The Redemption of Chabad in Chevron
July 18, 2019
Beis Moshiach in #1174, Chevron, Feature

Rabbi and General Shlomo Goren, Chief Rabbi of the IDF during the Six Day War, describes his initial entry to Chevron:

“It was only at 5:00 in the morning of 29 Iyar 5727 that I was able to speak with the forces.  It was light already. I spoke to all of the gathered forces: ‘Soldiers and combatants! We are about to liberate the second holiest city in Eretz Yisrael, the City of Our Fathers, the city where the Kingdom of Dovid was established, the City of Our Fathers whose holiness is second after Yerushalayim and whose history even precedes that of Yerushalayim. In the name of G-d you will fight and be successful.’

“With my driver, I began to travel in my car which was equipped with a siren which helped me pass all blockades. I headed down in the car that my jeep escort. I saw a line of tanks, of infantrymen, a line of jeeps and patrol vehicles, as I passed them.  We continued and entered into Chevron proper. We were on the main street leading into Chevron. From all the balconies hung white rags and sheets. Nobody was on the streets. Chevron was liberated without a shot. This moment ended 2037 years of foreign rule.

“In the heart of Chevron, at the police junction, on the main street, I thought – the first thing we need to do is go to the Meoras HaMachpela.  However, I forgot the way there especially since they had changed around the streets within Chevron. Suddenly, an Arab boy peeked out of a window. I told him to come to me. When he hesitated I enticed him with chocolate and asked him where ‘Ibrahim’s grave’ is. He said he would show it to me. I took him in the car and we drove straight to the Meoras HaMachpela.

GREAT JOY AND DEEP DISAPPOINTMENT

“Upon arriving, I was overtaken by great emotion, especially when I reached the infamous ‘seventh step’ [For around seven hundred years, until the Six Day War in 1967, Jews were not allowed to enter Meoras Hamachpela and were allowed only up to the seventh step leading to the entrance (today the entrance is on the other side of the structure).This was the ruling of the Mameluke Muslim regime that ruled the region of  Israel]. I climbed up to the top on the northern side of the Cave and I discovered that the gate was locked. I pounded on the door. I ordered them to open the door. I suspected there were Arabs in the Cave. They wouldn’t abandon the Cave and leave it empty. I heard a voice answering from within: We don’t have a key.

“How could you not have a key when you are inside?! Afterward, it became clear to me that the doors were locked from within by bolts. They could have opened the bolts without a key. Again, I ordered them to open the door. I did not hear any response. Then I opened fire on the lock of the gate but there were bolts that prevented the opening of the door. I started walking around the Cave, looking for a window through which I could enter. All the windows were closed. All my searching did not help. IDF soldiers had still not arrived. It was only me, with my driver.

“I arrived in Chevron around six in the morning and this all took until eight o’clock and I still hadn’t davened. I wanted to daven in the Cave and was losing patience. We finally heard a rumbling of of a tank. It was the first Israeli tank that arrived in Chevron. They had an iron bar. We removed the gates from the hinges and knocked them down.  We found two Arabs. One was holding a large bunch of keys. I was angry at him. The driver slapped their faces for not opening the Cave.

“I took the key ring from him, which I still have.  I put on tefillin and blew a shofar. I read parashas Chayei Sarah, the portion that describes the purchase of the Meoras HaMachpela.  At the end of the davening, two messengers from Mayor Jabari came; he asked to formally surrender. When the time would come, I would forbid the Arabs from entering for 40 days. I maintained that they expelled us from the Cave for 1200 years so they wouldn’t be able to enter for 40 days.

“We were in a special era; we had returned to portions of the Land of our Fathers [later visitors who came to Chevron saw how the Arabs of Chevron worked to destroy any remnant of the Jewish quarter].

“While I prepared the terms of surrender, I saw that Jabari was very afraid. He was sure he would be taken out to be killed. A few weeks later there was already a wedding that took place opposite the Meoras HaMachpela, the wedding of eight soldiers. Jabari asked me at that time for a memento. I gave him the ‘Prayer Before Going Out to War,’ which was prepared before the outbreak of the Six Day War. He asked me to autograph the other side. I wrote, ‘Thus shall all Your enemies perish, O G-d.’

