Graves of Jewish Sages to Visit in Israel

June 3rd 2013


Jewish tradition teaches that prayers issued at the grave of a sage are answered by God especially readily. As a result, many who tour around Israel find visits to the graves of sages to be paramount. Those who visit gravesites in order to pray are not praying to the deceased sage, but rather to God in the final resting place of a person who was known for piety and holiness. Even nonbelievers can be inspired by the sanctity of such locations. Before leaving a Jewish grave, it is customary to leave a small stone or some grass on the marker.

According to a guide written by Yisrael Gliss, a Chabad Rabbi stationed in the Negev town of Dimona, there are no fewer than 267 gravesites of rabbinical sages that can be visited in Israel. Some of the most famous are in Tiberias, which, along with Jerusalem, Safed and Hebron, is considered one of the four holiest cities in Israel. While Tiberias was once the center of rabbinic study, it is hardly the only locale in Israel where the graves of sages are commonly visited, as influential and landmark rabbis from many eras of Jewish history have been buried all around the country. The tombs of Yonatan Ben-Uziel, Shimon Bar Yochai and the Sanhedrin make for especially compelling visits.

Among the most famous gravesites outside of Tiberias is that of Yonatan Ben-Uziel, who lived in the 1st century, around 2000 years ago. A leading student of the iconic sage Hillel, he is famous for having translated the Bible into Aramaic, the common language of his era. His burial place is housed inside a stone structure at the end of a path in the midst of a forest near the settlement of Amuka in the Galilee. It’s customary for single people to visit his gravesite to pray that they soon meet their life partners and also for the childless to come and pray for children. As is the case at many frequented graves of Jewish sages, men and women have separate prayer areas here. Expect to tap into a remarkably metaphysical atmosphere here, among sacred books and burning candles inside the stone building.

Another especially famous sage gravesite is that of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, 2nd century author of the mystical commentary on the Torah known as the Zohar. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is among the most well known of the kabbalists. His tomb is located on Mt. Meron near Safed. On Lag b’Omer in the spring, considered to be the anniversary of Bar Yochai’s passing, hundreds of thousands of visitors ascend to this site, but it can be visited year round.

If you’re looking for a holy gravesite that’s bit more off-the-beaten-path, in the Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Sanhedria lies a small park hidden behind a high stone wall. Within the park is a modest cemetery that contains the Tombs of the Sanhedrin. The graceful arched structure that was once there is gone, but the large burial cave contains approximately 120 graves. This corresponds to the 120 members of the ancient Sanhedrin, the highest judicial court during Temple times. The Tombs of the Sanhedrin is still a place where the faithful come to leave prayer notes.