A Brief History of Ma’arat HaMachpeilah by Aryeh Krischer


Ma’arat HaMachpeilah is the second holiest Jewish site. Only the Beit HaMikdash (and Temple Mount) is holier. Yet what we call today Ma’arat HaMachpeilah is hardly a cave, more closely resembling a castle. The structure surrounding the caves was first built by Herod the Great and was simply a walling in of the cave entrances. Later, during the Byzantine Era, a small church was built abutting the walls and much of it was roofed in. Subsequent to this, in approximately 614, the Persians invaded the area and destroyed the construction. In 637 the Muslims conquered the area and rebuilt the structure as a mosque. They held the area for several centuries until the crusaders seized it  and turned it into a church. It was in 1166, during this Christian occupation, that the Rambam visited the tombs. Twenty-two years later the Muslims again took control of the caves and turned them into a mosque, forbidding Jews to approach. The caves fell in and out of disrepair for nearly 700 years until, at long last, the Israelis recaptured them in 1967 and returned them to Jewish hands. Shortly after the victory Major-General Rabbi Shlomo Goren became the first Jew to step foot in the caves for more than seven centuries. Ma’arat HaMachpeilah remains partially in Israeli hands to this day.

Keeping the Dent by Rabbi Nosson Rich

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