Jerzog lighting candles at the Cave of the Patriarchs
Jerzog lighting candles at the Cave of the Patriarchs David Avitan

President Isaac Herzog lit a menorah for the first night of Hannukah on Sunday at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

This is a building erected at the same time as Herod's spectacular Temple in Jerusalem.

That's right.

Herod's Temple was destroyed.

And this structure, which features the same architectural style and building methods as the Temple, stands to this very day.

And yes. It does indeed sit on top of a "double cave" -a "Machpela" - as described in the Bible as the final resting place of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob and other ancestors in the first recorded price gouging in a real estate deal ("what's four hundred shekels of silver between you and me?"
Ephron asked Abraham rhetorically, way above the fair price).

For centuries of Moslem occupation Jews were denied access to this holy site.

But in 1967, when the building finally returned to Jewish control, Israel decided not to follow the Moslem precedent and claim exclusive Jewish access. Instead Jews and Moslems share access, with each group assigned space in the building along with exclusive use of the entire structure for Jews and Moslems on the respective major holidays. [This gets a bit complicated some years since the Moslem calendar is a lunar calendar without a solar adjustment to the Moslem holidays are constantly shifting around the year and sometimes coincide with Jewish holidays].

The Hebron model is proof positive of two important principles:

-Open access to religions with contending claims to a site is only viable if the site is totally under Jewish control.

-That ongoing control can only be assured if it is supported by the presence of a living community adjacent to the site.

Happy Hannukah.

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