Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Thousand Years of Jewish Return to Palestine Before WWI

RASHI, Rabbi Solomon Yitzhaki (b:1040 in Troyes, France-d: 1105)studied, lived in Rhineland, famous Jewish commentator 
The 10th century marked the Moslem conquest of the Middle East and Palestine.  It was also a time when the Karaite leaders (Jews who did not support the Oral Law-only Mosaic Law who broke off from mainstream in 8th century)  called for aliyah in Jerusalem.

In 1121, 300 Jews went to Palestine from France and England.  Nahmanides went in 1267 and Obadiah of Bertinoro went in 1488.  Both were followed by groups of disciples.  Then in 1492 saw many Sephardi Jews including an important kabbalistic circle moved to Palestine, mainly in Safad (Tzfat).  Joseph Nasi's resettlement attempt in 1564 brought groups from Italy, while in 1700, 1,500 arrived from Eastern Europe in response to Rabbi Judah Hasid's call.  In the end of the 18th century, there was an influx of both Hasidim and followers of the Vilna Gaon.  30 years (1850-1880)  before the Bilu (1st modern Zionist pioneering movement started in 1882 at Kharkov by Jewish students reacting against the wave of Russian pogroms.  , 20,000 to 30,000 Jews settled in Palestine.  That was the start of the 1st Aliyah which then started in 1882 to 1903 which started from going through the Russian pogroms and was led by the Bilu.  300 families and smaller groups came from Russia in 1882.  Also arriving were the 450 pioneers from Romania and a few dozen from Yemen.  The Turkish authorities didn't make it any easier.  More persecutions of Jews in Russia caused more to come in 1890 when thousands more entered.  By 1948, there were 750,000 Jews living in Israel when the state was re-born.

The 1st Bilu was made up of 15 men and women who reached Jaffa in the summer of 1882 and the others later that year.  They were true pioneers in a barren land. They went from cold Russia to hot Palestine.
Crusaders ruled the land and immigration was forbidden.  No Jew could legally or safely enter Palestine during that period.  Testing the waters, Yehuda "Judah Halevi, the greatest Hebrew poet of the exile, called for the Jews to immigrate, and many generations drew inspiration from his teaching.  He was killed soon after arriving in Jerusalem in 1141 by a Crusader whose horse had crushed him to death.  He was born in 1075 in Toledo, Spain, and lived in Cordova, a physician by profession, lived a life of affluence and honor.  .   and died 1141 by the Wall according to legend, or  in Alexandria, Egypt.

The Crusaders' grip on Palestine was over when 300 rabbis from France and England made aliyah in the year 1210 to help the Jewish communities of Jerusalem, Acre and Ramleh.
The Mongol invaders arrived a generation later who were the most destructive.  Here they had taken Baghdad.  After Baghdad, the Mongols continued on westward. They conquered Syria from the Ayyubids, with help from the Armenians and neutrality from the Crusaders. In Palestine they reached the extent of their conquests.
Moses Nachmanides, AKA Ramban,  then made aliyah to Jerusalem and found only 2 Jews, father and son who were dyers.  Nevertheless, Moses had disciples who answered his call and they reestablished the community.  From 1267, he lived in Palestine, where he settled in Acre, reorganized the Jewish settlements and wrote his popular bible commentary with hits characteristic combination of rational interpretation and insistence on kabbalistic implications.  "Ramban became a practicing physician in his native town. However, he was the communal rabbi of Gerona at the same time, and later became the chief rabbi of the entire province of Catalonia.
For many years the Ramban lived in his native town, supporting himself as a physician, and devoting most of his time to the study of the Talmud and Kabalah, and to his literary work, writing commentaries on the Talmud. But in his declining days, when he was nearly seventy years old, his quiet life underwent a sudden change. An apostate Jew, masquerading as a devout Catholic, Paulus Christians, had challenged the Jews to a religious disputation."  He was the 2nd Spanish Jewish doctor who saw the need to return to the Jewish ancient homeland.  
Ship called a Cog in 1304. 
So, from the 12th century onward, Jews came to settle in Palestine.  Europe had become a purgatory for Jews,  This was during the Middle Ages and people were primitive when "Jews were subjected to the whole range of persecutions, from mass degradation to death after torture."  All travel was dangerous.
The 13th, 14th and 15th centuries were very dangerous for Jews in Europe.  To go from Western Europe to Palestine was a heroic undertaking which most often ended in disaster.  Praying for the return to Zion was a dream of heaven.
Pope Nicholas V in 1447-gave Catholics what would become the Vatican Library and the Doctrine of Discovery – the right of Christians to take any non-Christian lands they “discover”. In “Dum diversas” (1452), to get Portugal interested in a crusade against the Turks, he allowed the Portuguese to put non-Christians Africans into “perpetual servitude”.
Popes ordered their followers to stop Jewish travel to Palestine.  In the 15th century, the Italian maritime states denied Jews the use of ships for getting to Palestine.  Jews had to end their project or make the whole journey by a roundabout land route and take on more dangers by going through Germany, Poland and Southern Russia or another route of going through the inhospitable Balkans and Black Sea crossing before reaching Turkey that was semi-safe.

