April 05, 2006
A History of Hebron (from: Encyclopedia Judaica)
HEBRON (Heb. Chevron; Ar. al-Khalil), city in Erez Israel, 19 mi. (32km.) S. of Jerusalem in the Judean Hills, 3,050 ft.(930m.) above sea level. The name Hebron is explained as deriving from the root hbr (friend), the name *Habiru, or the Arabic word haber ("granary"). In the Bible
, Hebron is also referred to as Kiriath Arba: "Now the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-Arba; this Arba was the greatest among the Anakim..." (Josh. 14:15; see *Anak, Anakim; *Ahiman, Sheshai, Talmai). B. Mazar maintains that the name Kiriath-Arba implies that the city was a member of four arba) neighboring confederated settlements in which the families of *Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre resided around the citadel of Hebron.
Canaanite Hebron was located to the south of modern Hebron, on the strategic hill known as Jebel al-Rumayda, which was also the site of the later Israelite city. Numbers 13:22 states that Hebron was founded seven years before *Zoan, the capital of the Hyksos which was founded in about 1720 B.C.E. (cf. Jos., Wars, 4:530). Artifacts from this period--the middle Bronze Age--were found in a tomb in Wadi al-Tutah; these included pottery, alabaster objects, and personal articles. At this time the name Hebron is connected with the Patriarchs, especially the purchase of the Cave of *Machpelah
by Abraham from *Ephron the Hittite. Hebron, however, remained a Canaanite city; it was one of the important localities visited by the 12 spies (Num. 13:22). Hoham, the king of Hebron (Josh. 10:3), participated in the Battle of Aijalon against Joshua and was defeated there together with the other kings of Canaan. His city was conquered by Caleb son of Jephunneh (Josh. 15:13; Judg. 1: 20).
After the death of Saul, David chose Hebron as his royal city
and was anointed there as king over Judah (11 Sam. 2:1-4). In addition, Abner was buried there (3:32)--his traditional tomb is still standing. The assassins of *IshBosheth, the son of Saul, brought Ish-Bosheth's head to David in Hebron, and he ordered that they be hanged next to the pool in the town (4:1 2). Eventually David was anointed king over all Israel in Hebron (5:1-3). The city was also one of the *levitical cities and a *city of refuge (Josh. 21: 13; I Chron. 6:42); it was an important administrative center and this was the reason why Rehoboam fortified it (ll Chron. 11:10). In the division of Judah into districts during the Monarchy (cf. Josh. 15: 54) Hebron was a city of the mountain district.
Post-Biblical Period. After the destruction of the First Temple the Jewish inhabitants of Hebron were exiled and their place was taken by Edomites, whose border extended to Beth-Zur. According to Nehemiah 11: 25, however, there were still some Jewish families living in the town; nevertheless, the Jews of Hebron did not participate in the construction of the walls of Jerusalem.
In 1 Maccabees 5:65 it is stated that Edomite Hebron was attacked by Judah Maccabee and its towers set on fire; the incorporation of the town into Judah, however, only took place after the conquest of Idumea by John Hyrcanus at the end of the second century B.C.E. With the conversion of the Idumeans, Hebron again became a Jewish city. King Herod built the wall which still surrounds the Cave of Machpelah. During the first war against the Romans. Hebron was conquered by Simeon Bar Giora, the leader of the Zealots (Jos., Wars, 4: 529), and the city was plundered: it was later burned down by the Roman commander Cerealius (Jos., Wars, 4:554), but the Jews continued to live there. It appears that the population did not suffer during the Bar Kochba revolt. There are remains in the city of a synagogue from the Byzantine period. It was during this period that a church was erected over the Cave of Machpelah: the "very large village" of Hebron then formed part (together with the Botna fortress to the north) of the fortified southern border of the country. [M.A.-Y.] Arab Conquest. It appears that Hebron fell to the Arabs without offering resistance. The Arabs, who honored the memory of Abraham, named the city Khahl al-Rahman ("the beloved [i.e., Abraham] of [God] the Merciful"), or simply al-Khalil; however, the name Habra or Habran is also found in Arabic sources. The first period of Arab conquest (638-1100) was a relief for the Jews of Hebron, as for the other Jews of Palestine, after the cruel Byzantine rule. There is, however, not much evidence about this period, but as more evidence is uncovered it becomes increasingly more probable that there was a permanent settlement in Hebron at that time. The testimony of historians from an earlier period and documents discovered in the course of time in the Genizah give a fairly clear picture of the continuity of the Jewish settlement in Hebron. The first evidence is provided by the story which appears in several versions in both Muslim and Christian sources, which tells of the permission *Omar gave to the Jews to build a synagogue near the cave of Machpelah, as well as a cemetery. The popularity of this story indicates that it has a nucleus of historical truth at least. The Arabs converted the Byzantine church over the cave into a mosque. Under their rule the town grew, and the Arabs traded with the bedouins in the Negev and the people to the east of the Dead Sea. According to the tenth-century Arab geographer, Al-Muqaddasi, they also conducted a far reaching trade in fresh fruit. There is no real evidence about the nature and situation of the Jewish settlement in Hebron in the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries.
