Cave of Elijah

August 19th 2014

Elijah, known in Hebrew as Eliyahu haNavi, is arguably the most famous of the Biblical prophets. The Cave of Elijah is located on Mount Carmel in Haifa, just beneath the Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery. Access to the cave is from a stairway that begins off of Allenby Street in the lower section of Haifa.

Mount Carmel is a gradual slope and the five minute walk uphill is not too taxing. On the way up, you’ll be greeted both by amazing views of Haifa and by those who will offer to sell you candles and knickknacks or who will bestow a blessing upon you in exchange for a small donation.

Once at the site, you can enter the chapel that is situated beside the cave. Look for the distinctive wooden chair with the red cushion. Chairs of this style are found in synagogues throughout the world and are known as Kisay shel Eliyahu – Elijah’s chair. They are most commonly associated with brit milah (the Jewish circumcision ceremony) since the spirit of Elijah is said to attend every single Jewish circumcision.

In the cave itself, as in most Jewish holy sites, there are separate sections for men and women. There is an ark for a Torah scroll inside the cave. Look for the designated spot in the ceiling where visitors have the custom of inserting a piece of paper with a prayer request, much as is done at the Kotel in Jerusalem. Look to the right side of the cave for ancient inscriptions in Greek and in Hebrew. There are also etchings of two seven-branched candelabras.

You’ll almost certainly encounter individuals praying here. It would not be unusual to come upon a family celebrating a brit, a halaka (the first haircut of a three year-old Jewish boy), a Bar Mitzvah or even a soldier’s safe return from army service.

There are many famous stories about Elijah that your tour guide will no doubt share with you. The one most closely associated with the cave is told in chapter 18 of the First Book of Kings. Elijah hid in this cave when he ran away from the evil Queen Jezebel, who was determined to kill all the prophets of Israel. He prayed for success here as he prepared to challenge the prophets of Baal who were revered by Queen Jezebel.