“That same night, I took an Aron Kodesh, a Torah and Jewish ritual items from my office in general headquarters. I wanted to hurry and establish facts on the ground and make sure to preserve the proper order at the Cave through an officer in charge there. All these items were brought into ‘Ohel Avrohom’ by Friday, 30 Iyar. I asked the engineering corps to cover all the carpets.

“Throughout the month in which the engineering corps worked to renovate the Cave, it was closed to Arabs. Then, Moshe Dayan met with Jabari and the Qadi of the Cave and made an agreement with them. I was told about this agreement by Moshe Dayan in the Knesset on the day that we held a celebration for the victory of the Six Day War. ‘It was agreed that we would give them back the Meoras HaMachpela.’ I was thunderstruck. I had gotten written orders from the Defense Minister signed by the Chief of Staff Yitzchak Rabin which said: 1) I was to take down the flag from the Cave that serves as a Moslem mosque. 2) I was to remove the Torah scroll and Aron Kodesh and Jewish items from the Cave. 3) In my position as the one in charge of holy sites under military rule, I was to instruct Jews who entered the Cave to remove their shoes as is done in mosques.

“I could not believe my eyes. I immediately went to Moshe Dayan and spoke to him very sharply. ‘Do you know that you are handing over the second holiest spot in Eretz Yisrael, the Meoras HaMachpela, the place that Avrohom Avinu purchased? The place where Jews prayed in a shul that was in the cave for thousands of years until we were forbidden to do so? The Jewish nation will not forgive you. This is not a mosque! They turned a Jewish place into a mosque and even a church and back to a mosque. It is our right to remain here for we returned to a Jewish place that was robbed from us.’ I said, ‘I won’t argue with you about the flag, Sir Minister, but as far as the other two orders, I will not allow you to remove the Torah or the Aron Kodesh and I will not allow Jews to remove their shoes upon entering the Cave.’

“He had his own ways of handling arguments with all of his generals, and so I spoke for an hour and a half about the Meoras HaMachpela, the historic aspects and its place within Jewish consciousness after the Temple Mount. I thought I had convinced him but on the threshold, he insisted that I carry out his orders. I let him know I would not carry them out, that I was refusing these orders. I left his office in a hurry.

“The next day, toward evening, I got a letter from the Chief of Staff with corrections to the latter two instructions, stating that their implementation would be postponed until new orders came in.

“These days, Arabs are already allowed entry and the Cave went back to the routine in which it functions as a Moslem mosque in every respect. Although we knew that the Defense Minister would take their side and provide them with support, slowly but surely regular times for prayer began to take hold.  Moshe Dayan insisted that on Fridays we could not daven in the Meoras HaMachpela. Other than this iron principle, the division of time was subject to big changes, from one day to the next. If we hadn’t fought in the early days of our return to the place, it is doubtful whether we could daven and go in there today; something that we take for granted.  If we hadn’t fought with outright fury, they would have put us back in the situation of the ‘seventh step.’”

THE MOVING VISIT OF
THE REBBE RAYATZ TO CHEVRON

The conquest of Chevron in the midst of the Six Day War caused great excitement among Chabad Chassidim in Eretz Yisrael and the world, in light of the fact that for many generations Chevron had a Lubavitcher community and mosdos. Many efforts were made by our Rebbeim to settle Chabad Chassidim in Chevron.

But after the War of Independence, Chevron was conquered by Jordan and for the next 19 years, it was under Jordanian rule. Now, it had returned to Jewish hands.

The roots of the Chabad community in Chevron go a long way back to the leadership of the Mitteler Rebbe. In those days, a few Chabad Chassidim from Tzfas settled in Chevron. His daughter, Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel went from Lubavitch to settle in Chevron, followed by her extended family, the Slonims, who lived in Chevron and held key positions in public Jewish life in the city until the horrific massacre of 1929. For many generations, the community flourished and prominent Chabad rabbonim served there, among them Rabbi Shimon Menashe Chaikin and Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda Leib Eliezerov.

