But that’s not the only source we have that points to a location in Binyamin for Rachel’s grave. A more famous pasuk is Yirmiyahu description, “Kol ba’Ramah nishma… Rachel mevakah al baneha.” (Yirmiyahu 31:15). Where is Ramah? It is listed in Sefer Yehoshua (18:25) among the cities of Binyamin. Again, the burial place is identified with some place in Binyamin, not Beis Lechem. My wife immediately told me I got the pshat in that pasuk wrong. Who says Ramah is a particular place? All it means is that Rachel’s voice echoed on high. Sure enough, Rashi quotes the Targum that it meams “b’rum alma.”We can wiggle out of the textual proofs, but do the logic and geography make sense? If Yirmiyahu is talking about the exile to Bavel, why would the captives travel south towards Beis Lechem instead of north, through the area of Binyamin, toward the actual place named Ramah, towards Bavel?
This was just to whet your appetite. If you want some answers, I recommend R’ Ya’akov Medan’s article located here. (UPDATE: Someone was nice enough to point out another article on the topic by R' Etshalom here.)Interestingly, the Ramban seemed to have had at least a hava amina that Rachel's grave was near a place called Ramah. He writes in Braishis 35:16 that when he came to Eretz Yisrael he saw where the place identified as Kever Rachel was and discovered
וכן ראיתי שאין קבורה ברמה ולא קרוב לה
I recently heard a lecture/shiur from someone who wanted to argue that we should take advantage of new discoveries in archeology, history, philology, etc. to shed light on Tanach, especially when it comes to understanding realia. One of his proofs was from this Ramban. Whatever pshat the Ramban may have thought was correct while writing in Spain went out the window when he saw the actual facts on the ground. In that same way, if we can discover what object X actually was by digging one up, or where place Y was based on archeological evidence, or what word Z actually means based on comparisons to other languages, then that should trump even interpretations of Rishonim, as they were not privy to that evidence or to modern scholarship. I think there is some validity to the point, but I found it ironic that the person giving the shiur in passing mentioned that he thought the view that Rachel was buried north in the portion of Binyamin, not in Beis Lechem, was correct – the view that the Ramban rejected, at least in part in light of what he saw when he got to Eretz Yisrael. So the Ramban was actually (according to this person’s belief) led to the wrong conclusion by his perception of what the facts told him. That lesson was not highlighted in the shiur, but is probably an important one to keep in mind. Evidence is seldom black and white, and we should be wary of being quick to draw and accept conclusions just because modern scholarship would tell us that it's true.
R’ Medan’s article triggered a thought about the connection between Yosef and Rachel that I intended to write about when I started this, but somehow the digression about where Rachel is buried took on a life of its own and this post is long enough already, so I’ll have to come back to what I originally wanted to write about bl”n in a separate post.