How One Rabbi Single-Handedly Captured the Holy City of Hebron

“All these, being men of war who could draw up in battle formation, came to Hebron with a perfect heart to make David king over all Israel; and all the rest also of Israel were of one mind to make David king.” (1 Chronicles 12:38)

Many know the story of Rabbi Shlomo Goren arriving at the Western Wall flanked by IDF troops in the 1967 Six Day War on the 28th of Iyyar in the Hebrew calendar.

The moment, captured in an iconic photos, shows the rabbi holding a Torah scroll and blowing a shofar at the Western Wall surrounded by young soldiers. But few people know the even more astounding story of what happened the day after that photo was taken and how Rabbi Goren single-handedly conquered the holy city of Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs, known as the Machpelah Cave.

The war was still raging after the Old City of Jerusalem was conquered by the IDF. Directly after the emotional scene at the Western Wall, Rabbi Goren, a general and the Chief Rabbi of the Israeli army, proceeded to join the forces gathered in the recently recaptured Gush Etzion. The troops were waiting for the morning when they would push on to battle the Jordanian Legion in Hebron.

Rabbi Goren addressed the troops, telling them of the enormous significance of Hebron to the Jews. He lay down to sleep surrounded by Israeli soldiers, telling them to wake him in time to leave for the battle the next day. However, when he awoke a few hours later, he was alone. The troops had moved on without him. He quickly woke up his driver and they set out to catch up with the Israeli forces.

Alone, they drove the short distance into Hebron and were greeted by flags of surrender, white sheets hanging from every window and rooftop. The rabbi didn’t see any Israeli soldiers and assumed they had already conquered the entire city. What the rabbi didn’t know was that he had arrived before the troops. The army had taken a longer route in order to surround the city before entering it. As he drove toward the Cave of the Patriarchs, he was the only Jew, certainly the only Jewish soldier, in a city of 40,000 Arabs.

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When Rabbi Goren arrived at the large iron doors of the Cave of the Patriarchs, he found them locked.  Rabbi Goren shot at them with his Uzi machine gun, trying unsuccessfully to open the doors which had been locked to Jews for 700 years. The bullet holes are still there and can be seen by anyone visiting the site today.

The doors did not open, so he backed his jeep up and attached chains to the doors, pulling them open. Rabbi Goren entered the Machpela, blew the shofar as he had done the day before at the Kotel, set up the Torah scroll, and began to pray.

The Mufti of Hebron sent a messenger to ask Rabbi Goren, as a general of the Israeli army, to accept his surrender. He refused, sending back the answer, ”This place, the Machpelah Cave, is a place of prayer and peace. Surrender elsewhere.”

The first Israeli troops in Hebron were shocked to find an Israeli flag flying from the roof of the Machpelah. The next day, the rabbi received an urgent message from his officer, the Israeli Chief of Staff, Moshe Dayan. He ordered Rabbi Goren to take down the flag, remove the Torah from the premises and to order anyone entering to remove their shoes because the site was a mosque.

Rabbi Goren sent a message back in response: “The Torah is holy – it stays. The flag means to me what it means to you. If you want to remove it, you may, but I will not.”

Dayan sent an officer to remove the flag, but after removing the flag, the officer died in a horrible car accident on his way to report back to Dayan. Dayan then rescinded his orders.

This article was originally published as part of a Hanukkah miracle series.

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