Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Sivan 5761 - June 20, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Amuka: The Tsiyun of the Tanna Hakodosh Yonoson Ben Uziel

by R. Tal

"Our rabbis have taught: Hillel Hazoken had eighty disciples, thirty of whom were worthy of the Divine Spirit resting upon them as [it did upon] Moshe Rabbenu, thirty of whom were worthy that the sun should stand still for them [as it did for] Yehoshua ben Nun [and the remaining] twenty were ordinary. The greatest of them was Yonoson ben Uziel. . ."

It was said of Yonoson ben Uziel that when he used to sit and occupy himself with the study of the Torah, every bird that flew above him was immediately burnt. (Succah 28a.)

Nine-hundred-year-old written records link the final resting place of the tanna hakodosh Yonoson ben Uziel to Amuka, a place hidden in a wooded valley between Tsefas and Chatzor, north of the Biriya forest in Eastern Upper Galilee. Amuka, meaning "deep," derives its name from the fact that the grave is at the bottom of a gorge that bisects the high surrounding hills.

Busloads of seminary girls and yeshiva bochurim, Ashkenazi and Sephardi parents, and yes, Tel-Avivians -- kol am Yisroel -- flock to the tsiyun. In the merit of the great tzaddik resting there, they beseech Hakodosh Boruch Hu to help them find their true zivug.

The tsiyun is never empty. There is a constant flow of people to the building over the tsiyun year round, although it is believed that the yahrtzeit of Yonoson ben Uziel falls on 25 Sivan. The domed room is filled with books of Tehillim, weathered siddurim and scraps of colorful cloth tied wherever one looks. Outside, people are lighting candles.

Who was Yonoson ben Uziel? How do we know that this is his burial site? And how did this place become a magnet for those seeking their bashert?

Hatanna hakodosh Yonoson ben Uziel is best known for his Aramaic translation of the Nevi'im. In Megillah 3a we read, "The targum of the Torah was composed by Onkelos the Ger under the guidance of R. Elozor and R. Yehoshua. The targum of the Nevi'im was composed by Yonoson ben Uziel under the guidance of Chagai, Zecharya and Malachi, and Eretz Yisroel quaked over an area of four hundred parsa by 400 parsa. A bas kol came out and said, `Who is the one who revealed My secrets to mankind?' Yonoson ben Uziel arose and said, `It is I who have revealed Your secrets to mankind. You know that I did not do so for my own honor nor for the honor of my father's house, but I have done it for Your honor, in order that dissension not increase in Israel.' "

According to another gemora in Megillah 3a, the tanna had also planned to author a translation- commentary on the Kesuvim, but was prevented from doing so by Shomayim so that he would not reveal the secret of the final redemption.

The tsiyun of Yonoson ben Uziel is mentioned in the very first list of kivrei tzaddikim that has been found: Megillas Evyosor from the end of the 11th century, discovered in the Cairo genizah. A document from the genizah mentions Abu Saad El-Amkui (man of Amuka).

In the second half of the 12th century, Yaakov ben Nesan'el Hacohen describes the tsiyun. He reports that the son of Yeshaya Hanovi (this is the lone evidence -- other places say he is buried elsewhere) and Yonoson ben Uziel are buried in Amuka. He expresses his amazement at how the Jews were able to quarry the burial caves into the rock of the mountain. A local Jew showed him a book where it was written that there are over one hundred caves in the area, but no one knew who was buried in them. They were quarried during a three-year period of shmittah, yovel, and the year following: the blessing of these years allowed them time for this project.

There are reports of a Jewish settlement in Amuka in the Middle Ages. Olei regel would frequent Amuka as well as the other kevorim in the area: in Dalton, Param (today's Chatzor Haglilit), Avnit, Ein Zeitim, Tsefas, and others.

Rabbi Shmuel ben Shimshon in 4970 (1210) evidently identifies Amuka in his writings as "Kfar Ameinu" among the villages with a Jewish population. He adds: "There is a big tree above it and Yishmaelim bring oil and light candles and make vows." In the 14th century, the tsiyun was renovated by one of the early kabbalists from Tsefas by the name of Rav Shem Tov Gaon, who had come from Spain.

At the beginning of the 14th century, an anonymous student of the Ramban passed through Amuka and was very impressed by the tree over the kever, the likes of which he had never seen. In 1322, Eshtori Haparchi mentions Amuka in his "Kaftor Voferach," in his description of the borders of the tribe of Naftoli.

In a list of kivrei tzaddikim from about 1335 in the Cairo genizah collection in Cambridge, we read, "In Amuka Rabbi Yonoson ben Uziel, of the Targum Yerushalmi, and a beautiful tree blossoming above it was burnt and there is a beautiful tsiyun of hewn stone, a new building."

Perhaps Jews were no longer in the area at the time that Rabbi Moshe Basolo visited Amuka in 1522. He mentioned that there were 80 houses, but no Jews living there. He reported that, "Near the stone tsiyun is a tree, unmatched for its thickness, breath of branches and beauty."

In one version of Igros Misifras Yichusta Detzaddikei Eretz Yisroel we read that a beautiful carob tree grows above the splendorous tsiyun. Another version notes that it was a large oak tree. Other visitors mentioned this tree by different names.

Jews have continued to frequent the tsiyun throughout the generations. Rav Chaim Horowitz wrote in his book, Chibas Yerushalayim, "And when I merited to be there, I had immeasurable nachas ruach."

