Rachel’s Tomb is identified by all three major religions; Christian, Jewish & Muslim as the burial site of Rachel, the biblical matriarch wife of Jacob, mother to his twelve sons whom died giving birth to their son Benjamin (Genesis 35:16-19). In the New Testament Rachel’s misfortune implies as a type of prophecy of the death of the helpless babies killed by King Herod (Jeremiah 31:14, Matthew 2:16-18).
This Holy site is the third holiest site after the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron to Jews, especially Jewish women unable to give birth. In their tradition Rachel weeps for her children and during the exile of the Jews, she wept as the Israelites passed by her grave on the way to Babylon (Jeremiah 31:11-16).
The tomb is mentioned by several Christians traveling to Israel; Church Fathers Eusebius, Jerome and Origen and by pilgrims in the 4th & 7th centuries as well as Jesephus Flavius, a 1st century roman-jewish scholar. However only during the 12th century- Crusader period was a dome built over the tomb, supported by 4-pointed arches.
According to Jewish tradition the tombstone was constructed of twelve stones which represent 11 of the tribes of Israel, not including Benjamin, and their father Jacob. During Islamic rule in the Middle Ages, the site was restored numerous times by Muslim rulers. In 1622 an Ottoman governor of Jerusalem, changed the appearance of the structure by filling in the Crusader arches, thus giving it more the appearance of a Muslim tomb. From this period on the tomb became a central holy site for Jewish pilgrims due to great accessibility to Jews during this time. In the 19th century Jews were even given permission to restore the site. Moses Montefiore, the famous philanthropist who financed the restoration, also built a room for Muslim prayer on the site in an effort to assure good neighborly relations between both faiths.
From the 19th century until present the site has been a place of pilgrimage for member of the three religions. Women are conspicuous among the pilgrims through prayers and vows to Rachel to help to alleviate their barrenness and for other help. You’ll find today Rachel’s Tomb is difficult to visit due to its near proximity to the checkpoint location for Israel and West Bank border, however many still manage to visit this important sacred site. There are currently daily buses from Jerusalem Central Station or simply talk to your Israel tour operator to coordinate a special private tour visit in Israel.