The building that stands now, is not the original tomb built for Rachel. According to the biblical account, “Jacob erected a monument on her grave; that is the tombstone of Rachel until this day” (Genesis 35:20). Given that he was traveling with a large family, it is believed that the original monument was a simple pillar of rocks. Apparently, it was a tall enough monument to remain standing for centuries. The Midrash Rabbah mentions that when the Jewish people were driven out of the Land of Israel, they passed by the very same road where Rachel lay buried. Upon seeing her weeping descendants, the soul of Rachel presented herself before the Heavenly Court and successfully advocated for mercy for her children. (Click here to read more.)
Because of the scarcity of written records, it is difficult to ascertain who maintained the tomb over the centuries or what the tomb looked like during the various stages of early Middle Eastern history. The 12th century traveler and writer Benjamin of Tudela describe Rachel’s Tomb thus: “This monument is constructed of eleven stones, equal to the number of the children of Jacob. It is covered by a cupola (a type of dome), which rests upon four pillars; and every Jew who passes there inscribes his name on the stones of the monument.”
While the site of Rachel’s Tomb was reconstructed in 2011, the image that is most familiar is that of the post-renovation building sponsored by Sir Moses Montefiore after the tomb was damaged by an earthquake in 1837. Aware of the fact that the Muslims also revered the site of the tomb, Sir Moses not only rebuilt the domed structure over the tomb but also built an ante-chamber where Muslims could pray and prepare their dead for burial in the nearby Muslim cemetery.