In 1433, right after the ban against Jews traveling was imposed, Yitzhak Tsarefati urged Jews to come by way of Turkey.  Often, the journey took years! This was so the traveler could work at the stopping places to raise money for the next leg of his journey.  If Jews lived there, he would ask rich ones to finance his journey and share vicariously in the mitzvah (good deed) of his aliyah.


Christian pilgrims Siebald Rieter and Johann Tucker visited Jerusalem in 1479 .  They followed the path taken by a German Jew who had set out from Nuremberg and traveled to Posen, Poland (300 miles).  They went from Posen to Lublin, Poland (250 miles), then Lublin to Lvov in Galicia, now in Ukraine (120 miles), then Lvov to Khotin, Bessarabia, now Moldova (150 miles), and from Khotin to Akerman (150 miles) and from Akerman to Samsun, Turkey  (6 days), Samsun to Tokat, Turkey (6-7 days), Tokat to Aleppo, Syria (15 days), Aleppo to Damascus, Syria  (7 days), and finally-Damasuc to Jerusalem, Judah (6 days).  Aleppo came to have a very large Jewish community, larger than Damascus had.  After traveling 970 miles from Germany to get to Turkey, they had to travel another 41 days at least to get to Jerusalem.

How about the Ottoman Empire?  They held the land of Palestine for the past 400 years from about 1517.  They had encouraged Jewish immigration into their dominions.  A stream of immigrants moved to Palestine even though conditions in Europe made it possible for only a few Jews to get up and go before the call.
Many who heeded the call were refugees from the Spanish Inquisition of 1492  All sorts of skilled Jews came; scholars, artisans and merchants.  The 16th century now had a new pulse into the Jewish life in Palestine.  The Empire wasn't doing so well and life there became harsher.  By the 17th century, rebelling Cossacks in 1648 and 49 started massacring Jews.  Those that could flee went to the nearest refuge which was in Western Europe and from there they made their way to Palestine.

That same generation saw Shabbetai Zevi b: 1626 in Smyrna and affected by Chmielnicki massacres of 1648-49 and was manic-depressive .   a self-appointed Messiah who compiled followers from the East and West.  People saw he wasn't able to take them magically to Palestine so they got there  by sea or by overland through Turkey and Syria.

The Ottoman Empire suffered from anarchy in the local administration, the degradations and exactions, plagues and pestilence and the ruin of the country continued in the 18th and into the 19th centuries.  Jews in Europe were doing worse than ever living in even greater poverty.  Groups massed together and came from Italy, Morocco, and Turkey.   Hasidim, disciples of the Baal Shem-Tov came from  Galicia and Lithuania.  Jews were dying in Palestine faster than immigrants could take their place.

By 1810, disciples of the Vilna Gaon had just immigrated and mentioned that "even in Palestine's ruin, there is none to compare with her, even in her desolation she is unequaled, in her silence there is none like her.  Good are her ashes and her stones."  They knew this was HOME.  These poor immigrants suffered from an earthquake, pestilence and murderous onslaught by marauding brigands.  Yet they or their children lived to see the beginnings of the modern restoration of the country.
Sir Moses Montefiore, a Jewish philanthropist from Britain had great plans to resettle Jews in their own homeland.  In 1869, moved a group of 7 Jews in Jerusalem and set up the 1st housing project outside the walls.  Each built a house among the rocks and jackals and it came to be called Nahlat Shiva (Estate of the 7).  Today it is the heart of downtown Jerusalem, bounded by the Jaffa Road between Zion Ssquare and the Bank of Israel.

In 1878 another group came across the mountains of Judea and set up the 1st modern Jewish agricultural settlement at Petah Tikva, which became the mother of the settlements.  8 years earlier, the 1st modern agricultural school in Palestine was opened at Mikveh Yisrael near Jaffa.  Thus the Jews were awakened to return to what had been their ancient home of Israel and Judah, called Palestine for almost 2,000 years since 135 CE by the Romans who had to fight 3 years to take Jerusalem again after taking it in 70 CE.  The Jewish General Bar Kokhba almost had won against the wily Romans.
Meanwhile, the newly formed Catholics thought it was their duty to enforce Jewish dispersion.  They could not stand the idea of Jews returning to their own land.  But, by 464 CE, the Emperor Julian announced his intention of rebuilding the Temple.  What a change of heart.  This was part of his apostasy.  Protestant sects had been forming and they all voiced a new chant of saying it was a Christian act now to help the Jewish people regain its homeland.  Maybe this was because it was in the secure hands of the Ottoman Turks, and there was no way of carrying out this new 180 degree change of objectives towards Jews.
As luck would have it, Christians turned 180 degrees again in the early 19th century.  Napoleon Bonaparte had something to do with it.  He had a plot of conquest of Palestine in 1799 and had promised to restore the country to the Jews!  Somehow he lost the battle and didn't take over Palestine.  He did ring a bell in everyone's minds, though of the idea of restoration of Jews to Palestine.
1865 picture of Lord Lindsay and son Ludovic
Lord Lindsay, Lord Shaftesbury who learned Hebrew, Lord Palmerston, Disraeli, Lord Manchester, George Elliot, Holman Hunt, Sir Charles Warren, Hall Caine, all spoke, wrote, organized support and submitted practical projects of ways Britain might help the return of the Jewish people to Palestine.  Some even wanted the British government to buy Palestine from the Turks to give it to the Jews to rebuild!

