The New York Times featured an article Friday by Jerusalem correspondent Isabel Kershner about tensions between Palestinians and Israel over the Tomb of Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron ("Clashes Over Shrine In West Bank Persist, but Don't Escalate" page A3.)
Here's how Kershner describes the religious importance of this shrine:
"The Cave of the Patriarchs is revered by Jews, Muslims and Christians as the ancient burial place of Abraham, his wife Sarah and other major biblical patriarchs and matriarchs."
That's just plain wrong.
Muslims do NOT revere the Tomb as the burial place of half a dozen biblical patriarchs and matriarachs. They revere the Tomb solely because Abraham is buried there. Muslims can trace their lineage back to Abraham via the Book of Genesis, which relates that the patriarch and Hagar, Sarah's handmaid, conceived Ishmael and that God promised that Ishmael would become in his own right the ancestor of a great nation. (Ishmael incidentally is NOT buried in the Hebron Tomb .Nor is Hagar). .
Muslim reverence for the Tomb is based solely on Abraham being buried there. All the other patriarchs and matriarchs -- Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah -- are ancestors of the Jewish people and only of the Jewish people. Muslims have no genealogical ties to them.
Yes, the Tomb is also sacred to Muslims because of their ties to Abraham. But Kershner overreaches by asserting that Muslims, like Jews, revere the shrine because of all six patriarchs and matriarchs that are buried there. That's just plain not so.
As a result, there's not, as Kershner asserts, a numeral equivalence of Jewish and Muslim ancestors connected to the Tomb, which is Judaism's second holiest site (after the Western Wall in Jerusalem) while Mecca and Medina far outweigh the Tomb in religious significance and importance for Muslims.
Still, since Israel captured Hebron in the 1967 War, Israel has seen to it that the Tomb is equally accessible to Muslim and Jewish worshippers -- something that definitely was not the case when Arabs held sway in Hebron during the British Mandate or when Jordan occupied the West Bank from 1948 to 1949 -- a bit of history that Kershner blanks out. In those years, the Tomb was completely out of bounds for Jews.
And while Palestinians went into a high dudgeon this week after the Israeli government put the Tomb on a list of Jewish shrines eligible for repair and renovation, Israel was quietly at work improving access to the Tomb for Muslim worshippers -- again something that somehow didn't make it into Kershner's article.