Thought of the Week: 24 November 2016

Written by Writings & Sermons by others — 24 November 2016

As this week’s Torah portion Chayye Sarah begins (Genesis Chapter 23) Abraham is in a horrendous situation.  His wife Sarah has just died near the town of Hebron and, as a nomadic refugee, Abraham has nowhere to bury her securely.  The portion opens with him negotiating to buy a cave burial plot from a man called Ephron.   The people of the town have generously offered to give him a burial place, it is clearly a town where refugees are welcome, but Abraham feels that he needs the security of a burial place that is permanently owned by his family.  The place he wants seems to be a particularly desirable plot, you could say it is the Hoop Lane Cemetery of Hebron, so it costs him dear but Abraham is clearly satisfied with the outcome of the negotiation as the plot passes into his ownership and he is able to bury Sarah with dignity.

According to the Midrash Bereshit Rabbah (58:4) it became a family burial place –  Adam and Eve (reinterred), Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca and Jacob and Leah were buried there and the Midrash tells us that Kiryat Arbah (the town of four and the alternative name for Hebron, now used for the Jewish settlement nearby) was named for these four pairs.

In the early centuries of the Common Era the cave was covered by a Byzantine church which was replaced by a Mosque around the ninth century. Tragically this mosque, with its legendary cave containing the remains of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs,  was the site of Benjamin Goldstein’s obscene massacre of Moslem worshippers in February 1994.

This place has now become one of the most difficult in the whole of Israel and West Bank.   The question of who controls Hebron and what it has turned into is perhaps the most extreme example of the issues which divide Israelis and Palestinians.    The closed down streets, the tension of the atmosphere, the sporadic violence all tell a story of how difficult it will be to resolve the situation into a positive and liveable future.

Hebron therefore is one of the places we will visit on Alyth’s 2017 Israel trip, with the help of Yachad who have taken many groups to the city to meet with Palestinians and settlers and hear their understandings of what is happening.  Come and join Rabbi Josh and me for this special experience which will help you to be able to form your own opinions with personal experience.  Click on the special box within this weekly e-mail to find out more.