At the northern entrance to Bethlehem stands Rachel’s Tomb (Kever Rachel). The site is about 300m south of Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood and is located along Hebron Road. This sacred site has religious and historic significance to Muslims, Jews, and Christians. This is believed to be where the biblical matriarch, Rachel, the wife of Jacob, is buried.
History of Rachel’s Tomb
In c.1553 BC, Jacob was returning home to Hebron with his family, after 20 years of working for his father-in-law. As they passed outside Bethlehem, Rachel went into labor and died giving birth to Benjamin. Instead of bringing her into the city, or returning her body to their home in Hebron, Jacob buried her on the wayside. Genesis 35:19 tells how Jacob buried her and set a pillar upon her grave. Here she would lie for eternity, to comfort her children and others as they passed by.
Years after Rachel’s death, her eldest son, Joseph was sold into slavery and carried away to Egypt. On route, he broke away from his captors and ran to his mother’s grave where he found strength and courage. After the destruction of the First Temple in 423 BC, Rachel’s grave was there to comfort the Jews on their journey into exile. The site is mentioned in Jeremiah 31:11-16 when we read how Rachel wept as the exiled Jews passed her grave on their way to Babylon. Rachel is the mother who waits on the lonely roadside to be there for her children when they suffer.
Jews regard Rachel’s Tomb as one of the three holiest sites together with Temple Mount and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Rachel’s Tomb is often visited by Jewish women who come to pray to the biblical matriarch for fertility. Generations have come here to pour their hearts out, seek comfort, and a blessing for fertility, and safe childbirth.
What to See at Rachel’s Tomb
The tomb is a square structure with a dome roof. It was built by the Ottomans in approximately 1620 and later enlarged in 1860 by Jewish philanthropist Moses Montefiore. Today the structure is protected for security reasons by a reinforced wall that encloses the tomb. A fortress-like wall surrounds the complex and is guarded by soldiers.
Inside the enclosure is a rock tombstone with eleven stones placed on it. According to tradition, the stones were placed on the grave by Jacob’s eleven sons who were alive when Rachel died (not including the newborn Benjamin). Above the rock is a stone domed canopy, and the rock is covered by a velvet drape.
Visiting Rachel’s Tomb
Because of the tomb’s proximity to the Israel/West Bank border checkpoint, the tomb can only be visited on a secured bullet-proof bus and this is best done with an organized tour. The bus discharges its passengers inside the enclosed compound.