Rachel’s Tomb, Kever Rakhel, Dome of Rachel and Qubabt Rakhil all refer to the final resting place of the Jacob’s wife Rachel the daughter-in-law of Abraham. The tomb has also been called the Bilal ibn Rabah Mosque.
The Tomb structure
There are two chambers the first as you enter is an antechamber commissioned by Montefiore in 1841. The second room, the original room, has a dome and was constructed during the Ottoman era (1620).The tomb is used as a Jewish place of prayer, the Torah Ark (a nook or cupboard where the large Torah scrolls are kept) is covered by a curtain made from the wedding dress of a young Israeli bride who was killed during a terrorist attack in Jerusalem on the eve of her wedding. You can see eleven stones piled upon a rock, each stone represents one of Jacob’s children except Benjamin who was born as Rachel died. The cenotaph itself is covered by a velvet cloth.
Today the original Tomb of Rachel is still intact but has been surrounded by a protective wall and the complex has been enlarged. The complex is a dynamic site of religious learning, celebration and prayer.
Biblical references to the Tomb of Rachel near Bethlehem
As early as the 4th century AD there are recordings of this site being associated with Rachel’s Tomb. Due to the constant demarcation of boarders in the land of Israel the tomb has been within an International zone (1947); the West Bank (1947);Jordan and following the 1967 Six Day War Rachel’s Tomb came under Israeli authority. Today the tomb is very close to the Israeli/West Bank boarder and can be visited with a tour from Israel.
Rachel and her husband Jacob where traveling from Shechem to Hebron which is close to Ephrath when while giving birth to her last son, Benjamin Rachel passed away.
Genesis 35:19-20 says “And Rachel died, and was buried on the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set a pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day.”
Rachel’s Tomb is located on the “Route of the Patriarchs” which runs from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and then on to Hebron and Be’er Sheva. The tomb is close to the northern entrance of Bethlehem and because of its location the Jews would have passed by here when they were taken into exile in Babylon.
(Jeremiah 31:11-16) “She wept as they passed by her grave on the way to Babylon.”
Another verification as to the tomb’s location near Bethlehem is the writing of Muhammad al-Idrisi in 1154 who wrote:
”Half-way down the road between Bethlehem and Jerusalem is the Tomb of Rahil…“
Through the ages various travel journals and notes by pilgrims to the Holy Land have verified the location and significance of this site. Rachel’s Tomb is in fact within Bethlehem but has been sectioned off taking it inside the Israeli occupied area of the West Bank.
The Tradition of Praying at Rachel’s Tomb
Since Joseph prayed at his mother’s tomb when being taken to Egypt faithful Jews have come to this site to pray. For thousands of years it has been a pilgrimage site and is Judaism’s 3rd holiest site.
Rachel represents the female, mother figure, an eternal mother for all Jews. The Tomb of Rachel is visited by many faithful Jewish women who come to pray and ask for the blessing of fertility and easy childbirth. There was even a tradition of placing the key to the tomb chambers under the pillow of a woman in labor to ease her pain. Another tradition of the tomb is the wearing of a red string bracelet made from a thread which was tied around the tomb seven times. Rachel’s association with childbirth and motherhood comes from the fact that she was unable to fall pregnant for so many years and eventually gave birth to Joseph making her the mother of the future Jewish People. People send requests from across the globe to the Committee of Rachel’s Tomb for their names to be included in prayers at the Tomb of Rachel.
Jews, Christians and Muslims venerate the Tomb of Rachel as all three of these faiths stem from the bloodline of Abraham, Rachel’s father-in-law.