Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government has been described as “neo-Ottoman” in outlook, told the Saudi paper Al Wattan (March 7, 2010) that the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb “were not and never will be Jewish sites, but Islamic sites.”
Yet Erdogan’s statement contradicts firmans (deeds of rights) issued by the Ottoman authorities in Turkey recognizing Jewish rights at Rachel’s Tomb.
In 1827 the Turks issued the firman that gave legal force to the Jewish presumption of ownership at the site. Additionally, the governor of Damascus sent a written order to the Mufti of Jerusalem to fulfill the Sultan’s order.
This is our order to you: (the following matter) was submitted to us by the subject of our order, the sage representative of honored Jerusalem’s Jewry and his translator that the tomb of esteemed Rachel, the mother of our Lord Joseph…they (the Jews) are accustomed to visit it from ancient days; and no one is permitted to prevent them or oppose them (from doing) this….It turned out that at this holy site, they have been visiting since ancient times, without any person preventing them or trespassing on their property and they (have it) as was their custom. In accordance with the respected judgment, I order that our commandment be issued to you so you will treat them accordingly without addition or without subtraction, without hindrance and without opposition to them by anyone in any way whatsoever – written August 10, 1830.
An additional firman from April 1831, eight months later, determined inter alia:
To inform and demonstrate to all interested parties and the appointed officials, the right of the Jews who are residents of holy Jerusalem to visit the grave of Rachel, the mother of the Prophet Joseph, peace be upon him, without hindrance….The deputy translator and other public functionaries, members of the Jewish community of Jerusalem, approached me with many requests regarding the tomb of Rachel, may peace be upon her, the mother of the Prophet Joseph, peace be upon him, and it is known that this grave is located outside the city of Jerusalem opposite the town of Bethlehem, on the highway…and that since ancient times the Jews have tended to visit this holy grave without anybody preventing them from doing so, as an inviolable law. And now people have emerged who have begun to hinder them, although as aforesaid and as proven the Jews have a right to visit the grave according to the sultan’s order. Hence I approach his honor the governor, may he be exalted, reminding him of the contents of the existing order. I also order him to attempt to remove the obstacles from the Jews, residents of Holy Jerusalem and others, so they can visit the aforementioned holy grave unhindered. Rendered in Istanbul at the end of the month of Shawwal in the year 1246 to the Hejira. Signed: The Sublime Porte.