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  • The Mission Continues

    As in the past so it remains today - we were and still are under the selfsame commitment to adhere to the directions of the Gedolei Yisrael, who stand guard against breaches of purity threatening our camp. When we were required to ask – we asked. When we were instructed to depart – we left. The moment we are summoned back to raise the flag, every other consideration is pushed to the side and we answer: We are ready!

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  • Harav Yisrael Friedman zy”a, the Rebbe of Husyatin

    מוטי, ויקיפדיה העברית

    The ancestral chain of Harav Yisrael Friedman, the founder of the Husyatin chassidic court, originates with the holy Baal Shem Tov. The Husyatin chassidus has its roots in Galicia and eventually came to Tel Aviv, during the turbulent years between the two World Wars.

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  • Maccabi'im Gravesite

    In honour of Chanukah, we will discuss a fascinating, ongoing investigation attempting to establish the place of burial of Mattisyahu Kohen Gadol and his family.

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In Jewish Sites

Maccabi'im Gravesite

In honour of Chanukah, we will discuss a fascinating, ongoing investigation attempting to establish the place of burial of Mattisyahu Kohen Gadol and his family.

Yechiel Braun 15/12/2009 15:40
Let us begin with a number of points:

First: There is no record in Chazal – either in the Gemara or the Midrashim, of the matter or place of burial of Mattisyahu and his sons.

Second: The Zionists often showed an interest in the events of the first Chanukah. Mattisyahu Kohen Gadol and his sons, whom me mention in the three tefillos and in Birchas HaMazon during Chanukah, are referred to by us as ‘Tehorim, Tzaddikim, Me’atim etc.’ and also, first of all as ‘Chalashim’ – but this last term has been changed by those Zionists who are far from Torah observance to ‘Giborim’ R”l, in order to conform to their preferred image as ‘proud strong Jewish fighters of the modern State.’

The Zionist leaders searched for examples of heroism in order to set them up as paragons of emulation for the youth who would be the fighters of the future, to inspire them. The Christians too, lehavdil, who are themselves idol worshippers, portrayed Mattisyahu and his sons as ancient warriors who fought against the idol worshippers of old.

What is then left for us? We do have sefarim written by Jews during the period of the rebellion and shortly afterwards. There are the sifrei Maccabi’im, the sefer Chashmona’im, Megillas Antiochus known also as Megillah Yavanis. There are the books of Yosef ben Mattisyahu and the books of Josephus.

Here it is important to note that in the Sefer Halachos Gedolos, the following statement appears: “The elders of Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel wrote Megillas Beis Chashmonai…” We have no way of knowing if this reference is to one of the works already mentioned above, or whether it refers to a work that has been lost to us.

Maccabi'im Graves []

All these seforim record the gezeiros imposed by the Yavanim, the ensuing battles and the miracles that took place. Only Sefer Maccabi’im records the death of Mattisyahu Kohen Gadol and the place of his burial in the city of Modi’in on a hill offering a view of the sea, and states that on a clear day, the beautiful building which was erected over his kever can be seen by a person at sea. And so it is described in the Sefer Maccabi’im Alef – chapter 13, “Shimon built [a structure] over the kever of his father and his brothers, and…made a monument from hewn stone, behind and in front [of the kevarim], and he erected around the structure seven pyramids, one next to the other, for his father, his mother, and his four brothers, and he made calculations and set around it large pillars, with a border of fortifications around the pillars as an everlasting monument, and next to the whole edifice, ships were engraved for those who passed by at sea. This is the kever which was made in Modi’in until this very day.”

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The Christians were the first ones to set out in search of the kever. From the inscription they understood that the kever was to be found within the town of Modi’in. But where precisely is, or rather was, the town of Modi’in? The general location was known, to the west of Yerushalayim. In the course of the search, they reached the Arab village called ‘Medya’ (which still exists today). They decided that this was the place where ancient Modi’in had once stood. A number of researchers began to search in that area, some 150-200 years ago. They had to receive permission from the Turkish rulers of the time, and also depended on assistance from the Arabs who lived in the surrounding area.

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The most famous among the researchers was a man by the name of Victor Green. He related how they arrived at the place, near to the village of Medya. There, on a hilltop that offered a view extending to the sea, they found a grave, of an Arab Sheikh, Sheikh Arbavi. A number of steps (twenty-one, to be precise) from there towards the north, they found the kevarim of Mattisyahu and his sons. He further related that the Christians had built a church there, upon the grave, and beneath it, they found a Jewish burial cave. Judging by the nature of the location as he described it, the size of the site and the graves he found, he argued that he had correctly identified the kevarim of Mattisyahu and his sons.

