JUDAISM AND ISLAM: The Hajj, Hejaz and Be’er Zamzam in the Torah

Rabbi Ben Abrahamson’s article proves that the walls of the Ka’aba and its roof in Mecca were added during the time of Tubba’ the Yamanite Jew and Qurayish the Ishmaelite. Not taking them into account, the dimensions of the Ka’aba in Mecca and the Altar in Jerusalem parallel each other, both clearly being Abrahamic altars.

The dimensions of the Ka’aba are approximately 12 m square, and inside floor is 3 m off the original ground level. The Hateem extends northwestward about 11 m.
The dimensions of the Altar in Jerusalem were approximately 16 m square, and floor was about 4 m off the ground. The Kevesh extended southward 16 m.
The Ka’aba, however, was the Qiblah for the Muslims who followed the Ishmaelite faith. This holy site in fact has a link with the Hajj, the existence of Mecca, the Hejaz, and be’er Zamzam.
Saadia’s Targum, Sefer Bereshit 24:62

וכאן אסחק קד גא פי מגיה מן אלביר אלתי ללחי אלנטאר והו מקים פי בלד אלקבלה.

Wa kana Ishaq qad ja’a fi maji’ihi min al-bi’r allati lil-Hay Al-Nadhir wa huwa muqim fi balad Al-Qiblah.

(“And Isaac came in the way of Be’er Lahai Roi and he dwelt in the country of Al-Qiblah”),

J. Derenbourg, Version Arabe du Pentateuque de R. Saadia Ben Iosef Al-Fayyoumi (Paris: Ernest Leroux, Editeur, 1893), p. 37.

Ibn Ezra’s commentary on Sefer Bereshit 16:14

באר לחי לאשר יהיה חי לשנה האחרת. כי בכל שנה היו חוגגים הישמעאלים אל הבאר הזות גם היום יקרא באר זמזם

Be’er Lachai la’asher yihyeh chay lash-shanah ha-acheret. Ki be chol shanah hayu Hoggim ha-Yishmaelim el ha-Be’er hazzot gam hayyom yiqqare Be’er Zamzam.
“Be’er Lachai means the well of him who will be alive next year. The well was so called because the Ishmaelites held the Hajj at this well. It is still in existence and is called the well of Zamzam”,

sAsher Weiser, Ibn Ezra: Perushi ha-Torah le Rabbainu Avraham Ibn Ezra (Yerushalayim: Mossad Harav Kook, 1977), p. 151

In his commentary on the Sefer Bereshit 16:14, Rabbi Bachye Ben Asher also said:

באר לחי ראי והטעם כי בכל שנה היו הישמעאלים חוגגים אל הבאר הזה, גם היום יקרא באר זמזם

Be’er Lahai Roi, ve haththo’im ki be chol shanah hayu hay-Yishmaelim Hoggim el ha-be’er hazzeh, gam hayyom yiqqare be’er Zamzam.”
(Be’er Lahai Roi, the well was so called because the Ishmaelites held annuel festivites, the Hajj at this well. It is still in existence and is called the well of Zamzam)

Rabbenu Bachye Bar Asher zl’t Midrash Rabbenu Bachye ‘al Chamisha Chumshe Torah. Bereshit – Shemot. Yerushlayim, p. 60

Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra zl’t dan Rabbi Bachye Ben Asher zl’t explained that be’er Lahai Roi, another name of be’er Zamzam was the holy site of Ishmaelites, and this holy site has a link with the Hajj in Mecca, so that why Rabbi Saadia Gaon mentioned Mesha was the holy town, מכה (Makkah) and Sephar was Medinah in Saadia’s Targum on Sefer Bereshit 10:30 [1].

