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Hebron and The Struggle for the Holy Land

Hebron and The Struggle for the Holy Land

Why are the three places in Israel that the Torah records as legal property of the Jewish people in dispute?


The city of Hebron is very prominent in our world and in the daily news reports. The news from Hebron is not always encouraging. It is a tough place, this Hebron of ours. A tough place to live and a tough place to leave.

In the Torah we read of the purchase of the Cave of Machpela by our father Abraham. This purchase was supposed to eternally establish that holy place as being the property of the people of Israel. But it hasn't worked out that way. Over the long centuries, Ishmael and his descendants and Esau and his descendants have successfully contested Israel for these premises innumerable times. For over a millennium Jews were not allowed to enter the building, which supposedly rests on the top of that burial cave. The right of Jews to live in Hebron is and has always been contested far more bitterly than even the right of Jews to live in Jerusalem.

Why? What is the secret of Hebron that makes it so dangerous and so contested a place for Jewish settlement and security? The Talmud mentions that there are three locations in the Land of Israel, which are indisputably the legal property of the Jewish people. They are the Cave of Machpela in Hebron, the field outside Shechem/Nablus in Samaria, and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. All three locations were purchased by the leaders of Israel -- Abraham, Jacob, David -- for good and valuable consideration and for full, if not more than full, market value.

The purchases and the details of those purchases are all recorded in the Bible. Yet, over our long history, even till this very moment, our title to all three locations is in dispute. The insight into this paradoxical situation may be that the very reason these properties are contested -- because our claim to them is based on man-made law, contracts and deeds -- and not on Divine promise.

All contracts, even all purchases in this world of ours, are always subject to review, revision and cancellation. Governments rise and fall, circumstances and situations change, the definition of "rights" is altered by fiat or common consent. In short, nothing ever remains the same. Nothing in the world created by man is permanent. Therefore, the general world, and certainly the Arab world, contests our claim of ownership to these parcels of land in Israel. Our deed is outdated and no longer valid, they say. We abandoned our claim long ago by not being present on those properties for long centuries.

The claim of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel is not based on contracts and deeds. It is based upon the Godly promise to our ancestors.

The Indian tribes in America also had signed and legal government deeds to large sections of the United States, but when the circumstances "changed," the deeds were abrogated, and the Indian tribes' claim to the land was disallowed. Claims to land are not very secure if they are based only upon legalities, purchases and contracts.

The entire thrust of the book of Genesis is that the world, its lands and properties belong not to man but to the Creator. The claim of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel is not based on contracts and deeds. Indeed, it is not based even on Balfour Declarations and United Nations' resolutions. It is based upon the Godly promise to our ancestors that the Land of Israel belongs, by right of Godly fiat, to their descendants.

Those Jews, who, for various personal and faith reasons, deny this Godly promise, are very hard pressed to justify the existence of the state of Israel and the Jewish claim to Jerusalem.

Without this justification of belief and Jewish tradition, the claim of the nations of the world that "you are thieves" sounds plausible and correct. The faith of Israel is based upon the revelation and will of our eternal Creator. We certainly have to do our part, for God certainly helps those who help themselves.

But, in the final analysis, it is obvious that we derive our rights and claims not merely from current behavior, but rather from rights based upon ancient faith and religious tenets and beliefs. As Rabbi Saadya Gaon stated: "Our nationhood is based solely on the Torah." Hebron and the Cave of Machpela prove how right he is.

November 23, 2002

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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) Olga Campillo, November 30, 2002 12:00 AM

Holy Hebron Great Courage

I visited Hebron this late Sept and brought back to Miami the courage and wisdom of that community specially walking through town with David Wilder and Christians Friends of Israel Solidarity Tour. It has changed my life, my priorities, increased my admiration for all in Yisrael but specifically for the courage of Hebron residents to fight for what G-d chosen Holy land. I will continue praying for you You are an inspiration. Olga

(5) Pierre, November 29, 2002 12:00 AM

Support for the historical and Divine right of the Jews.

It has long been my contention that truth and right on earth depends in what era you happen to live. What is right and true now might change in a few years time, and the worldwide media may decide to espouse another "cause", which appear popular to them at that time. Thank you Rabbi for reminding us that secular whims and follies do not ultimately rule earth, and that the Bible presents the only lasting truth, ethics and morality.

(4) Mikhail, November 25, 2002 12:00 AM

excellent article

Bravo to Rabbi Wein for another inspiring and strengthening testament of the eternal Jewish right to be in Eretz Yisrael.

(3) Anonymous, November 25, 2002 12:00 AM

Our claim to Israel is valid even without God's promise.

We are not thieves, but have every legal and moral right to the land.
The fact that God promised Israel to the Jews only makes our claim stronger;it does not, however invalidate our other legal arguments for ownership of the land.

(2) Vanauken, November 25, 2002 12:00 AM


Even though all Europeans and Arabs get their religion from us I don't think many of them consider the torah or the divine right of the Jews as legitimate. It would be more helpful if you also includes reasons that do not solely require faith in Jewish religion. We need facts that will convince gentiles not Jews, since few rational Jews would argue with you.

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