     Lord Lindsay wrote: "The Jewish race, so wonderfully preserved, may yet have another stage of national existence opened to them, may one more obtain possession of their native land...
    The soil of "Palestine still enjoys her sabbaths, and only waits for the return of her banished children, and the application of industry, commensurate with her agricultural capabilities, to burst once more into universal luxuriance, and be all that she ever was in the days of Solomon."

1845 and Sir George Gawler called for replenishment of the deserted towns and fields of Palestine with the energetic people whose warmest affections are rooted in the soil (Jews).  How did they know anything?  They didn't have cell phones in those days, or even telephones.  It was in 1839 that the Church of Scotland sent 2 missionaries, Andrew Bonar and Robert Murray M'Cheyne, to report on the conditions of the Jews in their land.  The newspaper, The Times urged the Jews to take possession of the land.  If they needed another Moses, they supposed one would appear.  They were very naive. Many pitched in with more thoughts and ideas.
Benjamin Disraeli, twice voted a British Prime Minister, b: 1804 to Jewish Italian parents, baptized to Christianity in 1817, -d: 1881. 
Along came the Crimean War which pushed all these great ideas back.  1878 saw the Prusso-Turkish War, and the Congress of Berlin tried to find a peaceful solution.  Lord Beaconsfield (Benjamin Disraeli) and Lord Salisbury were proposing to declare a protectorate over Syria and Palestine and that Palestine would be restored by the Jews.  The reports were unfounded but the political planners in Britain had this in their minds.  The newspaper, Spectator, on May 10, 1879 criticized Beaconsfield for not having adopted it and wrote:  "If he had freed the Holy Land and restored the Jews, as he might have done instead of pottering about Roumelia  (today southern Bulgaria) and AFGHANISTAN,  he would have died as Dictator."  Roumelia was a historical term describing the area now referred to as the Balkans or the Balkan Peninsula when it was administered by the Ottoman Empire.
How about the Moslems of the Middle East?  In 1831, Palestine was conquered from the Turks by Mehemet Ali, who ruled it from Egypt for the next  9 years.  This was when Sir Moses Montefiore was busy making plans for Palestine and the Jews.  He visited Mehemet Ali in Egypt in 1839 and presented his ideas of large scale Jewish settlement to regenerate Palestine.  MEHEMET ALI ACCEPTED IT.    Right in the middle of getting in the practical details, Ali was forced to leave Palestine and the land returned to Turkish rule.

40 years later the Turks were presented with the same plans of Jewish return.  Laurence Oliphant was the man who worked on these newer plans.  He showed the Turks that this idea was in their own interest as well as in Britain's benefit to restore Jews to Palestine.   He had plans for Gilead to have a settlement and it was Beaconsfield who  presented it.

The Sultan liked the plan, The Foreign Secretary Lord Salisbury and even the Prince of Wales (later the King Edward VII)  and the French government as well wanted it to happen.but in  1880, a British election caused Beaconsfield to lose his position and he was replaced by William Ewart Gladstone, who was considered an enemy by the Turks.  Jews settling in Palestine was to become an idea to be shelved.

Jewish groups were then born and a wave of Jewish immigration took place.  The First Aliyah was in 1882, but remember, movements of Jews returning started in 1121.  Theodore Herzl's place in history was still 15 years away when the World Zionist Organization would be developed.  After all this, how did the mandate of Great Britain, given to them on April 24, 1920 at the San Remo Conference, ever get so sidetracked from England's main goal of settling Palestine with Jews once again.  The answer is:  Oil in the Middle East for Britain's use.  They gave away 80% of the Jewish land to Jordan, and then tried to divide the 20% left between  the Palestinian Jews and  Palestinian Arabs to make 2 states.  The Arabs declined.  They didn't want half.  They wanted all of it.  Today many of those Arabs and their descendants live in Jordan.  Abbas and his Palestinian Fatah members (PA), are not negotiating at the present.  They are trying to start the 3rd Intefada.

Resource: BATTLEGROUND, fact and fantasy in Palestine by Samuel Katz, p 100-105.
The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia


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