Friday, March 4, 2011


This tribe was descended from Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob by Rachel, who died on the road between Beth El and Ephrath, shortly after giving birth. Just before her death, she named him "Ben-oni" (son of my sorrow); but Jacob, to avert the evil omen, called him "Ben Yamin," son of the right hand; that is, of good luck.

During the time of Joshua, Benjamin was allotted a slice of territory, which stretched from the southern border of Jerusalem and the border of Judah in the south, to the Ephraimite lands south of Ai and Bet Horon in the north, and from Jericho and the Jordan to the east, to the easternmost border of Dan in the west. Beginning with Joshua 18:21, the cities of Benjamin were stated as follows (in alphabetical order): Avim, Be’erot, Bet El, Bet Haarava, Bet Hoglah, Ch’phar Haamonai, Ch’phirah, Eleph, Geva, Giv’at, Giv’on (Gibeon), Irpe’el, Jericho, Jerusalem, Kiryat, Mizpah, Motza, Ophni, Ophrah, Parah, Ramah, Rekem, Tarala, Zelah, Zemaraim. All but Motza lie in, what is today known, as the West Bank.

The tribe gave the nation its first king, in the person of Saul, son of Kish; and when Saul died, his son, Ish-bosheth, reigned for two years over Benjamin and the other tribes, except Judah. After David became king, he made Jerusalem the capital of Israel, which was in Benjamin territory, and it was left to his son Solomon to build the Temple on the mountain within the city. At the secession of the northern tribes, Benjamin remained loyal to the house of David, and therefore shared the destinies of Judah at the time of the restoration after the Babylonian Captivity. Mordecai, the loyal Jew, was said to have been a descendant of Saul.


Atarot is the name of several small Biblical towns, at least two of which, are located in the Benjamin area. In the mid 19th century, the geographer Yehoseph Schwartz, did a study and discovered two villages that were called by the Arabic name “Atarah”, populated by Arab tribes that migrated to Israel centuries ago. Schwartz placed the Biblical town of Atarot in the Samarian mountains between the villages of Beeroth and Beth El. Others, however, suggest that the Biblical village lies north of Jerusalem between that city and Ramallah. But the other ruined villages which were also named Atarot were on both sides of the Jordan. One village, presumably located in Moab, east of the Jordan, was where the king of Israel built a new city for himself on top of the old one. This new city was later destroyed by the king of Moab.

During the time of the Ottoman Empire, the Arab villagers of at least some of the towns that were named Atarah tended to engage in small-scale agriculture and goat herding. Beginning in 1912, Jews started to return to the area and in that year, the Palestine Land Development Corporation (PLDC) purchased land in the hills north of Jerusalem from the neighboring Arab village of Kalandia. In 1914 the tract was settled by Zionist youth of the Second Aliyah who prepared the rocky soil for agriculture. Among the settlers was Levi Eshkol, a future Prime Minister of Israel.

After the outbreak of World War I, the project was abandoned until 1922, when a group of workers returned to the area to continue reclamation and planting work. This group leased some of the land to local Arabs and acquired more tracts for settlement. The plan was to ready the land for sale to individuals and groups. When the venture proved unsuccessful, the Jewish National Fund bought 375 dunams of the best land. It was on this land, near the Biblical village of the same name, that modern moshav of Atarot was established.  

In 1925, Atarot was joined by Neve Yaakov, creating a bloc of Jewish settlement in the area. The physical security of the village was compromised during the 1929 Arab riots during which time, the Arabs either massacred or partially expelled many of the native Palestinian Jewish inhabitants from the nearby Old City of Jerusalem and the surrounding area. In 1931 the British Mandatory government expropriated 200 of the 375 dunams to construct a small airfield, in the process demolishing homes and uprooting fruit orchards, and harming the village's growth. The PLDC sold more of the land such that the moshav members were left with only 14 dunams per plot, while 30 dunams was considered to be the minimum necessary for sufficient income. Water shortages also plagued the moshav, as the locally constructed reservoir could not satisfy local needs, and so it was necessary to purchase water from neighboring Arab villages as well as from the expensive British-built Jerusalem municipal pipelines. Some of the moshav's fields were located at a distance, which created a security problem and during the 1936–1939 Arab riots, its residents were often shot at, robbed, and besieged.