However, there is evidence of the existence of a Karaite community there at the beginning of the 11th century (1001), and tangible evidence from later in that century about continuing Jewish settle ment. From inscriptions and fragments of documents from the Genizah it is possible to formulate a genealogical reconstruction for four to six generations of two Hebron families, from which it can be seen that the Jewish population was concentrated around the cave of Machpelah and that the synagogue was built near the cave. One of these two families held the inherited title he-haver le-kivrei avot, or anshei kivrei avot, and was in charge of maintaining the holy place. This even included the burying of the dead brought by Jews from near and far for burial close to the cave of Machpelah.
Crusader Rule. The crusader rule (1100-1260) brought a temporary end to the Jewish settlement in Hebron. In 1100 the Crusaders captured the city, turned the mosque and the adjoining synagogue into a church and monastery, and expelled the Jews. There was probably no Jewish settlement in Hebron after that time--at any rate, there is no mention of the existence of Jews in Hebron. Maimonides, who visited Hebron (1166), as well as Benjamin of Tudela (c. 1171), Pethahiah of Regensburg (1176), and Jacob b. Nethanel (second half of 12th century) make no mention of a Jewish settlement or of the existence of Jews in Hebron. It is possible that Jews began to settle again in Hebron toward the end of the period of crusader rule, and by the beginning of the 13th century (1210) mention is made of a Jewish dyer "and his group" in Hebron (cf. A. Yaari, Iggerot Erez Yisrael (1943), 7 83).
Mamluk Rule. The Mamluks (1260-1517), who expelled the Crusaders finally from Palestine, made Hebron their district capital (c. 1260), at which time the Jewish settlement apparently began to be perceptibly renewed. Nahmanides, who immigrated to Palestine in 1267, wrote to his son that he could 'go to Hebron to dig a grave for himself there" (Yaari, op. cit., 84). Such an action would have been unthinkable had there not been a Jewish settlement in Hebron.
It appears that the tolerant Muslim attitude toward the Jews which had existed in pre-Crusader times did not continue with the return of the Muslims to Palestine. In 1266 it was decreed that the Jews were not to enter the Cave of Machpelah, and this decree was strictly enforced until the 20th century. A Christian traveler who visited Hebron in the first half of the 14th century reported that "Christian and Jewish people are regarded by them [by the Muslims] as dogs, and they do not allow them to enter such a holy place" (cf. M. Ish-Shalom, Masei Nozerim le-Erez Yisrael (1965), 230). The prohibition is mentioned by both Meshullam of Volterra (1481) and Obadiah of Bertinoro (1488), who visited Hebron. They both recount that the Muslims "built a wall at the entrance of the cave, in which they made a small window through which the Jews pray." The number of the Jewswas also small at that time--20 households according to Meshullam and Obadiah of Bertinoro (A. Yaari, Masol Erez Yisrael, (1946) 68 69).
Nevertheless, although the Jewish settlement in Hebron was small, it was considered as very important by the Jews. This is seen in evidence found in both Christian and Jewish sources. At the end of the 15th century Christian pilgrims report about a Jewish pilgrimage to Hebron: "the Jews recognize them [the graves of the Patriarchs] and hold them in great esteem . . . and make pilgrimage there [to Hebron] from Jerusalem and even from other countries..." (the traveler Martin Kabatnik (1492), in M. Ish-Shalom, op. cit., 242). Obadiah of Bertinoro wrote in one of his letters that "there is a tradition among all the people of the land that burial in Hebron is better than in Jerusalem" (Yaari, ibid.)
