Over 2,500 people – civilians, soldiers, religious, and secular – visited the Tomb of Joseph (Kever Yosef) in Shechem Wednesday night. The visit was undertaken in advance of the beginning of the month of Kislev on Sunday, and is part of a growing movement by Jewish Israelis to visit the site in the face of violence and intimidation by local Muslim extremists.
Visitors included several top Hassidic leaders and their followers. Among the visitors were the Tolna Rebbe, the Rebbe of Lelov, and the Chief Rabbi of Barcelona. Accompanying them were Gershon Mesika, head of the Samaria Regional Council, and the head of the IDF's Judea and Samaria Brigade, Tamir Yad'i. Security was provided by a contingent of IDF troops. The visit was coordinated by the Samaria Regional Council and Shechem Echad (One Shechem) organization.
Visitors prayed, read psalms, and heard inspiring talks from the visiting rabbis. Prior to the visit, the Tolna Rebbe, accompanied by dozens of followers, visited with Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, rabbi of Elon Moreh, at the yeshiva there, and presented a Torah lecture to over 150 of the yeshiva's students.
The Rebbe of Lelov met with Mesika and his deputy, Yossi Dagan, at the home of Rabbi Dudkevich of Yitzhar, discussing Torah subjects and Jewish settlement in Samaria.
Commenting on the event, Mesika said that “the many Jews who came to Kever Yosef tonight can be said to be 'voting with their feet,' saying that they want Israel to regain control of this site. Even the horrible Oslo Accords say that this site should be under Israeli control. It is time to enact this agreement,” he said.
As Mesika mentioned, the Oslo Accords, while assigning Shechem to the Palestinian Authority, placed the Tomb of Yosef under full Israeli security and civilian control. However, IDF troops have generally banned Israelis from visiting the site, allowing Jews to pray there only occasionally, out of fear that Arabs will riot – a situation that has occurred several times.
In 2000, Rabbi Hillel Lieberman of Elon Moreh was murdered by Arabs as he approached the Tomb. He was one of the founders and administrators of the "Od Yosef Chai" Yeshiva at Joseph's Tomb, and gave daily Torah lessons to the students at the shrine.