The connection between Lubavitch and Chevron deepened with the founding of Yeshivas Toras Emes by the Rebbe Rashab. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Havlin was sent from Lubavitch to serve as menahel and mashpia in the yeshiva, along with a group of tmimim who infused an authentic Lubavitch spirit within the residents of Chevron. The yeshiva survived for a few years until the outbreak of World War I, when the Turks expelled citizens of foreign countries including Russian citizens. The yeshiva did not return to Chevron. After the World War, only a few Lubavitcher Chassidim lived there.

Chabad in Chevron experienced a special peak moment with the visit of the Rebbe Rayatz in 1929.  Those who reported on this historic visit described it thus, “How glorious was the sight that caused hearts to tremble when the Rebbe began walking slowly within the alleyways of Chevron toward the holy spot, escorted by hundreds of residents, while thousands more were already waiting at the Meoras HaMachpela.

“Upon arriving at Meoras HaMachpela, the Rebbe went up to the seventh step – until where the Arabs at the time allowed – where he began davening mincha, the tefilla instituted by Yitzchok Avinu, one of those resting on this very spot.  The Rebbe’s prayer poured forth in a voice saturated with yearning, longing and stormy, like a son pleading before his father, which shook up the thousands who were present. Many of them also broke into bitter tears. This moving prayer lasted an hour and forty minutes! The length was primarily in the first blessing, the Birkas HaAvos, which the Rebbe davened very slowly and with the tune used on the Yomim Noraim.”

“I was standing close to the Rebbe, behind him,” later wrote the Chassid Rabbi Yehoshua Lipkin. “The Rebbe’s Shmone Esrei engraved itself deeply inside me.  The small siddur he held was soaked and dripping with tears; those in the know said that the tefilla was like that of the Yomim Noraim. This event inspired within me a unique inspiration.

“At seven in the evening, news arrived that the local sheik gave the Rebbe permission, on a one-time basis, to enter the Meoras Hamachpela with his son-in-law Rashag, and another person from the city of Chevron, R’ Eliezer Dan Slonim. R’ Slonim was the one who, with concerted effort, attained this permission. ‘It was a great honor for me that they gave this permission,’ wrote the Rebbe.

“In the end, seven additional Jews entered. The program was planned in detail. The Rebbe would enter via the Gate of Yaakov where Jews were forbidden to enter, and exit via the Gate of Avrohom which were the seven famous steps where Jews could stand and pray.

“The Rebbe approached the place, surrounded by his escorts, like a king with his troops. Upon entering the Gate of Yaakov, a large delegation of Arab businessmen in Chevron were waiting, who came in honor of R’ Eliezer Dan Slonim who was the manager of the bank in Chevron, and through him, the Rebbe.  They greeted the Rebbe and his entourage and put special leather shoes on the seven men, which were worn over their regular shoes. Next to each of the headstones there were curtains embroidered with flowers and gold threads. The dignitaries explained their tradition, which of the Avos and Imahos were buried where.”

“The Rebbe walked first, deep in thought, with the escorts behind him,” wrote Shlomo Zalman Klonsky in his diary of the visit. “I was surprised by how he found his way through the twists and turns because it seemed that his eyes were closed and his lips were moving. We escorts followed him, also with very great restrained excitement until we arrived on the other side of the famous turn to the steps leading out via the Gate of Avrohom, with the seventh step from the bottom and onward being on the outside, and the crowd was standing down in the street.

“In the next hours, the Rebbe visited various Jewish sites in the city. He visited Beit Hadassah where, a week later, the place was filled with wounded from the massacre. Then the Rebbe toured his section and courtyard in the city, which was purchased by his holy ancestors, the Rebbeim. The Rebbe then visited the Avrohom Avinu shul and Beit Romano where he checked out every spot and took an interest in various details.”

A few days later is when the pogrom of 1929 occurred. The Arab residents of Chevron butchered the Jews of the city. Among the dead were the shochet Rabbi Moshe Goldschmid, may Hashem avenge his blood, a distinguished Lubavitcher Chassid in the city.

In the next installment, we will, iy”h, explore the Rebbe’s involvement in the returning of the Jewish community to Chevron after the miraculous victory of the Six Day war.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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