I’ve seen lots of theories about the location of Mount Sinai. Is there any validity to those theories? I know that Judaism reveres the Temple Mount as the site of the Holy Temple, but is there any location that Judaism reveres or at least recognizes as Mount Sinai, the place where G‑d gave the Torah and where the Jewish nation was born? And if not, why?


There are lots of theories, but none of them are even close to conclusive. Why is that? Why have the Jewish sages not preserved a tradition regarding the location of the most monumental event in all of history? Why the ambivalence?

Once the Jewish people received the Torah on Mount Sinai and continued their journey to the Land of Israel, there is just one biblical mention of anyone going back to Mount Sinai.

We read in the Book of Kings1 how, hundreds of years after the giving of the Torah, Elijah the prophet fled the wicked queen Jezebel and took refuge in a cave on “the mountain of G‑d, Horeb,” which is identified as none other than Mount Sinai.

But on closer examination, this incident itself only underscores the question.

The day after Elijah took refuge, the word of G‑d came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

After the prophet complained about his lot and the bad deeds of the people, G‑d told him to step outside and stand on the mountainside. Elijah did so, and then, in one of the most stirring moments in Scripture, we read:

Behold! the L‑rd passes, and a great and strong wind splitting mountains and shattering boulders before the L‑rd—but the L‑rd was not in the wind.

And after the wind, an earthquake—not in the earthquake was the L‑rd.

After the earthquake, fire—not in the fire was the L‑rd.

And after the fire, a still small sound.

And as Elijah heard, he wrapped his face in his mantle, and he went out and stood at the entrance to the cave, and behold a voice came to him and [again] said: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

G‑d then told him to go back to the people, with instructions on how to deal with them.

Mount Sinai was the site of great drama, but G‑d told Elijah that His eternal place is not in great noises and rumbling earthquakes. Rather, He can be found in our quiet, humble day-to-day actions. His message was clear: “You don’t belong here. Go back to the people and do your work!”

Honoring the Place

Perhaps the rabbis’ attitude toward Mount Sinai can best be explained by the following piece of Talmud:

It is not the place that honors the person; rather, the person honors his place, as we found with regard to Mount Sinai, that as long as the Divine Presence rested upon it, the Torah said: “Nor let the flocks nor the herds graze before that mountain.”2 Once the Divine Presence departed from the mountain, the Torah said: “When the shofar sounds long, they may come up to the mountain”3 [indicating that the sanctity was not intrinsic to the place, but was due to the Divine Presence resting there].4

Mount Sinai itself was not inherently holy. Rather, what was done there gave honor and holiness to Sinai, so once the people received the Torah and moved on, Sinai was no longer holy.

We read a similar story from the Talmud:

Rabbah bar bar Chanah said: “Once we were traveling in the desert, and we were accompanied by a certain Arab. . . . That Arab also said to me: ‘Come, I will show you Mount Sinai.’ I went and saw that scorpions were encircling it, and they were standing as high as white donkeys . . .”5

The commentaries explain that scorpions represent the forces of evil. Once the Divine Presence left the place, it became susceptible to unholiness.

Thus, though Sinai was holy during the giving of the Torah, once it had accomplished its purpose it was void of significance. At Sinai we were given a mission to learn the Torah and uplift and refine the mundane, outside world. Simply hanging around Mount Sinai would defeat the purpose.

But it does not end there.

The Return of Mount Sinai

The Talmud states that in the messianic era, all of the synagogues of the diaspora will be transported to the Land of Israel:

Rabbi Elazar HaKappar says: “In the future, the synagogues and the study halls in Babylonia will be transported and reestablished in the Land of Israel, as it is stated: ‘Surely, like Tabor among the mountains, and like Carmel by the sea, so shall he come.’6 There is a tradition that these mountains came to Sinai at the giving of the Torah and demanded that the Torah should be given upon them. We can therefore extrapolate: Just as Tabor and Carmel, which came only momentarily to Torah, were relocated and established in Israel in reward for their actions, all the more so should the synagogues and study halls in Babylonia, in which the Torah is read and disseminated, be relocated to Israel.”7

Commentaries explain that this refers to all the synagogues from throughout the generations. Since the Divine Presence rested upon them, and they were considered holy places, their holiness is never entirely erased, and they will be transported to the Land of Israel.

In a fascinating talk, the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that if this is true for all the synagogues and houses of Torah learning, then it is surely true for Mount Sinai itself, which was in a sense responsible for all the future generations’ learning of Torah and performance of mitzvahs. Thus, in the messianic era, Mount Sinai will regain its holiness and be transported to the Land of Israel.8

May it be speedily in our days!