kosher bookworm

Graphic history lesson on the Jews of Hebron


This past Shabbat we read the Torah portion of Chayei Sarah, with the passing of our first matriarch, Sarah. We read of the ordeal that Abraham experienced in his effort to acquire a proper burial site for his wife. Through this narrative, we witness the first territorial link of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, a link that has served as the prime physical basis for our claim to the land as our ancestral home.

In “Hebron Jews: Memory and Conflict in the Land of Israel” by Jerold S. Auerbach (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009) we are treated to one of the most comprehensive histories on this topic.

The author, a professor emeritus of history at Wellesley College, begins with a basic premise: the Jews of Hebron are among the most reviled Jews in the world, not only by many non-Jews, but also by their fellow Jews, both foreign and native Israelis. It is not for lack of effort that this attitude has defied both definition and rational explanation.

“Hebron Jews” spans from time immemorial, beginning with Abraham’s receiving his command from G-d to settle the Land of Israel and the purchase of the Cave of Machpelah. The book includes King David’s decision to make Hebron the capital of Judea for seven years prior to his move to Jerusalem, a legacy that has made Hebron the second most holy city in Judaism.

The most poignant chapter in this book, titled “Catastrophe,” deals with the notorious Hebron Massacre of August 1929. Because of this atrocity the Jews of Hebron became marginalized from their rightful domicile in their native town and thus became further marginalized by both gentiles and secular Jews who viewed their continued struggle as an impediment to peace in our own time.

This book places the rightful claims of these Jews in their proper historical and political perspective.

From the book, here’s a glimpse of what occurred on Shabbat Ekev weekend that will forever live in infamy in the annals of Jewish history.

“Virtually the entire Slonim family, including his wife Hannah and their son, his father-in-law, the chief rabbi of Zichron Yaakov, and his wife, was slaughtered. The sole survivor, one-year old Shlomo, was discovered, blood drenched and wounded, beneath the corpses of his relatives.”

Another scene describes how the “hysterical screams of Sh’ma Yisrael resounded throughout the house. … The throats of Jews were cut, leaving pools of blood on the stone floor and, seeping from above, splashes of blood on the 12-foot-high ceiling. …

“Elsewhere in Hebron, Rabbi Hanoch Hasson, along with his entire family, was murdered. Ben-Zion Gershon, the Beit Hadassah pharmacist who served Jews and Arabs alike, had his eyes gouged out before he was stabbed to death. …

“Rabbis Meir Kastel and Tzvi Drabkin, with five of their students, were tortured, castrated, and murdered. Rabbi Yakov Orlanski HaCohen had his brain removed from his skull.”

These narratives are presented to give you the reality of Islamo-Fascism as practiced 10 years before the Holocaust, almost 20 years before the establishment of the state of Israel, decades before the Six Day War, the so-called occupation, and the establishment and resettlement of Judea and Samaria.

What were the motivations behind the slaughter of these innocent unarmed civilians by the hordes of crazed religious Muslim fanatics in 1929? All the contemporary excuses given to explain Muslim antipathy against the yishuv in Israel today ring hollow when judged by the actions in Hebron in 1929.

This is the lesson to be learned by the history Professor Auerbach presents in this book. It is a lesson that must inform us as we impart to our children and grandchildren the lesson of Hebron and of its now, unfortunately, miniscule community whose small size was made so by our own hand through political and moral neglect.

I conclude with a quote from the conclusion of this book.

“Once Jews relinquish their right to live in Hebron, they implicitly undermine their claim to live anywhere in their biblical homeland. To abandon Hebron is to surrender the claims of memory that bind Jews to each other, to their ancient homeland, and to their shared past and future.”

Not learning from this admonition will have consequences.

Published in 2009.