The first evidence about spiritual and economic activity by the Jews of Hebron during the Mamluk period appears in the 14th century, but this is fragmentary, is derived from a single source, and is doubtful. R. Isaac Hilo from Larissa (Greece) reported in 1333 that the Jews were engaged in a prosperous trade in cotton, which they themselves wove and spun, and that they were also engaged in all types of glasswork. Some scholars maintain that the Venetian Jews who emigrated to Palestine after the Crusades introduced the art of glasswork to Hebron, but this is not certain (O. Avisar (ed.), Sefer Hevron, (1970), 89). R. Isaac Hilo of Larissa also reported about the spiritual activity of the Jews of Hebron, mentioning "an ancient synagogue [in Hebron] in which they prayed day and night." Some scholars doubt, however, whether this description stems from contemporary testimony or from hearsay
Ottoman Rule. A definite turn for the better in the situation of the Jews of Hebron occurred during the Ottoman period (1517-1917), which began in Palestine in 1517 . However, the Jews of Hebron did suffer misfortune and in this very year a great calamity befell the Jewish population of the town. In a parchment document, written at approximately the time of the event (1518), a man named Japheth b. Manasseh from Corfu tells about the attack by "Murad Bey, the deputy of the king and ruler in Jerusalem," on the Jews of Hebron. The results were very grave: many were killed, their property was plundered, and the remainder fled for their lives to "the land of Beirut." This same document also attests the stable situation of the Hebron community at that time. The very fact that the sultan's deputy took the trouble to have his armies plunder and loot Hebron in the hope of gaining wealth proves that the Jews of Hebron had considerable property. Furthermore, from the words in the same document "and they killed many people," it may be deduced that many Jews were there. The growth of the Jewish population of Hebron at the beginning of the 16th century is explained by the fact that some of those Jews who were expelled from Spain went to Hebron, probably contributing by their strength and wealth to the spiritual and material enrichment of the especially in the realm of spiritual leadership. This stems from the emergence of two phenomena of note in the second half of the 16th century: the rising power of the Hebron settlement, on the one hand, and the decline of Safed as a spiritual and economic center, on the other. The consolidation of the Hebron settlement took place in 1540 when Malkiel *Ashkenazi settled in the town. This multifaceted personality, who combined spiritual and practical greatness, organized communal life in Hebron both practically and spiritually. Ashkenazi's first act was to buy the courtyard in which the Jews of Hebron lived.
This courtyard, which was surrounded by the stone walls of tall buildings, provided the Jewish community of Hebron with a degree of security. Ashkenazi built some additional buildings in the same location as the well-known synagogue, which was named for Abraham the Patriarch
. He also served as Hebron's first rabbi, and his legal decisions and customs were regarded by the Hebron community as irrevocable halakhot not only in his time but in subsequent genera tions as well. Toward the end of the 16th and at the beginning of the 17th centuries some of the most important kabbalists of Safed moved to Hebron. The most famous among these was Elijah de *Vidas, author of the well known moralistic work Reshit Hokhmah and a student of Moses Cordovero and Isaac Luria, as well as Isaac Archa and Menahem b. Moses ha-Bavli, also disciples of Luria.
The teachings of the Kabbalah and mysticism made a deep impres- sion on the spiritual life of Hebron, and a spirit of asceticism was widespread. Isaiah Horowitz tells about the custom in Hebron of castigation and flagellation (Ammud ha-Teshuvah, a commentary on the tractate Yoma), which is an eyewitness description of castigations and a process of atonement which includes lashing, wearing sackcloth, being dragged, and the symbolic performance of the four judicial executions. Kabbalah and asceticism were prevalent in Hebron for approximately 300 years, until the settlement of the *Habad Hasidim in the 19th century. Thus, the settlement in Hebron grew and became stabilized, although not from an economic aspect. The great majority of the population was economically dependent on continuous outside assistance, in the form of donations and contributions from abroad.
The money came in two ways: donations which were sent directly to Palestine from abroad and contributions which were collected by emissaries who went abroad specifically for this purpose. Until the middle of the 17th century Hebron did not have its own emissaries; since the community was small and poor, it could not afford the large investment required for sending such an emissary abroad. Hebron was thus dependent on chance contributions from the Diaspora and on the general *halukkah among the four holy cities (Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed, and Tiberias), from which Hebron received the smallest share (three parts out of 24). In the 16th century the charitable organiza tion known as Yahaz was established. This was a kind of united fund whose name was a combination of the first letters of Jerusalem, Hebron, and Safed. It seems, however, that all these attempts did not greatly alleviate F Hebron's difficult economic situation. This can be seen in "Kol Kore" (1616), which proclaimed to the Diaspora the difficult situation of Hebron's Jews. A central factor in their troubles was the huge debt owed by the community to the ruling authorities as a result of various decrees. Characteristic of the situation is the legend which tells about a tyrannical governor who forced the community to pay him thousands of grushim (coins whose value was equivalent to the German thaler) by threatening to burn half of the town and sell the other half into slavery (A. M. Luncz, in O. Avisar (ed.), Sefer h'evron, 306).