Also, Rabbi David Kimchi (Radak) obviously explained the Rasag’s term מכא (Mekka) which was really referring to place-name of Mesha as the holy city for Ishmaelites to make their pilgrimage, the Hajj. Radak said:

ומשא, תרגם רב סעדיה ז"ל מכא שהולכים הישמעאלים לחוג שם

(“And Mesha: Rav Saadia Gaon in his Targum, understands the meaning of the word Mesha as what is known nowadays as Mecca, the city to which the Muslims make their pilgrimage, the Hajj”)

Torat Chayim Chamisha Chumshe Torah (Yerushlayim: Mossad Harav Kook, 1986), p. 139.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Saadia Gaon also mentioned the well of Lahai Roi, another name of Zamzam was in the Hejaz, [2]. Amazingly, this verse was to refer to Ibn Ezra ‘s and Rabbi Bachye ben Asher’s commentaries on the Sefer Bereshit 16:14. In other words, Rav Saadia Gaon mentioned the name of holy territory which so called the Hejaz in Arabian peninsula.

Meanwhile, Ibn Ezra and Rabbi Bachye Ben Asher, however, both mentioned the name of holy well which so called the be’er Zamzam in Arabian peninsula. The Rabbis have the same episteme to understand the verses on the Sefer Bereshit 16:7-14. Rasag’s commentary in his Judeo-Arabic Targum was indeed an introduction to understand the Ishmaelite holy site, the well of Zamzam [3].

פוגדהא מלאך אללה עלי עין מא פי אלבריה עלי אלעין פי טריק חגר אלחיגאז

Fa wajadaha malak ALLAH ‘ala ‘ain ma’in fi al-bariyyah, ‘ala al-‘ain allati fi thariq Hajr Al-Hijaz.”

J. Derenbourg, Version Arabe du Pentateuque de R. Saadia Ben Iosef Al-Fayyoumi. Paris: Ernest Leroux, Editeur, 1983), p. 24

Based on the rabbinical texts, Isaac came in the way of well of Zamzam (Ibn Ezra’s commentary, Sefer Bereshit 16:14; 24:62, Rabbi Bachya ben Asher 16:14), he dwelt in the country of Al-Qiblah (Saadia’s Targum, Sefer Bereshit 24:62), which Al-Qiblah was in the South, in Hajr Al-Hijaz (Saadia’s Targum, Sefer Bereshit 16:7).

Furthermore, the well of Zamzam was the holy site for Ishmaelites to make their Hajj (Ibn Ezra’s and Rabbenu Bachye ben Asher’s commentaries, Sefer Bereshit 16:14) which this site was in fact in the holy city of Mecca for Ishmaelites to make their Hajj [4]. Therefore, these are in fact four pillars and 4 key-words in discourse analysis on the Ishmaelite pilgrimage, the Hajj.

The Ishmaelite pilgrimage has a link with:

  1. Be’er Zamzam (באר זמזם)
  2. Hajr Al-Hijaz (חגר אלחגאז)
  3. Al-Qiblah (אלקבלה)
  4. Makka (מכא)

Negev, according to Saadia’s is the Qiblah, to refer to the HOLY PLACE, not only a place (an sich). In Saadia’s Targum, Negev is not Jerusalem as the (future) Qiblah. But Negev is the (future) Qiblah itself which lies in the south of Judea.

According to Rabbi Samson Rapael Hirsch – Hebron, now the name of Hebron beforetime was Kiriath Arba also lies in Judea, not in Negev. According to him, Negev exactly means ערבה (Arabia). When Abraham lived in Mamre, district of Hebron (south of Jerusalem), Abraham then took a journey to the Negev, to the SOUTH, to the Qiblah. So, Abraham took a journey to the Qiblah in Arabia, not to the Qiblah in Judea. Obviously,

Isaac also took a journey to Be’er Lachai Roi, the Be’er Zamzam, a holy place in the South, a holy place of the Ishmaelites and Abraham dwelt. It is so clear.

Our topic here is about the meaning of THE QIBLAH correctly according to Saadia’s on the Sefer Bereshit 12:9. So, we have to compare the other traditional rabbinical sources, such as Ibnu Ezra, Rashi, Radak, Hirsch etc.