By the 1940s, the village’s population reached 150 and its residents experienced a boom in dairy farming production, even supplying the dairy needs of Jerusalem. Following the Israeli Declaration of Independence and the consequent attack of five Arab armies, Atarot and the neighboring Jewish villages withstood repeated attacks and acted as a bulwark during the Jordanian Arab Legion's 1948 Siege of Jerusalem. But on May 17, 1948, the Haganah command for the Jerusalem area, which included Atarot, decided to evacuate, officially giving the Arab Legion control over Jerusalem and the surrounding area. The inhabitants of Atarot, and its defenders, were thus, expelled, and Arab forces began looting and burning the village, turning the land into an extension of Kalandia Airport.

The refugees maintained their desire to remain organized as an agricultural cooperative, and in August of that year they were resettled in the former Templer village of Wilhelma, which they named Bnei Atarot in remembrance of their original home. Following the 1967 Six Day War, the airport and site of the former village was captured by Israel. The area was annexed into the expanded Jerusalem Municipality, and an industrial park was developed alongside the airport, renamed for the former village.

In 1981, the town of Ateret was founded by a group led by Zvi Halamish. It was located to the north of Bir Zeit and nearby another Biblical Atarot after which, this new town was named.


Gibeon was one of the four cities of the Hivites, later to become a city in Benjamin territory. That it was not, however, wholly in the possession of the Israelites, even during the time of King David, and until a late period, is shown by II Sam. Chapt. 21. After the destruction of Jericho and Ai, the people of Gibeon sent ambassadors to trick Joshua and the Israelites into making a treaty with them. The Gibeonites presented themselves as ambassadors from a distant, powerful land. Without consulting the high priests, Israel entered into a mutual pact with the Gibeonites. Joshua then realized he had been deceived, but he kept the letter of his covenant with the Gibeonites to let them live; however, he cursed and enslaved them as woodcutters and water-carriers (Joshua 9:3-27).

After the end of the Babylonian Captivity and the return of the Jews, Gibeon belonged to Judea. Josephus describes the site as forty furlongs distant from Jerusalem. During the Roman occupation of Israel, Gibeon lay abandoned and at some point during the Arab/Muslim occupation, Arab settlers came to the area and renamed the ancient town using the Arabic name, “al Jib”. By the 1550's the agricultural revenues of Jib belonged to the Endowment (Waqf) of Mamluk Sultan Inal (r. 1453-61) of Egypt. However, the Hutaim bedouin tribes paid their taxes plus levies to the waqf of Hasseki Sultan Imaret in Jerusalem.

In 1895, Jews began to return to the area, led by Yemenite Jews, and established a village nearby called Giv’on Hadashah, or New Gibeon. They, later, left the area but it was again resettled in 1924. This new community fled as a result of the 1929 Palestine riots. It was resettled for a final time in 1977 by members of Gush Emunim, and eventually absorbed many Jewish emigrants from the former Soviet Union, as well as many Sabras. Giv'at Ze'ev, located nearby and named after Ze'ev Jabotinsky, was founded in 1982. It was declared a local council two years later.
Jericho commanded the entrance to the Land of Israel. Hence while Joshua was still encamped at Shittim, east of the Jordan, he sent two spies to investigate the state of the country in general and of Jericho in particular. They lodged at Rahab's house in the wall of the city, and, upon their presence being suspected, Rahab let them out through the window by means of a rope. When the armies of Joshua finally crossed the Jordan and encamped nearby at Gilgal, they besieged the city, marching around it once a day for six days and seven times on the seventh day. When the last circuit had been made and while the [seven] priests blew trumpets, the Israelites were ordered to shout, and when they did so, the walls fell down before them. The conquerors, by special command of the Lord, spared the life of none, not even the cattle. The only exception was Rahab and her family, who were saved due to the kindness shown to the spies. The city and everything in it were burned; only the vessels of gold, silver, copper, and iron were declared sacred and were reserved for the treasury of the Lord. Afterwards, Joshua pronounced a solemn curse on anyone who should rebuild the city.   

Jericho was given by Joshua to the tribe of Benjamin. When the Kingdom of Israel was divided into north and south, Jericho, even though it was part of Benjamin territory, found itself as part of the northern Kingdom of Israel in the southeastern corner near the border with the southern Kingdom of Judah. During the reign of Ahab, the city was rebuilt by Hiel the Bethelite according to the word of the lord (I Kings 16:34) which presumably lifted the curse. Afterwards, the sons of the prophets settled there. Elisha "healed" its waters by casting salt into them (II Kings 2:5, 19-22) and Elijah's ascension took place nearby.  