There were those who accused him of plundering the kevarim, and then the Turks also demanded that he cover everything up, without leaving any sign of the excavations that had gone on. Therefore, he only publicised partial findings, and said that he had also removed stones and bones that he found at the site, in order to study them back in Europe.


There were also others who investigated the matter of the kevarim. On Chanukah, exactly one hundred and one years ago, the students of the Herzliya gymnasium in Tel Aviv went out in search of the kevarim of Mattisyahu and his sons. They found an old Arab shepherd in the area, and tried to ask him about ancient Jewish burial sites in the vicinity. He guided them to a site which he called “Kovor al Yehud” (Jewish gravesite) and told them that the site had been known as such by the Arabs of the local village for generations.

The students and their teachers approached the area, which held graves and a burial cave which they found there. They lit memorial candles there, and from then onwards, the area became known as “The Maccabean Graves.” This is what is written on the plaque, and this is what all the tour guides tell their touring parties.

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However, there is just one problem. The site offers no panorama of the sea. The kevarim, and the way the site is constructed, are more typical of towards the end of the Bayis Sheni period (approximately two hundred years after the time of Mattisyahu), and there is also no sign of the huge edifice that once stood at the site, nor are there any remnants of a surrounding town in which the kevarim were supposed to have been situated.

Anyone who travels on Road 443 in the direction of Modi’in can see the plaque on the left side of the road, and a person travelling towards Modi’in in the direction of Road Number 1 will see the same plaque on the right hand side of the road – “Maccabean Graves – Kivrot Hamaccabi’im.” If you turn onto the dirt track at the side of the road, and then turn immediately to the left, you will find the site immediately ahead.

Gravesite this month []

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If you instead keep going down the dirt track, without turning left, continuing for approximately a kilometre, you will see on the right hand side the structure of the burial site of the abovementioned Sheikh, and next to it, a memorial stone to twenty-three soldiers who were viciously slaughtered there by the inhabitants of Medya in 5708 (1948). If you approach the grave of the Sheikh, you can count twenty-one paces to the north, and you will find at your feet remains of a huge structure. Look towards the west – you will see a panorama extending to the sea. On a clear day, the sea is clearly visible.

Because of its strategic location, the site became a military outpost – outpost 219 to be precise. The story of outpost 219 is a story in its own right that deserves to be related in its entirety – nonetheless, here we will relate it briefly.

In the course of the War of Independence, the location was captured by a religious regiment of the Kri’iti brigade. This group captured the region, fortified it and turned it into an army outpost. This was outpost 219. The residents of the village of Medya fell on the outpost and murdered all the soldiers there. The evil ones did not suffice with their murderous rampage – they also desecrated the bodies in horrible ways. Reinforcements were sent, and in the ensuing battle, an additional number of soldiers fell.

The tale of outpost 219 is one of the tales people prefer to keep secret. We will just mention one point: the supervisor of the region, Dov Neshri, arrived at the first memorial ceremony and asked for the forgiveness of the families; he did not attend any of the memorial services that took place over the coming years.

And now we will conclude with a word of caution. A few years ago, a tour guide led a group of tourists to the region. The guide, who was familiar with the surrounding region and who also knew something about archaeology, related the events as stated here, of the investigations of Victor Green and the sign he gave, twenty-one steps from the grave of the Sheikh, Sheikh Arbavi.
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As he spoke, he noticed nearby two chareidi Jews, who were standing and listening to his words, but he paid no special attention to them. On a later occasion when he found himself in the area again, he encountered a group of chareidim cleaning up the gravesite of the Sheikh, and a sign reading “The kevarim of Mattisyahu ben Yochanan Kohen Gadol.” He approached them, and asked them what they were doing, being that the real site of the grave was nearby, twenty-one paces to the north. They answered him derisively, “What? You think we don’t know? That person who investigated [they mentioned the guide’s name] told us that the kever is here!”

They cleaned up the structure over Sheikh Arbavi’s gravesite, removing thick layers of dust and debris. But the Arabs of the village of Medya were adamant in their refusal to put a plaque on that site. By day, the Jews would be present at the site, and in the darkness of night, the Arabs of Medya arrived and broke the stone memorial and destroyed the inscriptions on the walls. While they were at it, the Arabs of Medya did not forget to destroy the memorial plaque to the soldiers of outpost 219.

Approximately a year and a half ago, with the completion of the security fence in that area (with the exception of the area adjoining Bil’in), peace has been restored to the region.