Rabbi Dr. Chaim Simons

(C) Copyright. Chaim Simons. 2005

Shabbat 12-13 January 1968 was the day when a group of about one hundred Jewish students were to be found in the Park Hotel in Hebron. It was the first time that a group of civilians spent an entire Shabbat in Hebron after the Six Day War.

Most of the information concerning that Shabbat is to be found in the various newspaper reports of the time (1). A detailed report on this Shabbat activity appeared in the newspaper “Ma’ariv” and was written up by the reporter Avraham Rotem (2). Since he was personally present that Shabbat in Hebron, his report is a first hand one and can thus be regarded as authoritative (3).

These reports are supplemented by the memories of some of the participants regarding that Shabbat (4). It goes without say that memories almost 40 years after the event are less reliable than newspaper reports written at the time.

Almost nothing on this subject is to be found in the various archives in Israel (5). Even the army, (who as we shall soon see, were involved in this Shabbat), have nothing in their archives on it (6).

The Shabbat programme was organised by “The Religious Students’ Organisation” together with “Yavneh” which was the Hebrew University’s Religious Students’ Organisation. The person in charge of the arrangements was the Hebrew University student Matityahu Dagan who was the Chairman of the Religious Students’ Organisation (7). At the time he had an office which was in a rented room in Heichel Shlomo in Jerusalem. He had several files with the various correspondence and documents concerning this Shabbat (8), but attempts to locate these files have unfortunately met with no success. Very possibly they were thrown away when they moved out of Heichel Shlomo. At that period the various Students’ Unions did not keep any archival materials. Also, those of the various University student magazines of that period which are still extant make no mention of this Shabbat in Hebron (9).

According to the original programme, it had been agreed with the military authorities for the students to stay in the Military Government Building in Hebron. On 8 January a news item appeared in the newspaper “Ma’ariv” headed “Students will hold a Symposium in Hebron.” It stated that this programme would be sponsored by the Military Governor, they would be accommodated in the Military Government Building in Hebron and prayers would take place in the Cave of Machpelah at times determined by the Military Governor (10). [At that period the Cave of Machpelah was closed to Jews on Shabbat to prevent desecration of the Shabbat by their travelling to Hebron (11).]

The news item went on to say that the subject of the Symposium would be “The Liberation of Territories in the light of Halachah [Jewish Religious Law].” The students had chosen this subject because of the debates then taking place in various circles, including the Government, on the future of these liberated areas. The religious students wanted to determine what was the stand of Halachah on this question. The news item concluded that individuals from the Gush Etzion settlers might join the students for that Shabbat (12).[The Gush Etzion settlement had been established nearly four months earlier (13).]

Apparently this news item in “Ma’ariv” prompted the Foreign Ministry (according to Dagan, it was the Defence Minister Moshe Dayan (14)) to intervene with the Military authorities and asked that they prevent the students from staying in Hebron since it would give expression to activities in the liberated territories which were at the time, in their opinion, undesirable (15).

As a result of this request, the Military Government of Judea and Samaria notified the heads of the Religious Students’ Union that they would not be able to utilise the Military Government Building at all and they even went as far as requesting that they cancel their visit to Hebron completely (16).

This occurred on the Thursday evening and that very evening the students tried to get public figures to intervene and for the military authorities to rescind their cancellation. Knesset Member Yitzchak Refoel appealed to the Head of the Central Command - but to no effect (17). That Thursday evening Dagan met with Colonel Vardi, the Military Governor of Judea and Samaria, but again to no avail (18).

The cancellation by the military authorities occurred so late that Thursday night that even the newspapers of Friday morning wrote that a group of 100 students would spend the Shabbat in the Military Government Building (19). The London “Jewish Chronicle” seems not to have been updated on this change of venue, since on the following Friday it reported on this seminar which, according to them, took place at the building of the Military Government (20).

Dagan thought that he would have to cancel the whole visit and notify all the participants accordingly. However on the Friday morning he took a taxi to Hebron and went to the Park Hotel in Hebron. There he managed to book the entire hotel for Shabbat (21). The owner Kawasme was only too glad to rent out the hotel and even expressed a willingness to help them as much as possible. Since the Six Day War his hotel occupancy had gone to almost zero (22).

On the Friday morning an official notification was received by the office of the Military Government in Hebron telling them not to give any assistance whatsoever to the students. The students were in no way deterred by this and they notified the Hebron Military Government that they were coming. In reply they were informed that their activities would be on their own responsibility (23).

The students did however manage to receive a license from the Military Government to arrange “hikes” in the Hebron area on the Friday and Shabbat! Using this license they were able to obtain firearms from the police for their personal defense (24). Whilst in Hebron they had a rota for guard duty. It seems that the guards were stationed on the roof of the hotel (25). [After the Hebron settlers arrived for the following Pesach, some of those who had been present that Shabbat, would go along and assist with the guard duty (26).]