  1. The Qiblah (Saadia Gaon).
  2. The place of ADONAI (Rabbi Bachya ben Asher)
  3. The Neqba – dry land, hot there (Ibn Ezra).
  4. The South: the whole district from Jerusalem SOUTHWARDS which so called ערבה – ‘Araba, the wilderness territory (Hirsch).


The Qiblah lies in ערבה (Araba), in the wilderness, not on the mount in Judea. The Qiblah lies in the South of Jerusalem, not in Jerusalem itself as the Qiblah.

Pls read Rashi’s words carefully, לדרומה של ארץ ישראל והיא לצד ירושלים (li-drumah shel eretz Yisrael ve hiya letzad Yerushalayim (to the South of the land of Israel which is the direction of Jerusalem). The keyword of Rashi’s words here is the preposition לצד which implies that it is not Jerusalem itself but “adjacent” or “on the side of.” Therefore we can be certain that what Rav Saadia Gaon meant was Mecca as the Qiblah, as the SOUTH in Arabian peninsula (Al Hejaz).

Rabbi Abraham ben Isaiah and Rabbi Benjamin Sharfman on “The Pentateuch and Rashi’s Commentary. Genesis: A Linear Translation into English, the Rashi’s commentary on the verse was translated by the rabbis as follows: lalechet lidromah (ללכת לדרומה) lit. means “to go to the South”, shel eretz Yisrael (של ארץ ישראל) lit. means “of the land of Israel”, ve hiya letzad Yerushalayim (והיא לצד ירושלים) lit. means “and it is on the Southern side of Jerusalem.”  [5].

In the Chamisha Chumshe Torah: Bereshit. The Pentateuch: Translated & Explained. Genesis, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch also said:

“the South of Palestine was by no means the most flourishing part, the whole district from Jerusalem southwards is called in the book of Zacharia ערבה (‘Araba), meaning “Wilderness” [6].

The whole district from JERUSALEM SOUTHWARDS is called in the book of Zacharia ערכה (‘Araba), meaning WILDERNESS. What does it mean? THE SOUTH of Palestine is not JUDEA, but ערבה (‘ARABA) itself, and Jerusalem is not a part of ערבה (‘ARABA). Jerusalem as the (future) holy place is not a part of ערבה (Araba), and according to Rabbi Somson Raphael Hirsch it means that Jerusalem is not the Qiblah, Jerusalem is not a part of Araba, Jerusalem is not a part of the South, and Jerusalem is not a part of the Neqba. Hirsch’s commentary refers to the Genesis Rabbah 39:16 “And Abram journeyed, going on still toward THE SOUTH (xii,9): he drew a course and journeyed “TOWARD THE (FUTURE) SITE OF THE TEMPLE.” Which temple is it? Of course the temple site of the South, the temple site of Neqba, the temple site of ARABA.

Now we understand that THE QIBLAH which was meant by Saadia’s must be the future temple site of Araba, not in Jerusalem. So, what is the reason to think that Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s commentary and Bereshit (Genesis) Rabba 39:16. contradict with Saadia’s Judeo-Arabic Targum? Nothing at all.


  1. See Rabbi Nosson Scherman and Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz (ed.). Sefer Bereshit. Bereishis. A New Translation with A Commentary Anthologized from Talmudic, Midrashic and Rabbinic Sources. Translated and Commentary by Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz (Brookyln, New York: Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 1995), p. 332.
  2. See the Judeo-Arabic Targum on the Sefer Bereshit 16:7
  3. Saadia’s Targum, Sefer Bereshit 16:7
  4. Radak’s commentary, Sefer Bereshit 10:30.
  5. (Brooklyn, New York: S.S. & R. Publishing Company, Inc., 1976), p. 105
  6. (London: L. Honig & Sonss Ltd., 1963), p. 235.

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