In Search of Har Sinai

In your article on the location of Har Sinai (“Is Har Sinai in Saudi Arabia?” June 5, 2019), you reject the opinion of Jebel Maqla (Jebel al-Lawz is actually another nearby mountain) for the following reasons:
1) According to Chazal, Har Sinai is not located in Midyan.
2) The supposed mizbeiach for the egel that was found in the area is against the “truth of the Torah.”
Regarding your objections:
1) I have no idea why Har Sinai can’t be in Midyan, especially since Jebel Maqla is in the general region of Midyan, not in Midyan (or what was once Midyan) proper. Perhaps you can be specific as to which divrei Chazal you are referring to.
As for your second objection, may I request that you clarify why it is against the Torah to assume that this was the mizbeiach used for the egel? Furthermore, it is irrelevant in determining whether or not Jebel Maqla is Har Sinai. Personally, I would think that their mizbeiach was destroyed with the egel itself.
What is important is:
1) That the peak of Jebel Maqla is clearly completely burned.
2) The large cave near the top corresponds to the nikras hatzur entered by Moshe Rabbeinu and later by Eliyahu Hanavi.
3) Yosifun writes that Har Sinai is the highest mountain in the region of Midyan, which is true of Jebel Maqla. While Yosifun is not among the Chazal, nor a link in our mesorah (perhaps some of his attitudes vis-à-vis the Romans were not al pi Chazal), he was still a recognized historian during sof Bayis Sheini. He had no reason to make this up or even write it without knowing it to be factually correct. He had a reputation as a reliable historian to maintain, and the location of Har Sinai is not a political hashkafic issue.
I would greatly appreciate your evaluating my points and taking the time to respond.
Thank you so much.

Hershel Reichman

 

Rabbi Hool replies:

Thank you for your letter and for your erudite comments.
The premise and “findings” that proponents of the Jebel al-Lawz/Har Sinai equation put forward do not stand up to scrutiny, and the identification is further contradicted by Chazal and the Torah itself.
Yalkut Shimoni Shemos 3:1 tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu traveled 40 days from Midyan with the flock of Yisro until he came to Har Sinai. Thus, the area of Midyan is not the place to look for Har Sinai.
We should not expect to find the altar of the Golden Calf next to Har Sinai because, as you have rightly assumed, it was no doubt destroyed following the precept in Shemos 34:13 to destroy all altars of idol worship.
The Gemara in Sotah 5a says that we should learn humility from Har Sinai by taking note that it was chosen among all the mountains. Contrary to Josephus [Yosifun], this implies that Har Sinai was not the tallest mountain in the area.
The heavenly fire surely did not blacken the mountain, the same way it did not scorch the Sneh. Geologists have argued that the black top of Jebel al-Lawz is the result of a well-known chemical reaction occurring to certain rock strata exposed to prolonged and intense sunlight.
Finally, Moshe Rabbeinu relates in Devarim 1:19 that Bnei Yisrael traveled across the whole wilderness from Chorev to Kadesh Barnea. This implies that Har Sinai was at one end and Kadesh Barnea at the other. This rules out Jebel al-Lawz since it is not located at either end of the desert.