They also needed to carry the firearms when they planned to go the considerable distance to the Cave of Machpelah on the Shabbat. Here however there was a problem. At the time there was no Eruv in Hebron; thus it was forbidden to carry anything in the streets of Hebron on Shabbat. The question thus was that since they were civilians and firearms were not part of their normal dress, were they allowed to take them on Shabbat in the streets of Hebron. Dagan asked Rabbi Shlomo Goren who was then Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defence Forces, and he allowed them to take these weapons with them (27). [A similar question arose several months later when the Hebron settlers arrived and Rabbi Goren ruled likewise (28).]

All the participants on that Shabbat were students mainly from the Hebrew University and Bar-Ilan University, although in addition there were some from Tel-Aviv and Haifa Universities and also students from the United States and Europe who were then studying in Israel (29). All the students were in their 20s, single, religious and there were more women than men (30). There were about 100 students in the group (31).

How did the students know about this Shabbat in Hebron? Some of them heard about it by word of mouth (32). It is also very likely that there were notices displayed (33), although this fact has not been confirmed.

` All the food for this Shabbat was from Bar-Ilan University (34) and it was paid for by the students. Also the plates, pots and “Shabbat Platot” came from Bar-Ilan (35). In addition the students brought a gas top and gas cylinders (36). The food included cake, fish, soup (37) and a large pot of cholent. There was plenty of this cholent left over and after the meal someone called out that whoever wants more will get a prize! (38)

The students arrived in Hebron on lorry-type buses with long benches which folded down. There was either one or two of these “buses” (39).

It is not clear whether there were already prepared lists stating in which room each student would sleep (40), or whether this was arranged only when they arrived at the hotel (41). In the hotel there were also some large rooms. In one of them slept 20 boys and in another 20 girls. There were not enough beds and many students slept on mattresses on the floor (42).

A Sefer Torah and also Siddurim were taken to the Cave of Machpelah on the Friday and left with the soldiers there (43). This was necessary since at that time there was no Eruv in Hebron. [There is also a report which states that the students took the Sefer Torah there on Shabbat morning at the head of the procession (44), but this is difficult to accept as authentic, since the students were aware of the lack of an Eruv.] In addition there were some Siddurim already in the Cave of Machpelah (45).

Also on that Friday, the organisers spoke to the Sheikh of the Cave of Machpelah to ensure that the Cave would be open on the Shabbat morning so that they could pray there (46). Although the soldiers from the Army Rabbinate were normally at the Cave of Machpelah during the entire week, for that Shabbat they were absent following the order not to assist these students (47).

On the Friday night the students held the Evening service, almost certainly at the hotel (48) although according to some it was at the Cave of Machpelah (49). Dagan spoke at the evening meal (50). After the meal there were lectures on the “Status of the Liberated Territories according to the Halachah” (51). This was followed by a debate on the subject of “For or Against Withdrawal from the Territories.” One student spoke for the motion and another against (52). They then decided by a large majority that according to Halachah it is forbidden to return areas of Eretz Israel which have been liberated (53).

On the following morning, despite the intense cold and strong winds, the students, the men amongst them wearing Tallitot, went in a procession along the main streets of Hebron to the Cave of Machpelah (54), singing all the way (55). This was the first Shabbat in over thirty years that civilian Jews had spent a Shabbat in Hebron. The elders of the Arabs who were sitting in the cafes with their smoking bottles said “The Jews have returned to Hebron.” They related to the younger generation that for a long time there had been no sign of a Tallit in Hebron (56). The young Arabs stared at the Jews but made no attempt to disturb them (57). One of those in charge of the group told a “Ha’aretz” reporter that the relations between the Jews and the Arabs in the hotel and in Hebron was in general good (58).

One of the students who had been present recollects that since there was a shortage of Siddurim in the Cave of Machpelah, someone said all the prayers out aloud (59). Following the service there was a short sightseeing tour of Hebron (60), which included the former Hebron (Slabodka) Yeshivah (61).

After returning to the hotel, there was the Shabbat meal. At this meal, David Tamar, who was the oldest participant, gave a Dvar Torah (62). During the course of the day there were many Divrei Torah and various students gave lectures (63). These included lectures on the week’s Parashah and on Hebron according to Rabbinical sources (64).

After Shabbat the students summed up their discussions and passed a resolution which said that “The Israeli Religious Students’ Organisation calls on the Israeli Government and other responsible bodies to do everything to prevent the return of the liberated territories and to create a presence in these territories, by settlement, by transferring public institutions, and by building Jewish centres. The Religious Students’ Organisation sees as its function to encourage in particular settlement in the historical areas, which have been sanctified to Judaism for countless generations” (65).

The students returned from Hebron that Saturday evening on these lorry-type buses (66).

One should mention that this Shabbat in Hebron was not an isolated Shabbat in the liberated territories. A few months later they had a Shabbat in Jericho (67) and in the summer of 1968, a Shabbat in Kfar Etzion, where Hanan Porat delivered a lecture (68).

It was also reported that young religious people were organizing a group to establish an urban settlement in the Hebron area in order “to make into an actuality the liberation of Hebron, City of the Patriarchs” (69) and a longer term project to establish a Jewish settlement near Hebron by the name of “Kiryat Hebron” (70). As the students left Hebron after that Shabbat, they promised “We will return to you Hebron” (71) .