In the 1st century, the city was again destroyed, this time, by the Romans, but it was rebuilt shortly thereafter. It became a Jewish center once more under the rule of the Byzantine Empire during which time, the Shalom al Yisrael Synagogue was built. In the 7th century, Jewish refugees from Mohammad’s Arabia, especially the Banu Nadir, settled in Jericho, augmenting the indigenous Jewish population. It remained a Jewish center until the coming of the Crusaders who completely destroyed the city. For many centuries afterward, no Jew lived there. After the Crusaders’ defeat by Saladin in 1187, Arab settlers rebuilt the village and called it by its Arabized name, “Arichah”. Since that time, and for many centuries afterwards, the Arabs made Jericho into a center of an extensive sugar-cane industry. In 1840, as part of his punitive expedition against the Bedouin, Ibrahim Pasha destroyed the city for the last time, turning the site into a poverty-stricken village inhabited by cattle-breeding Bedouin who lived in tents. Aside from that, absolutely nothing remained of the city except for the ruins of an old castle. By 1900, Jericho had a population of 40 or 50 Bedouin families. 

Jews began returning to the area beginning in 1977. In that year, the village of Mitzpe Yericho was founded during the holiday of Sukkot. It was supposed to have been located on government lands adjacent to Jericho. But due to the objection of then Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, they were moved to Mishor Adumim. Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon suggested a few days later that they relocate to a barren hilltop overlooking Jericho, the current location. The original settlers to the area were a mixed group of both religiously observant and non-observant Jews. In 1979, they split up into two groups, and the non-observant members established a new settlement, Vered Yericho, located below Mitzpe Yericho and closer to Jericho. Mevo'ot Yericho, founded in 1999, is an Israeli communal settlement located just north of Jericho, in the Yitav Valley.


