February 20th 2015
Visiting the Tombs of Biblical Figures While Touring Israel
The surreal brew of ancient and modern is a big part of the magic of Israel. Few places enable visitors to connect with the spirit of days long gone like the burial places of Biblical figures. Here are three especially meaningful ones worth including in your itinerary.
The Cave of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs
Perhaps there is no more famous tomb in the world than what Hebrew speakers call Ma’arat HaMachpelah. Located in Hebron, one of the Land of Israel’s four holy cities, the Cave of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs is the burial place of not one but eight heavyweight Biblical personalities. Visiting Ma’arat HaMachpelah is an otherworldly experience, as you encounter the resting places of Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rebecca and Jacob and Leah. A kosher café adjacent to the complex serves light meals, snacks and drinks.
Although Jacob is buried with Leah in Ma’arat HaMachpelah, he fathered children with three other women. The most beloved was Rachel, who died while birthing Benjamin. Jacob buried Rachel on the side of the road near the modern city of Efrat. Her tomb is known today as “Kever Rachel” (the Tomb of Rachel) and is a landmark destination situated in the outskirts of Bethehem. The road to Kever Rachel is protected with fortress-high walls and armed guards. But once you walk into the recently renovated structure, you’ll forget all that and just imbibe the holiness of the space.
Jacob’s Son Dan
Given the current political climate, the tomb of Jacob’s most beloved son Joseph is mostly off-limits in Shechem (also known as Nablus). However, the tomb of Dan, brother of Joseph and son of Jacob and his servant Bilha, is accessible. It’s located not far from the modern city of Beit Shemesh. Samson, of Samson and Delilah fame, is a descendent of Dan, as are the Jews of Ethiopia, according to legend.
In accordance with the norms of Orthodox Judaism, visitors to these sites are expected to dress modestly and should be aware that men and women may be directed to separate areas for prayer. Books of Psalms and prayers are generally available for visitors’ use but are often only available in Hebrew. It is also common for visitors to be approached by charity collectors at these locations. Donations are optional, but it may be a good idea to be prepared with a few coins in your pocket.