Nevertheless, in spite of the heavy tribulations, which included a plague, locusts, and harsh decrees by the authorities during the 17th century, the Jews of Hebron did not surrender their desire for spiritual survival. In the I middle of the 17th century (1659) the famous philanthropist from Amsterdam, R. Abraham Pereira, established the yeshivah Hesed le-Avraham in Hebron. Distinguished rabbis and hakhamim lived in Hebron at that time. The yeshivah Hesed le-Avraham was a primary factor in the creation of this spiritual prominence of Hebron.
A difficult crisis befell the spiritual leadership of the town in the second half of the 17th century, after the visit of Shabbetai Zevi in 1663 on his way to Egypt. His visit made a great impression on the community. His disciples related that the people of Hebron stayed awake the entire night in order to see his wondrous deeds. He gained the adulation of the most important rabbis of Hebron, some of whom, as well as their descendants, maintained their faith in him even after his conversion. People like the kabbalist Abraham Conki and the emissary Meir ha-Rofe, and especially Nehemiah Hayon, devotedthemselves to Shabbateanism.
The Shabbatean crisis had a very adverse effect on Hebron and led to both its spiritual and economic decline. There was no improvement during the 18th century, which was marked by disease, decrees of expulsion, a blood libel, and upheavals during the rebellion of Ali Bey and the Russo-Turkish War. Despite these troubles, there was a certain increase in population as a result of the breakdown of the
Jewish settlement of Jerusalem in 1721 and the immigration of Abraham Gershon of Kutow (Kuty), the brother-in-law of Israel Baal Shem Tov. Abraham Gershon relates that in the single Jewish courtyard there was so little room that they could not even let him bring his family.
In the beginning of the 19th century the Hebron settlement gained some relief. In 1807 and 1811 the Jews bought and leased over 800 dunams of land. Nor was there stagnation in the spiritual life. First and foremost among the chkhamim of Hebron in the second half of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries was Hayyim Joseph David *Azulai (called Hida). Mention should also be made of R. Mordecai *Rubio, the rabbi of Hebron and rosh yeshivah of Hesed le-Avraham, and Raphael Hazzan, author of halakhic works. There was a distinct improvement from a financial point of view as well, notwithstanding the robbery and oppression perpetrated by the authorities. Financial help came from several sources. The philanthropist Simon Wertheimer established a large fund which regularly supported the poor of Jerusalem, Hebron, and Safed. In 1814 Hayyim Baruch of Ostrava was appointed as the emissary of Hebron and he succeeded in organizing a network of funds which regularly provided Hebron with considerable amounts (O. Avisar op. cit., 131, 219). Sir Moses Montefiore, who visited Hebron in 1839 and was impressed with its beauty, also made generous contributions to the town. There is even evidence of independent economic progress made by the Jews of Hebron toward the second half of the 19th century. There were Jews who dealt in wine (1838), crafts, and trade (1876 and after).
The most significant development in the history of the Hebron settlement in the 19th century, however, was brought about by Habad Hasidim. The community was headed by R. Simon Menahem Haikin who moved from Safed in 1840. Internal life was well organized, an agreement was signed between the Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities (in 1830 and 1842), and a close relationship was maintained between them. In the middle of the 19th century Elijah *Mani founded several public institutions, including the bet ha-midrash Bet Yaakov, and reorganized the Sephardi *kolel in Hebron, freeing it from the administration of the Sephardi kolel of Jerusalem. He also revolutionized communal life by instituting a takkanah which stated that the kolel could subsidize only those actually engaged in studying the Torah. This step encour- aged many of the inhabitants to begin to work, thus leading to a greater productivity in Hebron's economic life. There was even a hospital in Hebron by 1895, and the Jewish population reached 1,500 bythe late 19th century.
An important contribution to Hebron's spiritual life was made by Hayyim Hezekiah *Medini, who founded a yeshivah for young people in Hebron.
Four years previously (1900) R. Shalom Baer of Lubavich had established the yeshivah Torat Emet. Together with the religious education system, which reached the height of its development at the beginning of the 20th century, there was a parallel development in secular education, and in 1907 the German Hilfsverein set up the first school that included secular studies in its curriculum. Nevertheless, due to limited economic possibilities the Jewish population fell to 700 by 1910.
