At least 40,000 Jews gather in Hebron to mark biblical purchase of Cave of the Patriarchs


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Tens of thousands of Jewish Israelis and visitors came to the West Bank city of Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in a yearly pilgrimage to mark the reading of the week’s Torah portion.

This past Shabbat, Jews around the world read the Torah portion Chayei Sarah, in which the Biblical patriarch Abraham buys the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in order to bury his dead wife Sarah.

The Jewish community of Hebron announced that some 40,000 people participated in the pilgrimage.  Large tents were set up for group meals, and smaller tents dotted the landscape near the tomb, where families and groups set themselves to camp out for the festive Shabbat.

Last week, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced that he had ordered his office to advance planning for the construction of Jewish housing in Hebron.

The announcement followed the Israel’s Cabinet approval last month of the establishment of a new Jewish neighborhood in Hebron, the first Jewish housing to be built for Jewish Israelis in the West Bank city in 16 years.

The approval of the nearly $6 million project includes 31 homes, a daycare center and a park on a site that was formerly an Israel Defense Forces base. The area is known as the Hezekiah Quarter.

The plan previously was approved by the Civil Administration for the West Bank, the Defense Ministry body that oversees Israel’s civil policy in the West Bank. With the Cabinet’s approval, the project can be implemented.

The land on which the project will be constructed was owned by Jews before Israel’s establishment in 1948, was later leased by the Civil Administration to Hebron’s Palestinian municipality to create a central bus station, which was built and later moved.

Some 500 Jewish Israelis live in Hebron in four neighborhoods, amidst more than 100,000 Palestinians.

The Tomb of the Patriarchs is holy to both Jews and Muslims.

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