Mizpah was mentioned as located north of Jerusalem and allotted to the tribe of Benjamin. On several occasions, it served as the seat of assemblies at which the Israelites discussed their affairs. The Judge Jephtah went to Mizpah, according to Judges 11:11, and repeated to the lord regarding the men of Gilead who had just appointed him as their Captain. But this Mizpah was probably another village of the same name on the east side of the Jordan. That on the west side, as described in Judges Chapt. 20, served as the meeting place of the Israelites before they rose up against the tribe of Benjamin. Later, the town became the seat of the governor Gedaliah after the destruction of the First Temple (II Kings 25:23); and, finally, in the time of the Maccabees, Mizpah appears again as a place of solemn assembly. In the 1st century, it was a seat of learning and was home to the Tanna Shimon of Mizpah.
According to Yehoseph Schwarz who explored the land in the mid 19th century, the site was occupied by the Arab village of Tel al Safiyah, which, in the Middle Ages, was called Alba Specula. In 1879, the British explorer Claude Reignier Conder identified the place with Nov, which, according to Benjamin of Tudela,  contained a Jewish community in the Middle Ages. Modern archaeologists, however, have placed the location of the site at the ruins of, what the Arabs refer to as, “Tel en Nasbeh”, about 8 miles north of Jerusalem.
Geographically, this area is part of the territory of Benjamin. The village of Shiloah, in the original Hebrew, and Silwan, in Arabic, is the site of the original Jerusalem, the City of David, that which King David conquered and made the capital of Israel. Although the boundaries of Jerusalem have changed over the centuries, Jerusalem has remained the nation’s capital for over 3000 years.
King Solomon was anointed as king at the nearby spring of Gihon. According to the Talmud, this spring is exactly in the center of the Holy Land and owing to its peculiar ebb and flow it has always been popularly regarded as an arm of the sea. When the Temple was built, it became the religious focal point of all Israel. It was customary that, after Temple services on the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles, King Solomon and the people descended to the Pools of Shiloah from which water was drawn and poured upon the altar. King Hezekiah had the opening of the springs of Gihon leading to the Pool, which was not larger than a coin, enlarged, so that the water might flow more freely; but the work had scarcely been done when the stream grew less in volume. He therefore had the orifice made smaller, whereupon the original quantity again appeared. According to the prophet Joel, Yhwh would gather all the heathen in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (transl. god judges) and would judge them according to their misdeeds to Israel, the Last Judgement. In Jewish tradition, that part of Jerusalem that faces this Valley will be where the messiah will first appear and it is for this reason why, throughout the centuries, Jews have yearned to be buried on the Mount of Olives which overlooks this Valley and is situated across from Jerusalem. Later, Christians and Muslims also established a presence here claiming they shared the same reverence for the place as the Jews.  
Over the centuries, the Jewish population increased and decreased in Shiloah. They were banished by the Romans after the destruction of the Temple on the 9th of Av in the year 70 (Tisha B’Av), but continued to celebrate the festival of Sukkot on the Mount of Olives. As the Mount was 80 meters higher than the Temple Mount and because it offered a panoramic view of the Temple site, it also became a traditional place for lamenting the its destruction on Tisha B'Av. The Jewish presence in Shiloah was renewed with the coming of the Arabs in 636, but massacred and expelled again by the Crusaders in 1099. During the Crusader period, Jews came and went depending on the whim of the alternating Christian and Muslim rulers. The coming of Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman, known also as Nahmanides, in 1267 created a permanent presence in Jerusalem, but more so in, what is now, the Old City, rather than the site of Shiloah. Instead, Shiloah became, like the Mount of Olives, a place of burial. It is said that when Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman died in 1270, he was buried at Shiloah. Others say he was buried on the Mount of Olives. Still others insist on either Acre or Hebron. The debate continues to this day. A similar debate concerns the burial site of Rabbi Ovadiah di Bertinoro, Chief Rabbi of Israel who died c. 1500. During this time, Arab settlers had migrated to the area and settled in Shiloah, henceforth, calling it by the Arabized named, “Silwan”. Shiloah was visited by the traveler and explorer Isaac Hilo in the 14th century, and later, in 1481, by the Italian Jewish pilgrim, Rabbi Meshulam Da Volterra.
Jewish burials on the Mount of Olives continued almost unhindered since the death of Rabbi Ovadiah. In 1662, Rabbi Meir Poppers, a prominent rabbi and kabbalist from Bohemia (today, the Czech Rep.) died and was buried on the Mount. Others included Yehudah Hasid who led approximately 1000 Jews from Eastern Europe to settle in Jerusalem in 1700; Chaim ibn Atar who came from Morocco and established the Knesset Yisrael Yeshivah in 1742; Abraham Gershon of Kutow, son-in-law of the Baal Shem Tov, he was closely associated with the Kabbalist Yeshivah Bet El in Jerusalem beginning in 1747 led by Rabbi Shalom Sharabi of Yemen, also buried on the Mount; and Moshe Biderman, Lelover Rebbe who, it is said, took the cloak of Napoleon Bonaparte, brought it to Jerusalem, and from it, made a cover for the Ark of the Covenant. During this time, burying the (Jewish) dead on the Mount was a risky business. The Arabs, usually from Silwan, often prohibited burial and Jewish gravestones were often desecrated. By the mid-1850s, the villagers of Silwan were paid £100 annually by the Jews in an effort to prevent the desecration of graves on the Mount. Since that time and during the British Mandate period, burials continued, almost unhindered – as long as the proper amount of money was paid. (At the same time, Jewish visitors to the Western Wall were also required to pay a tax to the inhabitants of Silwan, which by 1863 was 10,000 Piastres.) Burials continued on the Mount under this new arrangement. In 1866, Joseph Sundel Salant was buried there. He was a devoted student of the Musar movement as well as one of the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbis of Israel 1837-1866. His successor was Meir Auerbach who died in 1877 and was, as well, buried on the Mount. He came from Poland and in 1866, and co-founded, along with Rabbi Shmuel Salant, who became his successor, the Vaad Clali, an umbrella organization of all kollelim in Israel. Also buried on the Mount was Yehudah Alkalai, Sephardic rabbi from Serbia who was one of the forerunners of the Zionist movement and inspired the founding of Petah Tikvah in 1878.

The return of the Jews to Shiloah could said to have begun around 1873 when members of the Meyouchas family, who had lived in Israel since the expulsion from Spain, had built a house on a ridge overlooking the city. But the coming of Yemenite Jews in 1881, really gave the modern community the impetus to grow. The next year, more Yemenite Jews arrived, settling in the Old City. Due to the lack of room in the Old City one group led by Yosef Masud decided to move outside the walls. By 1884 they had settled into new stone houses at the south end of Shiloah, built for them by a Jewish charity called Ezrat Niddahim. Up to 200 Yemenite Jews lived in the newly built neighborhood, called Kfar Hashiloach or the "Yemenite Village." Construction costs were kept low by using the Shiloah spring as a water source instead of digging cisterns. The early 20th century the German Jewish explorer of Arabia and Yemen, Hermann Burkhardt, had paid a visit to this Yemenite community.