(1) Ma’ariv, 8 January 1968, p.7; Hatzofeh, 12 January 1968, p.8; Yediot Aharonot, 12 January 1968, p.1; Jerusalem Post 12 January 1968, p.8; Ma’ariv, 14 January 1968, p.3; Hatzofeh, 14 January 1968, p.4; Ha’aretz, 15 January 1968, p.12; Panim el Panim, 19 January 1968, no. 452, p.5.
(2) Ma’ariv, 14 January 1968.
(3) Interview, Matityahu Dagan, 26 June 2005.
(4) Interviews with the following participants: Shalom Goldman, 2 May 2005; Chaya Harel (then Horovitz), 3 May 2005; Michael Asulin, 18 May 2005; David Maor, 2 June 2005; Matityahu Dagan, 26 June 2005.
(5) Archives investigated: Jewish National and University Library Archives; Hebrew University Archives on Mount Scopus; Bar-Ilan University Archives; Religious Zionist Archives at Mossad Harav Kook; Heichel Shlomo Archives.
(6) Letter from Michal Tzur, Ministry of Defence Army Archives to Chaim Simons, 17 August 2005.
(7) Panim el Panim 19 January 1968.
(8) Interview with Dagan.
(9) Pi Ha’aton (Hebrew University); Darvon (Tel-Aviv University); Bat-Kol (Bar-Ilan University); Carmel (Haifa University); Davka - Bitaon Studentim Chofshi l’Hadashot.
(10) Ma’ariv 8 January 1968.
(11) Chaim Simons, Three Years in a Military Compound – Reminiscences of a Hebron Settler, (Kiryat Arba: 2003) pp.117, 124.
(12) Ma’ariv 8 January 1968.
(13) Encyclopedia Judaica, (Keter, Jerusalem: 1981) 10:881.
(14) Interview with Dagan.
(15) Ma’ariv 14 January 1968.
(16) Ibid.
(17) Ibid.
(18) Interview with Dagan.
(19) Yediot Aharonot 12 January 1968; Jerusalem Post 12 January 1968; Hatzofeh 12 January 1968.
(20) Jewish Chronicle (London), 19 January 1968, p.14.
(21) Interview with Dagan.
(22) Ma’ariv 14 January 1968; Panim el Panim 19 January 1968.
(23) Ma’ariv 14 January 1968.
(24) Ibid.
(25) Interview with Dagan.
(26) Yavneh – Religious Students’ Union, Annual Report presented to General Meeting held 23 December 1968, (Jewish National and University Library, PA 6128), p.4.
(27) Interview with Dagan.
(28) Chaim Simons, Three Years in a Military Compound, op. cit., p.47.
(29) Ma’ariv 14 January 1968; Panim el Panim 19 January 1968.
(30) Interviews with Asulin, Dagan, Goldman, Harel, Maor.
(31) Interviews with Asulin, Maor; Ma’ariv 14 January 1968; Ha’aretz 15 January 1968; Panim el Panim 19 January 1968.
(32) Interviews with Asulin, Goldman.
(33) Interview with Maor.
(34) Interviews with Dagan, Goldman.
(35) Interview with Dagan.
(36) Panim el Panim 19 January 1968.
(37) Interview with Dagan.
(38) Interview with Harel.
(39) Interviews with Goldman, Harel.
(40) Interviews with Asulin, Dagan, Maor.
(41) Interviews with Goldman, Harel.
(42) Interview with Dagan.
(43) Interviews with Dagan, Goldman.
(44) Panim el Panim 19 January 1968; Histadrut Hamizrachi and Hapoel Hamizrachi, News from the Movement and the Religious Sector of Israel, 31 January 1968, p.5, ( Religious Zionist Archives at Mossad Harav Kook, File: World Centre of the Mizrachi 21/5).
(45) Interview with Dagan.
(46) Ma’ariv 14 January 1968.
(47) Ibid.
(48) Interview with Dagan and also strongly implied by the various newspaper reports.
(49) Interview with Asulin, Harel.
(50) Interview with Dagan.
(51) Ma’ariv 14 January 1968.
(52) Interview with Maor.
(53) Ha’aretz 15 January 1968.
(54) Ma’ariv 15 January 1968; Panim el Panim 19 January 1968.
(55) Interview with Harel.
(56) Panim el Panim 19 January 1968.
(57) Ibid.
(58) Ha’aretz 15 January 1968.
(59) Interview with Goldman.
(60) Ma’ariv 14 January 1968; Ha’aretz 15 January 1968.
(61) Ha’aretz 15 January 1968.
(62) Interviews with Asulin, Goldman, Harel.
(63) Interview with Dagan.
(64) Panim el Panim 19 January 1968.
(65) Ma’ariv 15 January 1968.
(66) Panim el Panim 19 January 1968.
(67) Interview with Dagan.
(68) Yavneh Annual Report, op. cit., p.2.
(69) Ha’aretz 15 January 1968.
(70) Ma’ariv 14 January 1968.
(71) Panim el Panim 19 January 1968.

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(No photographs could be taken during Shabbat)

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