Taking Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs

Rabbi Shlomo Goren: Torah Sage and General

Rabbi Shlomo Goren: Torah Sage and General

from Rabbi Shlomo Goren: Torah Sage and General by Shalom Freedman

The war did not end for Rabbi Goren with the taking of Jerusalem. There were other holy places, including the Tomb of Rachel outside Bethlehem, and the Machpelah Cave, the Cave of the Patriarchs, in Hebron. Rabbi Goren was also to play key roles in the liberation of these two holy sites.

After the survey and meeting with Colonel Gur on the Temple Mount, Rabbi Goren left the Old City area. He set out in the direction of Bethlehem and Hebron only to find traffic stopped near the Talpiyot area, as there were suspected minefields ahead. He also encountered there a large force of soldiers, and was told it would be a great deal of time before the road opened. So he returned to headquarters. After a few hours, he returned to Talpiyot. The road was now open, but clogged with vehicles.

Characteristically eager, and wishing to arrive at the holy sites first, Rabbi Goren had his driver turn on the siren, and they began going around the vehicles. At around 11:30 p.m. Rabbi Goren arrived at the Tomb of Rachel at the outskirts of Bethlehem. Rabbi Goren, Rabbi Menachem HaCohen, and the driver, Aryeh Shalom, were the first to enter the tomb. They did so only after breaking down one large door, and having the key to the internal door thrown to them by the Arab custodian. After praying, Rabbi Goren cried out the Biblical verse, “Our mother Rachel, your children have returned to their borders.”

From there, Rabbi Goren continued to Gush Etzion. He met there with the commander of the forces of the Jerusalem Brigade, and told him that he wished to speak to the soldiers before they made their scheduled move at 3:30 a.m. toward Hebron. The commander agreed to let Rabbi Goren address the soldiers. Rabbi Goren was placed up on a tank, and said, “I want to tell you what you are about to liberate today, and the kind of enemy you are going against. You are about to liberate the city that is second in its degree of holiness, the city of the Fathers, the city of the kingdom of David. And you are going to do battle against the worst murderers in this land, those who in cold blood killed 162 soldiers after those soldiers had raised a white flag and surrendered. You should know this. In the name of the Lord, go forth and triumph.” (This is a translation of the text given in the Israeli Army Encylopedia from which this account is largely drawn.) Rabbi Goren then said the prayer before going out to battle with the soldiers.

He then set out in the direction of Hebron. He ordered his driver to travel at great speed, and to go around any traffic in front of them. So they passed the bulk of the brigade’s force. They went around the tanks, and then around the jeeps of the Sayeret. Menachem HaCohen cautioned at this point, that they were out alone ahead of everyone else, but this did not deter Rabbi Goren. He suspected that others had gotten to Hebron first.

At 6 a.m., they arrived in Hebron. The citizens of the city were all closed in their houses, in great fear of retaliation. There were white flags everywhere. Rabbi Goren had a few shots fired in the air in order to announce to the city that the Israeli forces had arrived. A youngster raced toward the jeep. Rabbi Goren had him direct them toward the Cave of the Patriarchs.

The doors were locked, and only after the arrival of heavy army equipment were the gates opened. After entering, Rabbi Goren and his people prayed Shacharit. Rabbi Goren then blew the shofar. Rabbi Goren found two Arabs, one with a whole string of keys. Rabbi Goren appointed him to be a guard over the site, and ordered that no one should be allowed to enter the cave without the accompaniment of officers.

After this, two Arabs arrived and said that the mayor of the city wished to surrender. Rabbi Goren said an act of surrender is not done at a holy place, and said he and his men would go to the city hall for the surrender ceremony. The soldiers wanted to put the flag up on the city hall, but Rabbi Goren said the Cave of the Patriarchs is more important, and had it put up there.

Rabbi Goren then went to the city hall, where the Israeli commander of the operation, Zvika Opher, received the surrender from Mayor Jaabri in unconditional terms, as Rabbi Goren had insisted upon.

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