In writings from 5648 (1888), M. M. Ravin tells of the hardships involved in reaching Amuka from Tsefas. "There at the edge of the village: the holy, awesome tsiyun of Yonoson Ben Uziel. We approached the majestic place with trembling, and recited Tehillim for half an hour. We beseeched Hashem from the depths of our hearts. . ."

The Jews of Tsefas used to frequent the tsiyun of Yonoson ben Uziel on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, as mentioned by Yosef ben Shabtai in 5596 (1836). He gives a delightful description of the site. "The kever is surrounded by a square-shaped, ancient wall. From the middle of the kever a large multi-branched oak tree with many branches is growing. A thousand people could sit in its shade, and it covers over the kever like a wall. They say that its good green leaves are an aid in the cure of many diseases. Near the kever is a clear water spring. It is said that the spring began to flow and the tree began to grow on the date of the petirah of the wise man."

Note: Nowhere in these sources are we told that Amuka is an auspicious place to daven for a shidduch.

While our rabbis tell us that davening at kivrei tzaddikim is a segulah for all types of help, the tradition of Amuka as an address for unmarried men and women is a relatively new one, according to experts in the field. It was "rediscovered" about fifty years ago by Rav Shalom Gefner of Meah Shearim, among many other holy grave sites, which he ferreted out according to the writings of Rav Chaim Vital, based on the teachings of the Arizal.

A well-known famous Tsefati, Hershel the Shamash and Rav Berel Tsfaser knew the location of the tsiyun of Yonoson ben Uziel and told Rav Shalom about it in 1951. There were no roads in the area at that time. Reb Shalom began to come to the tsiyun with groups of young men: braving the elements, traversing dirt paths and scurrying down rocky mountainsides in order to reach it. Some of these adventurous bochurim were of marriageable age, and some became engaged soon after their trek to Amuka, the story goes, for lifum tsa'aro agro. . . And more bochurim made the trip, and more eligible young ladies. . .as roads were paved and access was facilitated.

In a book called, Tovah Ri'iyata from 5734 (1974), it is said in the name of Rav Chaim Lichtenstein (who was niftar in 5725) that, "Prayer at the tsiyun, of Yonoson Ben Uziel is a segulah for shidduchim." This is the earliest written mention of the place being a segulah for shidduchim.

Explanations have been offered ex post facto to explain the segulah. Some say that since Rav Yonoson never married, he helps others find their true mates as a kaporoh, but there seems to be no reason to believe that he in fact remained single.

Some, probably as a joke, use a source in Rashi on Yevomos 17a: "All pisulim that don't find a wife go there." The next Rashi begins "Vehi amuka," referring to the next statement in the gemora.

Perhaps the tradition that this is the place to pray for a zivug has been strengthened because of its efficacy! There are many stories of people getting engaged soon after a trip to Amuka. The fact that it has been accepted by Am Yisroel gives credence and strength to the segulah.

Biriya Forest

Amuka is tucked into the Biriya Forest. Biriya was a major Torah study center during Mishnaic times. There is evidence that Rabbi Yosef Caro completed the first of the four sections of the Shulchan Oruch in Biriya in the year 1555, either following a terrible plague in Tsefas, or simply to be able to learn and write without disturbances.

The current Biriya forests were planted mainly during the thirties and fifties, when the Keren Kayemet provided jobs to unemployed new immigrants who planted trees to help green the country's barren hills. The Biriya forest is mostly planted with Jerusalem pine but, for diversity, KKL-JNF has planted Brutia and Canary pines and Atlantic cedars as well.

The Galil's natural vegetation flourishes in open spaces and among the trees: Spanish Broom, Thorny Broom, Rockrose, Hawthorn bush and seasonal flowers. The greenery of KKL-JNF afforested upper hill slopes boldly contrasts with the stubby natural brush covering the lower slopes. Following harsh snowstorms in the winter of 1991-92, thousands of damaged trees had to be replaced.

There are remains of an Arab village east of the tsiyun up on the hill. As in so many similar cases, the village kept the ancient name "Amuka," continuing the tradition of the Jewish village existing here at the time of the Mishnah called Kfar Amuko or Amki.

How to Get There

There are three different routes to Amuka. The routes from Ein Zeitim and Chatzor Haglilit used to be only for the adventurous; the labyrinthine dirt roads seemed to go on forever and lead nowhere. In the last year, however, new signs have been put up pointing to the major sites of the Biriya forest for both hikers and vehicles.

Immediately north of the Tsefas junction on road #89 there are signs pointing to the Biriya forest and to Amuka. This route will take you through the winding roads of this beautiful forest and is perhaps the easiest, although the longest.

One may also get there from road #886. Heading north from the Ein Zeitim junction there is a turnoff to the right after about 1.9 kilometers. This route will first take you to the Nevuriya synagogue ruins and then to Amuka. Parts of this route are also unpaved, but passable.

Starting at road #90 from Chatzor Haglilit, near the tsiyun of Choni Hama'ageil, there is a 5.8- kilometer-route for the adventurous. 2.9 kilometers of this route are unpaved, but passable most of the year by most vehicles. Follow signs.

There is a nicely shaded picnic area near the tsiyun, amidst an orchard with trees of the "seven species."

Amuka in the emek

Walkway to tziyun hakever


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