Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto
Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto at Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs Photo by Ezra Landau
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Ilan Assayag
Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto Photo by Ilan Assayag

There was an uncommon sight Saturday night at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the West Bank city of Hebron, when the religious site's Yitzhak Hall, which is usually only open to Muslim worshippers, was also opened to Jews.

Jewish worshippers have seldom been allowed in the hall since 1994, when Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein shot dead 29 Muslims at prayer there, before he was killed by the worshippers.

The hall was opened Saturday for a visit by Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto of New York, an Israeli-born rabbi

The Ashdod-born Pinto has in recent years been living in Manhattan, where he has become a widely influential figure, successfully securing donations for his "Shuva Israel" organization. Pinto says he believes that the Jewish world is based on charity.

On Saturday, Pinto arrived at the Hebron tomb in a convoy of some 20 buses and cars. The Muslim Waqf, the religious trust that controls sites holy to Islam, covered the tomb's prayer carpet with mats for the occasion.

Giving a biblical discourse, Pinto noted that "people don’t know the great value that this place has. The soul of every Jew who has died arrives at this cave's entrance."

In honor of the visit, the rabbi and his followers decided to double their charitable enterprise, as a giving of thanks to God. Pinto funds 10 soup kitchens in Israel, including two in his native Ashdod, which provide 8,000 hot meals every day. His organization also distributes food baskets to 12,000 needy families and donates $1,000 per month hundreds of Jewish widows around the world.

The some Jewish 500 settlers who reside in the Hebron area took advantage of Pinto's visit to step up their campaign for more money for the tomb, one of Judaism’s holiest sites. The government has approved the addition of the Tomb of the Patriarchs on the national heritage list, although in reality, it is not among the heritage sites that receives government funding.

Noam Arnon, the spokesman for Hebron's settlers, told Haaretz, "The Tomb of the Patriarchs is a center which attracts hundreds of thousands of Jews each year. The public, including every type and group, and rabbis from every sect in Israel and abroad visit here. We expect the government to implement their declaration to add the Tomb of the Patriarchs to the national heritage list, and allocate the resources for maintaining the place in a way that is befitting a place with deep-seated Jewish roots. In the meantime, this is not happening."