Werner Braun

Rachel’s tomb, just outside Bethlehem, draws a steady stream of pilgrims and is a favored place of prayer for women who yearn to become fertile or to bear male offspring. Rachel’s own difficulty in bearing children, and the resulting conflict with her fertile sister Leah, is detailed in Genesis 29–35.

The site has been considered Rachel’s tomb at least since the first century C.E., with attestations from Josephus, the Talmud and early Church fathers. Early records describe the tomb as a pyramid made of 12 stones—11 said to have been placed by Jacob’s sons and one large stone placed by Jacob himself. The Crusaders erected a cupola supported by four columns over the monument. The arches were walled up in 1788, giving the building the appearance it has today of a Moslem-style tomb of an important figure.

Jewish tradition divined great significance in the fact that Rachel was buried alongside an open road, while her erstwhile rival Leah was laid to rest, along with the other matriarchs and patriarchs, within the recesses of the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron. The prophet Jeremiah wrote that Rachel comforted the Israelite exiles as they were carried away to captivity in Babylon: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted” (Jeremiah 31:15). Thus the once-barren Rachel is identified as the spiritual mother of all of Jacob’s descendants.