World War I and British Rule (1917-1948). The flourishing period of the Jewish settlement in Hebron came to an end in 1914, with the outbreak of World War 1. The young men were conscripted into the Turkish army, the channels of financial assistance were blocked, hunger and plagues created havoc among the populace, and the ghetto of Hebron was almost entirely emptied of its inhabitants after the closing of the kolelim in the town--except for the Sephardi kolel. The Hebron settlement underwent a grave depression. In 1918, however, when Hebron was captured by the British and World War I ended, the Jewish settlement began to recover. The education department of the Zionist organization established schools for boys and girls, as well as a kindergarten. The number of inhabitants was smaller than before the war (430 out of a total population of 16,000 in 1922) but their economic situation was stable. The spiritual situation, on the other hand, was poor--the yeshivot were impoverished and there were only 17 students. In 1925 the *Slobodka Yeshivah from Lithuania was established under the leadership of Rabbi M. M. Epstein, and the Jewish population rose to 700 in 1929 (out of a population of 18,000).
The year 1929
dealt a heavy blow to the Jewish settlement with the killing of many of Hebron's Jews by Arab rioters. The assault was well planned and its aim was well defined: the elimination of the Jewish settlement of Hebron. The rioters did not spare women, children, or the aged; the British remained passive. Sixty-seven were killed, 60 wounded, the community was destroyed, synagogues razed, and Torah scrolls burned. However, those who remained did not surrender and 35 families went to resettle in 1931. The community slowly began to rebuild itself, but everything was again destroyed in the upheavals of 1936. On the night of April 23, 1936, the British authorities evacuated the Jewish inhabitants of Hebron. The Jewish settlement of Hebron thus ended and only one inhabitant remained there until 1947.
According to the 1967 census, conducted by Israel, Hebron had 38,309 inhabitants, all of whom (excepting 106 Christians) were Muslim. Hebron has a smaller percentage of Palestinian Arab refugees than most other places of the West Bank.
Throughout most of its history Hebron's economy has been characterized by its position on the border of two regions--the farming area and the desert Therefore, it has served as a market place for the exchange of goods between the peasants and the bedouin shepherds. Even in the 1970s its economy was based principally on retail trade and on handicrafts such as pottery, glass blowing, and leather tanning. Hebron's built-up area, which expanded after 1948, extends mainly northward along the road leading to Bethlehem and Jerusalem and approaches the village of *Halhul.
Bibliography: O. Avisar (ed.), Sefer Hevron (1970); I.S. Horowitz, Erez-Yisrael u-Shekhenoteha (1923), 248-63: Z. Vilnay, Mazzevot ha-Kodesh be-Eretz-Yisrael (1963), 71-98; A. M. Luncz (ed.), Yerushalayim, 10 (1914), 304-10; I. Kaplan, Ir ha-Avot (1924); Ha-Va'ad le-Vinyan Hevron, Tazkirla-Congress ha-Ziyyoni... (1931); Y. E. Levanon, Yalkut Hevron (1937); M. Mani, Hevron ve-Gibboreha (1963); J. Braslavsky, in: Eretz Israel, 5 (1958), 221-3; idem, in: YMHEY, 10 (1943), 66 70; idem, Le-Heker Arzenu (1954), index; B. Z. Dinaburg, in: Zion (Me'assef), 2 (1927), 54-55; J. Pinkerfeld, in: YMHEY, 6 (1939), 61-65; A. Y. Shahrai, Hevron (1930); Sefer ha-Yishuv, I (1939), 40-42; 2 (1944), 6-9; S. Assaf, Mekorot u-Mehkarim be-~oledot Yisrael (1946), 43-49; A. Yaari, Masot Erez Yisrael (1945), index; idem, Iggerot Erez Israel, index; idem, Sheluhei, index; idem, in: Yerushalayim: Mehkerei Erez Yisrael, 4 (1953), 185-202; idem, in: Mahanayim, no. 72 (1962), 84-96; N. H. Torczyner, in: E. L. Sukenik and 1. Press (eds.), Yerushalayim: . . . Le-Zekher Avraham Moshe Luncz (1928), 109-10; M. Ish-Shalom, Masei Nozerim le-Erez Yisrael (1965), index; Press, Erez, 2 (1948), 244 6; M. Benayahu, in: Sura, 2 (1955-56), 219-23; N. Fried, in; Sinai, 53 (1963), 108-111; Prawer, Zalbanim, 2 (1963), index; M. D. Gaon, Yehudei ha-Mizrah be-Erez Yisrael, I (1928), 177-94; 1. Ben Zvi, She'ar Yashuv (1966), index; idem, Erez-Yisrael ve-Yishuvah... (1967), index; idem, in: YMHEY, 5 (1937), 119-23; B. Meisler, in: Sefer Dinaburg ( 1949), 310-25; L H . Vincent, E. J . H . Mackay and F. M. Abel, Hebron. Le Haram el-Khalll (1923); Abel, Geog, 2 (1938), 345-7; G. L. Strange, Palestine under the Moslems (1890), 309ff.