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When I recently visited Me'arat Hamachpela ("Cave of the Patriarchs) in Hevron, I noticed that there was a ramp leading to a platform facing the outside wall of the building. A few people were praying there.

What is this about?

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    Glad to read you made it to Hevron ! – mbloch Sep 9 at 3:29
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Before the six day war (starting around the 14th century), Muslim rulers forbade Jews from entering the Me'arat Hamachpela and instead only allowed them to go as far as the seventh step at the southeast. Therefore, this was the place where for many years Jews would come to pray.

After the six day war, we are now allowed to enter (at least on most days of the year). Nonetheless, it is still common that people pray at the seventh step. I have heard of two reasons that are given for this practice:

  1. A place where Jews have prayed for many years is itself a reason to pray there. (I forget the name of the Rabbi this is quoted from)
  2. The location of the 7th step is actually closest to the Tombs of the avos.

The ramp that is shown in the picture in your question is approximately where this 7th step used to be located.

  • Historical record of the restriction is available at en.hebron.org.il/history/843 – Micha Berger Sep 10 at 20:06
  • Until the Mamelukes, the restriction limited us to the 5th step. They loosened it a shade to the 7th. So, the 7th step was a place of prayer about 500 years. – Micha Berger Sep 10 at 20:09

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