#123 15th Century Palestine

#123 Late Middle Ages in Palestine

In this lesson you will learn that there were very few Jewish people living in Israel during from the time of the Roman Exile until the 19th Century. Of course, there were some Jews living in Israel, which was then called Palestine, but not many. Most of the Jews during the Middle Ages lived in Europe and other countries in East. The few cities in Israel that did have Jews were the sacred towns of Jerusalem and Tzfat, Hebron, and Tiberius.





During its long history, Jerusalem has been attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed twice.[1] The oldest part of the city was settled in the 4th millennium BCE, making Jerusalem one of the oldest cities in the world.[2]

In 1517, Jerusalem was taken over by the Ottoman Empire and enjoyed a period of renewal and peace under Suleiman the Magnificent, including the construction of magnificent walls of what is now known as the Old City of Jerusalem (however, some of the wall foundations are remains of genuine antique walls). The rule of Suleiman and the subsequent Ottoman Sultans brought an age of “religious peace”; Jew, Christian and Muslim enjoyed the freedom of religion the Ottomans granted them and it was possible to find a synagogue, a church and a mosque in the same street. The city remained open to all religions, although the empire’s faulty management after Suleiman the Magnificent meant economical stagnation.

In 1700, Judah HeHasid led the largest organized group of Jewish immigrants to the Land of Israel in centuries. His disciples built the Hurva Synagogue, which served as the main synagogue in Jerusalem from the 16th century until 1948, when it was destroyed by the Arab Legion.[Note 6] The synagogue was rebuilt in 2010.

Between 1703 and 1705, Jerusalem’s Muslim religious leadership and the majority of its inhabitants revolted against the Ottoman governor of the district, Mehmed Pasha Kurd-Bayram in what became known as the Naqib al-Ashraf Revolt. During the course of the revolt, Jerusalem’s residents administered their own affairs, engaging in virtual self-rule, until the central Ottoman authorities restored their control over the city.

 #2. WATCH THIS: Jerusalem: A Jewish Historical Timeline, In A Nutshell


Under the Ottomans, Safed was the capital of the Safad Sanjak, which encompassed much of the Galilee and extended to the Mediterranean coast. This sanjak was part of the Eyalet of Damascus until 1660, when it was united with the sanjak of Sidon into a separate eyalet, of which it was briefly the capital. Finally, from the mid-19th century it was part of the vilayet of Sidon. The orthodox Sunni courts arbitrated over cases in ‘Akbara, Ein al-Zeitun and as far away as Mejdel Islim. In 1549, under Sultan Suleiman I, a wall was constructed and troops were stationed to protect the city. In 1553–54, the population consisted of 1,121 Muslim households, 222 Muslim bachelors, 54 Muslim religious leaders, 716 Jewish households, 56 Jewish bachelors, and 9 disabled persons.

Safed rose to fame in the 16th century as a center of Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. After the expulsion of all the Jews from Spain in 1492, many prominent rabbis found their way to Safed, among them the Kabbalists Isaac Luria and Moshe Kordovero; Joseph Caro, the author of the Shulchan Aruch and Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz, composer of the Sabbath hymn “Lecha Dodi“. The influx of Sephardi Jews—reaching its peak under the rule of Sultans Suleiman I and Selim II—made Safed a global center for Jewish learning and a regional center for trade throughout 15th and 16th centuries.[25][26] During the early Ottoman period from 1525 to 1526, the population of Safed consisted of 633 Muslim families, 40 Muslim bachelors, 26 Muslim religious persons, nine Muslim disabled, 232 Jewish families, and 60 military families. A Hebrew printing press was established in Safed in 1577 by Eliezer Ashkenazi and his son, Isaac of Prague. In 1584, there were 32 synagogues registered in the town.

#4. WATCH THIS: Safed, Israel’s Mystical Holy City


As the Ottoman Empire expanded along the southern Mediterranean coast under Great Sultan Selim I, the Reyes Católicos (Catholic Monarchs) began establishing Inquisition commissions. Many Conversos, (Marranos and Moriscos) and Sephardi Jews fled in fear to the Ottoman provinces, settling at first in Constantinople, Salonika, Sarajevo, Sofia and Anatolia. The Sultan encouraged them to settle in Palestine. In 1558, a Portuguese-born marrano, Doña Gracia, was granted tax collecting rights in Tiberias and its surrounding villages by Suleiman the Magnificent. She envisaged the town becoming a refuge for Jews and obtained a permit to establish Jewish autonomy there. In 1561 her nephew Joseph Nasi, Lord of Tiberias, encouraged Jews to settle in Tiberias. Securing a firman from the Sultan, he and Joseph ben Adruth rebuilt the city walls and lay the groundwork for a textile (silk) industry, planting mulberry trees and urging craftsmen to move there. Plans were made for Jews to move from the Papal States, but when the Ottomans and the Republic of Venice went to war, the plan was abandoned.

In 1624, when the Sultan recognized Fakhr-al-Din II as Lord of Arabistan (from Aleppo to the borders of Egypt), the Druze leader made Tiberias his capital. The 1660 destruction of Tiberias by the Druze resulted in abandonment of the city by its Jewish community, Unlike Tiberias, the nearby city of Safed recovered from its destruction, and wasn’t entirely abandoned, remaining an important Jewish center in the Galilee.

In the 1720s, the Arab ruler Zahir al-Umar, of the Zaydani clan, fortified the town and signed an agreement with the neighboring Bedouin tribes to prevent looting. Accounts from that time tell of the great admiration people had for Zahir, especially his war against bandits on the roads. Richard Pococke, who visited Tiberias in 1727, witnessed the building of a fort to the north of the city, and the strengthening of the old walls, attributing it to a dispute with the Pasha of Damascus. Under instructions from the Ottoman Porte, Sulayman Pasha al-Azm of Damascus laid siege to Tiberias in 1742, with the intention of eliminating Zahir, but his siege was unsuccessful. In the following year, Sulayman set out to repeat the attempt with even greater reinforcements, but he died en route.

Under Zahir’s patronage, Jewish families were encouraged to settle in Tiberias. He invited Rabbi Chaim Abulafia of Smyrna to rebuild the Jewish community. The synagogue he built still stands today, located in the Court of the Jews.

#7 WATCH – Menorahs in Ancient Israel


1. What were the names of the the three major cities in 15th century Palestine where Jews lived?
2. Which city has been the cultural center for three of the world’s most influential religions?
3. Kabalah, Jewish mysticism, was founded in this city?
4. Give one example of Jewish people during this time period, finding ways to live peacefully with other religions and cultures.

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