Unique Sites of Israel: Beit El | The Jewish Press – JewishPress.com | Nosson Shulman | 4 Tammuz 5782 – July 3, 2022


Photo credit: butterflycreationfoto / Shutterstock

Believed to be the exact spot in Beit El where Jeroboam set up his golden calf.

He (Jacob) spent the night there… and slept there. He dreamed… A ladder was placed towards the earth and its top reached to the sky; and… angels of Gd ascended and descended on it… Gd stood above him, and He said: “I am Hashem, Gd of Abraham, your ancestor and Gd of Isaac. The ground on which you lie I will give to you and…your descendants…Jacob arose from his sleep and said: “Surely G‑d is present in this place…and he took the stone…and set it up as a pillar …and he named the place Bethel (Beit El) (Genesis 28:11-19)”.

Jacob dreaming of the ladder with angels ascending and descending the steps. In it, Gd promises the land of Israel to Jacob and his descendants forever.
Photo taken from the public domain

Today we are going to explore a real treasure! Although one of the most climatic and important events in the Bible took place here, few tourists visit it. You will soon understand why this site is not to be missed!

Beit El is originally mentioned when Abraham and his family first entered the land of Israel. Gd had told him to leave his homeland and go to the land “which I will show you (Genesis 12:1)”. After arriving in Israel from Haran (a part of modern Turkey), he traveled south, eventually arriving in Beit El where he temporarily pitched his tent and set up an altar to Hashem (Gd) and invoked Hashem by name (Genesis 12-8) .

Haran (in a red circle) where Gd told Abraham to leave his hometown. Beit El (in the blue circle) where he built the altar.
Photo credit: Credit: https://www.thebiblejourney.org/

Eventually Abraham traveled further south, eventually settling in Beer Sheva (often spelled Beer Sheva). Two generations later, Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, fled Beersheba (click here to see the article) to get away from his murderous brother Esau, returning to Haran to find a wife (Rebecca didn’t want that his son married a local Canaanite, so his father Isaac ordered him to return to Haran to marry). On the way, the sun set when Jacob arrived in Beit El, so he spent the night there in the open.

Jacob will flee from Beer Sheva (in the green circle) taking the road (red line) to Beit El (in the blue circle)

Why does the Bible make specific mention of sunset (Genesis 28:10)? According to Jewish sources, Jacob was praying to Gd there when he heard angels talking. Jacob then realized that he was standing in a most holy site bound in heaven. However, with a long journey ahead of him and several hours ahead of him in the day, he was about to leave when Gd caused the sun to set early, so Jacob would spend the night there and Gd would reveal himself in a dream. (the place was particularly conducive to higher levels of prophecy).

Jacob then took stones from the site, placing them around him to protect him from wild animals. According to Jewish sources, these were exactly 12 stones, representing the 12 sons he would have and who would make up the tribes of Israel. While he slept, the stones combined into one large stone (the one he used as a pillow), which meant that his 12 sons would be righteous and follow his ways.

According to tradition, this is where Jacob had his dream where Gd promises Israel as an eternal inheritance to the children of Israel.

Later, a Canaanite city-state emerged in Beit El with its own king. Joshua and his army defeated them by entering Israel, and the land fell into the territory of Ephraim.

Beit El (in the red circle) was in the territory given to the tribe of Ephraim.

Hundreds of years later, after the death of King Solomon, the kingdom split in two and Beit El ended up in the northern kingdom of Israel.

After King Solomon, the united monarchy split into two kingdoms: Judah in the south and Israel in the north.
Photo credit: Oldtidens_Israel_&_Judea.svg: – CC BY-SA 3.0

The kingdom of Israel was to be ruled by Jeroboam (initially) just with his capital at Samaria, while the southern kingdom continued to be ruled by Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, with Jerusalem as his capital.

Unfortunately, power quickly rose to Jeroboam’s head and he made some fateful decisions. When the Temple exists, all Jews are obliged to visit Jerusalem at least three times a year: Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. Jeroboam feared that when his subjects (who were all Jews) went to Jerusalem, their hearts would turn to the ruler of Judah, and they would begin to see him as a secondary king and eventually overthrow him. He therefore decided to set up new places of worship, with golden calves, at Beit El and Dan (1 Kings 12:28-29). He even invented his own holiday and declared himself a priest, burning incense to calves in Beit El. Ultimately, these mistaken fears led the Kingdom of Israel to spiritual ruin. This, according to Jewish sources, is why the northern kingdom was exiled 133 years earlier than the more righteous southern kingdom of Judah. Ultimately, his descendants continued in his evil ways and were wiped off the face of the earth (1 Kings 13:33-34) with Jeroboam having no part in the world to come.

Believed to be the exact spot in Beit El where Jeroboam set up his golden calf.
Photo Creditbutterflycreationfoto/Shutterstock

A few hundred years later, the righteous King Josiah of Judah destroyed this “high place” of Beit-El (2 Kings 23:15). Soon after, Babylonia conquered Israel and destroyed Beit El.

The Persians who conquered the Babylonian Empire 70 years later rebuilt Beit El, and when the Greek forces of Alexander the Great conquered the country from them in 332 BCE, the city continued to grow. In the second century BCE, when Hellenist (Greek) forces fought the famous Jewish rebels known as the Maccabees, they fortified the city, although eventually the Maccabees were successful and expelled the Greeks from Israel, thus restoring Jewish sovereignty for the next 80 years. years throughout Israel (the Jewish holiday of Chanukah is linked to these events).

In the 1100s, the Crusaders built a chapel on this site. When the Muslims expelled the Crusaders, they also built a mosque here.

Entrance to the Crusader Chapel. The domed structure (closed) on the left is the mosque which was later built by the conquering Muslims.
Photo credit Project Elef Millim – CC BY-SA 4.0

Between 1948 and 1967, Jordan controlled this land, and when Israel liberated Judea and Samaria (West Bank), they reestablished a Jewish settlement here. Today the population is around 6200, with many new houses being built.

The Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El.
Photo credit: יעקב – CC BY-SA 3.0

Today, Beit El has a lot to offer tourists of all ages! On your next trip, let’s plan to visit this treasure together!

Please visit the author’s site on guided tours in Israel: https://guidedtoursofisrael.com

Relive Beit El with Nosson Shulman for yourself luxury private tour in israel. For a sample that includes Beit El, Click here

(All images are public domain or rented by the author)


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