New Torah Ark Dedicated at Hebron´s Tomb of the Patriarchs

A Torah Ark was installed this week in the holy city of Hevron (Hebron) at the Cave of the Patriarchs, the ancient monument housing the graves of the Jewish Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

Alex Traiman, | updated: 16:27

The Ark strengthens the Jewish presence at the holy site called Me'arat HaMachpela, a double cave which the Torah (Genesis 23) records Abraham purchased from the Hittites for 400 silver shekels to use as a burial cave for his wife Sarah.

Donated by New York financier and philanthropist Ira Rennert, the new Holy Ark was designed by Avraham Avargel - the same architect who constructed the large Ark at the Western Wall plaza.

Standing more than four meters tall and three meters wide, the Ark will house handwritten Torah scrolls read on Monday, Thursday, Sabbath and holiday services.

The ark, featuring an etched wooden facade flanked by stone, stands in the large open courtyard that connects the smaller Jewish prayer rooms, each built in memory of one of the holy couples Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah. (Rachel's Tomb is located in Bethlehem, between Jerusalem and Hebron.)

The addition of the Ark is one of a series of uniquely Jewish improvements made to the site in recent years. Worshippers have noticed the additions of numerous prayer and study books and libraries, as well as several framed wall pieces with prayers for recitation at the site.

This coming summer, a roof will be constructed over the courtyard where Jewish worshippers come to pray, rain or shine.

Hevron spokesman David Wilder believes it is important to beautify the site, which is one of the holiest in Jewish history.

“Every day when we pray to the G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Isaac, and the G-d of Jacob, " he said, "we have to understand that this is where these people have been for almost 4,000 years."

The monumental Cave of the Patriarchs complex was built over the caves 2,000 years ago by Herod the Great, then King of Judea. Since then, both Christians and Muslims have added onto the structure, at many points claiming the site belonged to them.

Arabs kept Jews from entering the holy site for 700 years between 1267 and 1967, when the IDF liberated Hevron together with the rest of Judea and Samaria during the Six Day War.

Today both Jewish and Muslim worshippers pray regularly at the site, entering through separate gates, and praying in separate areas. Except for special days, neither Jews nor Arabs are allowed full access to the entire site.

Muslims pray in the large room memorializing the Jewish forefather Isaac. The room bears the only entrances to the actual burial caves, and can house more than 1,000 worshippers. Jews are relegated to an outdoor courtyard, and the much smaller adjacent rooms.

Relations between Jews and Muslims at the site remain tense.

“They continue to claim that the site belongs to them,” said Wilder. “If they controlled the site they would again declare it off limits."

“One of the ways to maintain our possession of the site," he said, "and to show how important it is to us, is to bring such beautiful objects of sanctity into the building such as this beautiful aron kodesh (Holy Ark). Originally, when we came back to the site in 1967, we weren’t allowed to bring in anything that showed any permanence. Everything had to be movable because the Arabs claimed that it didn’t belong to us, it belonged to them, and they wanted to expel us at any given moment."

“By bringing in such beautiful works of art, such holy objects, we show both the Jewish people and people around the world that this is the second holiest site in the world for the Jewish people and we have no intentions of [leaving it].”

Wilder and the Hebron community are grateful that members of the Jewish community worldwide are aiding in the efforts to help build-up Jewish presence at the holy site.

“I think that it is very noteworthy that people from all over the world have taken part in trying to beautify such a site because Me'arat HaMachpela doesn’t belong to me any more than it belongs to any other Jew in the world,” Wilder says.

“It belongs to all the Jewish people from throughout all of the generations in the past to the present and in the future, and I am very happy that people around the world take such interest and want to partake in honoring such an important and significant site.”



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