How biblical war hero Abner inspires the family of a fallen IDF commander
The Tomb of Abner ben Ner in Hebron reopened when cases of COVID-19 substantially decreased. As museums, theaters and other public venues reopened, so did historic sites, such as the small, little-known burial chamber of the ancient commander-in-chief of Israel’s army. The biblical figure has parallels to fallen IDF commander Dror Weinberg whose family helped make the site accessible.
Like his Biblical counterpart, Weinberg was both a scholar and a soldier. At the time of his death in 2002, IDF Central Command Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky was quoted as calling him “one of the IDF’s most prominent field commanders.” He was mourned as a leader who managed to establish good relations with both the Jewish and Arab residents of Hebron and took an uncompromising stance against terrorism but strove not to burden the average residents.
Uri Weinberg, Dror’s father spoke to In Jerusalem about his late son and the family’s connection to the Tomb of Abner.
“Young soldiers in IDF officer’s school have a special class about his legacy,” the father states.
Dror was killed in a 2002 terrorist ambush that left 12 people dead and over a dozen wounded. Members of Islamic Jihad waited in ambush, threw grenades and opened fire at a group of Jewish worshipers coming home Friday evening from prayers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Weinberg and his team rushed to the scene of the attack that occurred on the path from Kiryat Arba to Hebron, now called “Hero’s Way.” A large stone memorial with the names of the 12 victims now stands at the beginning of the path.
Both soldiers and civilians, including a Bedouin and immigrants from France and Ukraine, were killed in the attack.
After Weinberg’s death, stories emerged of what he was all about: a humble, sensitive yet determined commander who excelled in leadership and had been tapped for senior positions in the IDF. The 38-year-old resident of Jerusalem’s Kiryat Moshe neighborhood left behind a pregnant wife and five children. Today, he would have been a grandfather.
“Dror grew up here in Kfar Saba,” his father says. “We still live here. He always wanted to be a teacher or educator. But life is sometimes different and it happened to be that he became a leader and educator in the army.”
Several books have been written about Weinberg’s life and sacrifice including one by award-winning children’s author and educator Ronit Levinstein-Meltz.
ANCIENT HOLY SITE
For his military officer’s training, Dror had written a final exam paper on King David whose capital city was originally Hebron. As a commander in Hebron, Dror made efforts to see that holy sites were kept open and accessible, something that the Second Intifada made difficult. One of those sites was the Tomb of Abner.
During normal times, the site was open ten days a year, corresponding to the special days on the Jewish calendar when the Tomb of the Patriarchs was open exclusively for Jewish prayers. It was also arranged that the site would be open late at night when Torah study sessions took place. When the coronavirus pandemic began, the site, along with most other places in the country, was closed.
When COVID-19 cases dramatically decreased, the Tomb of Abner was opened late at night on Mondays and Thursdays, once the Cave of the Patriarchs was already closed to visitors for the day.
The Weinberg family is credited with petitioning the government and military to ensure its continued accessibility. The tomb that memorializes Abner, a Hebrew warrior also killed in Hebron but revered as a hero, resonated deeply for Weinberg’s loved ones.
WHO WAS ABNER
The Bible describes Abner, the son of Ner, as a heroic leader who served as commander of the army of Israel under Saul, the first king of Israel. It was Abner who first introduced the young David to Saul.
Abner initially followed Saul’s orders to pursue David, but after Saul’s death, he took David’s side and tried to make peace between rival factions. Abner was treacherously slain by David’s former top general Joab at the gate to Hebron.
“And they buried Abner in Hebron, and the king raised his voice and wept on Abner’s grave, and all the people wept,” states the Book of Samuel.
Just minutes from the Cave of the Patriarchs complex, one encounters a small courtyard. A narrow stairway leads down to a small chamber where a stone tomb memorializes the ancient Jewish warrior.
A parochet, embroidered curtain, is draped over the tomb dedicated in memory of Dror Weinberg.
THE TOMB TODAY
Tzuri Hollander, manager of the Cave of the Patriarchs for the better part of 10 years spoke to In Jerusalem about the site and its significance. As an employee of the religious council of Kiryat Arba-Hebron, he is in charge of maintenance of the towering structure where the memorials for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah Rebecca and Leah are located. Abner’s Tomb, just adjacent, is included as part of his responsibility.
When Hollander started his job, he worked closely with the authorities to ensure the Tomb of Abner was accessible. After much discussion, he arranged for the site to be opened Thursday nights from 10:00 pm to midnight.
It was an inconvenient time for most people, so a kollel, or Torah study group was organized to meet there and soon about twenty dedicated students descended the old stone stairs to sit at the historic site and conduct late night study sessions and sing bakashot [Sephardic liturgical songs].
Hollander related a story that highlights the significance the site holds for many people. An IDF commander who had recently finished his service contacted him one day and told him of a close friend who was suffering from a serious form of cancer.
“He told me that he was not asking, but ordering me to open the tomb for another day,” Hollander said. This is how the site was opened on Mondays as well as Thursdays. The kollel members prayed for the IDF commander’s ailing friend every week. “Today his friend is doing well,” Hollander said.
The twice-weekly hours lasted until corona hit when the tomb was shut like much of the world. The tomb was reopened along with other sites in Israel after the Ministry of Health lifted regulations on indoor gatherings and rescinded many other restrictions.
Hollander mentioned the numerous legends of the site. According to the Bible Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul was beheaded by two of his own men. His two killers expected King David to reward them for killing his deposed rival. But David saw it as a needless, treasonous murder and had them hanged beside the pool in Hebron. The head of Ish-bosheth was given an honorable burial in Abner’s tomb.
One Kabbalistic legend Hollander related is that Abner was both scholarly and physically strong, so much so that if the world was a gate only Abner could open it.
Over the generations, the site has been referenced by many world travelers. The Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela who began his journeys in 1165, wrote that the Tomb of Abner is “a bow-shot west of the cave.” Another traveler, Moses Basola, recorded his visit to the site in 1522.
Weinberg laments the site is not open more often, but blames the situation, not anyone in particular. “It’s a national problem,” he explained, based on security concerns.
He noted the numerous tour groups that visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs throughout the year, which before COVID-19, hit a record high of one million. They could be visiting the Tomb of Abner as well, Weinberg said.
“It should be open every day, and I’m not just saying that because I was Dror’s father. It’s not just Israeli history, it’s Jewish history, it’s the Bible.”