Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What's Under the Me'arat Hamachpelah Part 1

Noam Arnon, Spokesman for the Chevron Jewish Community
As I mentioned in earlier posts, I was in Chevron last week for a work-related conference. After the "work" related portion ended, we headed to the Me'arat Hamachpelah for davening and then a tour. After we all davened minchah, we gathered together for a talk from Noam Arnon, who is the official spokesman for the Jewish community of Chevron. He also writes semi-regularly for Arutz 7 in Hebrew here.
There, he told a somewhat well-known story that I had never heard before and answered a question that I had always wondered about: What is really under the Me'arat Hamachpelah.
After the 1967 Six Day War, Israeli leaders made the tragic decision to return control of Judaism's holiest sites - including the Temple Mount and the Cave of the Patriarchs - to the Muslif Wakf. It's a decision we're still paying for to this very day.
It so happens that in one of the main halls (The Hall of Yitzchak) of the Tomb in Chevron, there's an obvious circular door in the floor. One only need lift up the cover and climb down to find out what's there.  Two things stand in the way of climbing down. The first is simple fear. There's a significant literature of legends promising death (or worse) to people who violate the sanctity of the final resting place of our Forefathers (and, according to the Midrash, Adam Harishon as well.) The second reason is more practical: the Arabs refused to allow anyone to do any type of archaeological research in "their" holy places.
Michal Dayan Being Lowered into the Cave
Moshe Dayan, then the Mister of Defense, had a thing for Israeli antiquities. (Apparently, he liked keeping them for himself too, or so I've heard.) He soon began to regret returning control of Me'arat Hamachpelah to the Arabs, because they  refused to consider the issue of exploring the cave. So Dayan, not to be troubled with simple matters like the opinions of Arabs took matters into his own hands. His daughter Michal, then around twelve years old, happened to be exceedingly skinny, and could slip into the hole through one of the small openings in the door so that the cover could then be returned without the Arabs learning what he had done. (This story is referenced on the Machpelah website in Hebrew here.) One evening, he told the Arabs to "get lost for a while" (back then people listened to Moshe Dayan) and they lowered his daughter into the cave. When she reached the ground, she found herself along a long narrow passageway. She followed the path until she reached a staircase - leading up. She climbed up the staircase and found a large stone blocking her path. She knocked on the stone and soon...heard someone knock back. (That would have freaked me out too!) She quickly made her way back down the stairs and had herself lifted out of the hole, no worse for wear, but no secrets revealed.
Yet, Arnon said, what she told them gave the Jews of Chevron the critical information that they needed to make their own attempt to enter the cave.

To be continued...