During the Arab riots in 1921, the Jewish residents of Silwan were attacked, resulting in a few deaths and destroyed homes. But the next year, Baron Edmond de Rothschild bought several acres of land there and transferred it to the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association. During the 1936-39 riots, many of the Jewish residents fled or were forced out of Silwan, and in 1938, the remaining Yemenite Jews were evacuated by the British authorities. The homes of the Yemenite Jews were then occupied by Arab squatters. After the War of Independence, Silwan was annexed by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which then set out to expropriate Jewish-owned land and to Islamisize occupied Jerusalem. During this period, Jewish burials were halted, massive vandalism took place, and 40,000 of the 50,000 graves were desecrated. King Hussein permitted the construction of the Intercontinental Hotel at the summit of the Mount of Olives together with a road that cut through the cemetery which destroyed hundreds of Jewish graves, some from the First Temple Period. This was the situation until 1967, when Israel captured the Old City and surrounding region in the Six Day War. After theWar, restoration work began, and the cemetery was re-opened for burials. And at the same time, Jewish organizations have sought to re-establish a Jewish presence in Silwan.

The following is a partial list of the prominent personalities that are buried on the Mount of Olives since the beginning of the Zionist movement:

The first, and so far, only female Rebbe, known as the Maiden of Ludomir (1888). She would
     receive questions of halacha from around the world;
Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin (1898) who served as rabbi in Brisk and Jerusalem;
Jacob Saul Elyashar (1906), Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Ottoman Palestine since 1893;
Ben Ish Chai (1909), Sephardi rabbi and posek;
Chief Rabbi Shmuel Salant (1909) who, aside from being universally revered, carried on good
     relations with the Sephardic population. In his old age, he had, as an assistant, Rabbi Eliahu
     David Rabinowitz-Teomim who was Rosh Yeshivah of the Mir Yeshivah. But Rabbi Teomim died
     before Salant (1905). Therefore, Rabbi Chaim Berlin (buried 1912), formerly Chief Rabbi of
     Moscow succeeded him and later Salant after his death.
Shimon Hakham (1910), Bukharian writer and translator of Jewish holy texts and stories in Judeo-
Israel Dov Frumkin (1914), Israeli journalist who helped found one of the first Hebrew newspapers
     in Israel Havatzelet in 1865;
Shlomo Moussaieff (1922) one of the founders of the Bukharan Quarter in Jerusalem;
Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1922) who made Hebrew a spoken language again;
Jacob Israël de Haan (1924) journalist who came from Holland and who identified with Agudat
     Yisrael. As a result, he was assassinated by the Haganah;
Nosson Tzvi Finkel (1927) founded the Slobodka Yeshivah in Hebron. Died 2 years before the Arabs
     destroyed it;
Solomon Eliezer Alfandari (1930), Chief Rabbi of Damascus (1897-1904) and Safed (1911-1918); Nissim Behar (1931), educator and advocate for the Alliance Israelit Universelle education system;
Boris Schatz (1932), an avowed anti-secularist, founder of the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts in
Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld (1932), Hareidi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem (not to be confused with the
     position of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi);
Yossele Rosenblatt (1933), prominent Hazzan;
Abraham Isaac Kook (1935) who held the office of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi in 1921, after the position
     was vacant for a few years;
Yaacov Meir (1939), formerly Chief Rabbi of Palestine 1906-07 until he was overthrown by his
     political enemies. After serving in Salonica, he became Sephardic Chief Rabbi of British
     Mandate Palestine since 1921;
Henrietta Szold (1945), founder of Hadassah;
Meir Feinstein (1947), and Moshe Barazani (1947), celebrated freedom fighters against British
Harry Fischel (1948), American businessman and philanthropist, one of the last individuals to be   
     buried on the Mount before the Arab occupation in 1948.

Prominent burials since the Six Day War:

Princess Alice of Battenberg (1969) mother of Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh and recognized as Righteous Among the Nations for saving a group of Jews in Greece, Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1970), Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman (1976), Uri Zvi Grinberg (1981), Zvi Yehuda Kook (1982) Rosh Yeshivah of the Mercav Harav Yeshivah and son of Abraham Isaac Kook, Robert Maxwell (1991) British MP and philanthropist, Prime Minister Menachem Begin (1992), Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren (1994), Revisionist freedom fighter Israel Eldad (1996), British Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits (1999), Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg (2008) Chabad emissaries to Mumbai India killed by Pakistani terrorists, Moshe Hirsch (2010) leader of Neturei Karta, and Meyer Rosenbaum, Chief Rabbi of Cuba.

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