The Cave of the Patriarchs or the Cave of Machpelah (Hebrew: מערת המכפלה, Me’arat HaMachpela, Ma’arat HaMachpela Trans. “Cave of the Double Tombs”; Arabic: المغارة Al Magharah, “the Cave” ) is a series of subterranean caves located in a complex called by Muslims the Sanctuary of Abraham or Ibrahimi Mosque (Arabic: الحرم الإبراهيمي, Al-Haram Al-Ibrahimi ). The name is either a reference to the layout of the burial chamber, or alternatively refers to the biblical couples, i.e.: cave of the tombs of couples.
The compound, located in the ancient city of Hebron, is the second holiest site for Jews, (after the Temple Mount in Jerusalem) and is also venerated by Christians and Muslims, both of whom have traditions which maintain that the site is the burial place of three Biblical couples: (1) Abraham and Sarah; (2) Isaac and Rebecca; (3) Jacob and Leah. According to the Midrash and other sources, the Cave of the Patriarchs also contains the head of Esau, and according to some Islamic sources it is also the tomb of Joseph. Though the Bible has Joseph buried in Shechem (the present-day Palestinian city of Nablus), Jewish aggadic tradition conserved the idea that he wished to be interred at Hebron, and the Islamic version may reflect this. The Jewish apocryphal book, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, also states that this is the burial place of Jacob’s twelve sons.
The Cave of Machpelah is the world’s most ancient Jewish site and the second holiest place for the Jewish people, after Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The cave and the adjoining field were purchased—at full market price—by Abraham some 3700 years ago. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah are all later buried in the same Cave of Machpelah. These are considered the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people. The only one who is missing is Rachel, who was buried near Bethlehem where she died in childbirth.
The double cave, a mystery of thousands of years, was uncovered several years ago beneath the massive building, revealing artifacts from the Early Israelite Period (some 30 centuries ago). The structure was built during the Second Temple Period (about two thousand years ago) by Herod, King of Judea, providing a place for gatherings and Jewish prayers at the graves of the Patriarchs.
This uniquely impressive building is the only one that stands intact and still fulfills its original function after thousands of years. Foreign conquerors and invaders used the site for their own purposes, depending on their religious orientation: the Byzantines and Crusaders transformed it into a church and the Muslims rendered it a mosque. About 700 years ago, the Muslim Mamelukes conquered Hebron, declared the structure a mosque and forbade entry to Jews, who were not allowed past the seventh step on a staircase outside the building.
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Hours: The Ma’ara is open all day from 4 AM until 9 PM. (During Daylight Savings Time the Ma’ara is open until 10PM.)
This is subject to change during holidays.
During the month of “Ramadan” the Ma’ara is closed on Fridays.
To find out which ten days the entire Ma’ara is open to Jews, call: 02-9965333
To find out which ten days the entire Ma’ara is open to Arabs, call: 02-9965333
Entrance to the Ma’ara Plaza and to the Seventh Step is accessible 24 hours a day.
By private car. There are large, permanent parking facilities.
The 160 bus from the Jerusalem Central Bus Station.
Fridays, from Har Nof at 5 AM to Rachel’s Tomb and the Ma’ara. To register, call: 052-2283672
To order bulletproof buses, call 029965333.
At the Ma’ara is an on-site kosher-mehadrin cafeteria which operates days, 8 AM to 5 PM. Tel: 02-9966682. The cafeteria sells light meals, snacks and drinks.
Access for handicapped to Ma’arat HaMachpela is possible via a special motorized wheelchair, which allows visitors to reach the entrance without having to walk up the stairs. Call 029965333 for details.