Chabad, then headquartered in Russia was not much better off, they scraped together the required sum to purchase the estate. By 1912, the Torath Emeth Yeshiva was in operation within its confines. 

Throughout the Jordanian period, Beit Romano was used as a school and the surrounding courtyard used for a bus depot. 

Beit Romano returned to its roots as a Jewish institute of higher learning and became home to the Shavei Hevron yeshiva in the 1980s. Rabbi Medini's study was recreated and the original Ottoman land deeds and photos of Chabad rabbis who taught there hang on the walls.

In 2018, after extensive bureaucratic procedures, the government allowed the zoning of the land for a major apartment complex. The old Chabad deeds came into play in the planning committees.

The old Hebron cemetery, final resting place of many important figures including Menucha Rochel Slonim, was razed during the Jordanian period. It was Prof. Tavger and his team of volunteers who helped identify and clean up the gravesites. Today the refurbished tombstone  of Menucha Rochel is visited every year on her yahrzeit. By 2005, the Menucha Rochel kollel was established on the grounds of the cemetery. The anniversary of Menucha Rochel Slonim attracts Chabadniks from around the country for both prayers and a celebration of the renewed community.
The annual Rohr Jewish Learning Institute Mission to Israel visited Hebron as part of their itinerary, and in 2018 dedicated a Torah scroll to the community in a special ceremony. Other annual celebrations include Second Hakafot for Simchat Torah, the Zos Chanukah festivities and other special events. Chabad of Hebron also sponsors the giant tent at the Shabbat Chayei Sarah weekend which has been ranked as the largest Shabbat meal in the world.

Since the mid 2000s, Rabbi Danny and Batsheva Cohen have led Chabad of Hebron, which engages in outreach to Israel Defense Force soldiers and visitors from around the world.
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Annual Gathering for Menucha Rochel Slonim - 128th Yarhreit | 38 Images