The 11th of MarCheshvan, which falls out this Shabbos, is the yaretzheit of Rochel imaynu, the Biblical Matriach Rachel, wife of Yaakov Avinu (the biblical patriarch Jacob).
She passed away on and was buried “on the way”, on the road leading to Jerusalem outside of Bet Lechem – Bethlehem. Kever Rochel, the holy tomb of the Biblical Matriach Rachel, wife of Yaakov Avinu (the biblical patriarch Jacob) is located on what was formerly a desolate roadside between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Today it’s within the outer edge of Bethlehem, but with an isolated access road and security walls for conflict prevention (meaning, to stop the Arabs from trying to injure or kill the Jews and others who wish to visit this ANCIENT JEWISH HOLY SITE).
There are pictures of the site going back as far as photography goes, and paintings much farther than that. Via the incredible site Israel Daily Picture, pulling out archival pictures of the Land of Israel…
Kever Rochel in 1895. Notice there are NO other buildings anywhere nearby. Bethlehem is in the distant top left.
Kever Rochel in 1900. From this angle, Bethlehem is a mile or two away in the top right.
Jews visiting the tomb around 1900. Check out the carriages.
Kever Rochel in 1914. We see Bethlehem starting to build towards the tomb, and the area gaining a wall.
“30 men ('3 minyans') from a Jerusalem old age home praying for
the well-being of friends and donors and other brethren from the
House of Israel in the Diaspora next to the gravestone of Mother
Rachel of blessed memory”. The interior is virtually the same today.
(Photos from the American Colony collection, the Oregon State University collection, and the Jewish Postcard Collection, and all via Israel Daily Picture.)
As for today, here’s a video of us visiting Kever Rochel on the yaretzheit 4 years ago… This year the rush will be after Shabbos, since it’s not within range of Jewish neighborhoods for a visit on Shabbat.
Here’s more historical background provided by Israel Daily Picture with some additions by us…
In 1622 the Ottoman governor of Jerusalem permitted Jews to build walls and a dome over the grave, the same dome which exists to this day though now surrounded by a larger more protective structure.
For several hundred years a local Bedouin tribe and local Arabs demanded protection money from Jews going to Rachel's grave. In the 18th and 19th century the Arabs built a cemetery around three sides of the shrine in the belief that the proximity of the deceased to the grave of a holy person -- even a Jew -- would bestow blessings on the deceased in the world to come. Muslims even prepared bodies for burial at Rachel's grave.
In the 1830s, Jews received a decree from Ottoman authorities recognizing the Jewish character of the site and ordering a stop to the abuse of Jews there.
In 1841, Sir Moses Montefiore secured permission from the Ottoman authority to build an anteroom for Jewish worshippers.
During the 1929 Muslim attacks on the Jews of Palestine, the Muslim religious council, the Waqf, demanded the site from the British.
For 19 years of Jordanian rule on the West Bank (1948-1967), Rachel's Tomb was off limits to Jews.
After the 1967 war, Israel reclaimed control of the site.
In 1996 and during the Palestinian intifada in 2000-2001 Rachel's Tomb was the target of numerous attacks. To protect the holy site and continue to allow OPEN ACCESS TO ALL, the Israeli army built 50 foot high walls as well as a separate road entrance while blocking off access from Bethlehem, as well as encasing the historical tomb structure in a highly protected defensive building, to protect worshippers and OPEN ACCESS to the site.
Today the site can be accessed safely by car without entering Palestinian Authority controlled territory or Arab neighborhoods, making it a 10 minute drive from Jerusalem. In addition bus service from Jerusalem travels there almost hourly throughout the day.
For the Yaretzheit, large crowds of tens of thousands visit the tomb with hundreds of buses (access is only by bus on this day) and massive police and army presence. [Because the tomb has been separated from Bethlehem, this provides no inconvenience to the residents of Bethlehem.]