"And Rachel died, and was buried on the road to Ephrath - now Bethlehem. And Jacob set up a pillar upon her grave; it is the pillar at Rachel's grave to this day." (Genesis 35:19-20)
The tomb of Rachel our Matriarch has been recognized in its current location near the neighborhood of Gilo, on the boundary between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, for 1700 years. In ancient times, a tombstone comprised of 12 stones, symbolizing the sons of Jacob, was set there. Later, a cupola resting on four columns was erected and in the 17th century Rachel's Tomb was made into an enclosed structure. In 1841, Sir Moses Montefiore added another room to Rachel's Tomb. Today, due to security constraints, the small domed building located within the Israeli enclave in the northern outskirts of Bethlehem has been fortified. Nonetheless, hundreds of thousands of Jews visit the site each year.
There are two aspects to the collective Jewish memory of Rachel our Matriarch - personal and national. The first is the tragic and sad story of her life as described in the Book of Genesis, which serves as the basis for personal identification with her character. The second is Jeremiah's prophecy of comfort, which described Rachel our Matriarch as a mother weeping over her sons and as one whose cries tore open the Gates of Heaven and which would subsequently lead the way to Redemption, to the ingathering of the exiles and to the return of the People of Israel to their land. This is the foundation of the national Jewish identification with Rachel.
Millions of Jews have visited the site over the generations, praying and crying to Rachel the Matriarch to plead their case before God, requesting -health, fruit of the womb, livelihood, as well as general salvation. The simplicity of the site has charmed passersby, nomads and pilgrims for years. They have recorded descriptions of the tomb, the site's customs and the experience that has developed around it, initially in writing and later through drawings and photographs. The shape of the tomb has been depicted over the years on Jewish art objects, on sacred books and on stamps. Talmudic tales and legends, poems and liturgical poems, stories and plays have been written about Rachel herself. The development of the
Zionist Movement and the establishment of the State of Israel brought about old-new aspects of tradition and meaning to Rachel and her tomb.
according to tradition, Rachel our Matriarch died on the 11th day of the Hebrew month of Heshvan.
When the People of Israel returned to the site in 967, Shmuel Rosen wrote in his song "We Shall Jot Go Again":
"... See, Rachel, see, see Master of the Universe
See, Rachel, see, they returned to their Land"
and he even promised:
"... We shall not go again Rachel, and you shall not go again,
we shall not go again Rachel,
from the cultivated fields of Bethlehem".
author, "At the Crossroads, the Story of the Tomb of Rachel" (Shearim LeHeker Jerusalem Publishing)