Editor’s Note: The following are a small selection of MOMENTS IN JEWISH TIME IN THE LAND OF ISRAEL By Rabbi Shlomo Pereira, Director of Adult Education, Chabad of Virginia. To receive regularly, email firstname.lastname@example.org
MOMENTS IN JEWISH TIME IN THE LAND OF ISRAEL
By Rabbi Shlomo Pereira
Chabad of Virginia
DID YOU KNOW THAT … Between the late 500s and late 900s, scribes in Jerusalem and in the Galilee compiled a system of Hebrew pronunciation and grammar? They were called the Masoretes, the bearers of tradition – ‘mesorah’. They developed the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible, which aside from the most reliable readings, featured a standardized division of the text into verses and paragraphs, as well as a standardized system of vowels and of cantillation notes in order to standardize the pronunciation.
Ultimately, Aaron ben Moses ben Asher of Tiberias (d. 960), a descendent of many generations of masoretic scribes, was responsible for the completion and diffusion of the most comprehensive version of the Masoretic text. This text was considered by Maimonides as the most accurate text of the Hebrew Bible and it is regarded to this day as its authoritative version.
It is the Hebrew Bible as we know it.
DID YOU KNOW THAT … there is clear historical evidence that for most of the first century of Islamic rule in the Land of Israel there was a synagogue in the Temple Mount?
In 638 CE, the Muslims armies conquered Jerusalem and Jews were allowed in the city for the first time after almost 600 years of Roman rule. Omar I [r. 634-644], the second Rashidun Caliph, visited the city for a brief period at the time in order to accept the surrender of the Christian rulers. Upon visiting the Temple Mount he is reported to have been utterly disturbed by the state of disarray in which the area was, having been used as a garbage dump.
According to Mujir al-Din al-Ulaymi (1456-1522), a renown and highly respected Islamic scholar and historian, Jews played a prominent role in cleaning the Temple Mount and in helping Caliph Omar identifying the holy areas on the Temple Mount. Jews subsequently worked as servants and cleaners of the mosques that were erected there having been exempt from paying a head tax in return. Mujir al-Din conjectures that the Jews engaged in these jobs in order to gain access to the Temple Mount and pray “in the place where their Temple once stood”, quoting his own words.
At this time Muslims did not consider a Jewish presence on the Temple Mount problematic because they had not yet designated the mount as a sacred site. In fact, several medieval historians state that at this time Jews received permission to build a synagogue on the Temple Mount.
Bishop Sabeous a 7th century historian goes as far as claiming that the first wooden structure built on the site of the Temple, which eventually became the site of the Dome of the Rock, was meant originally to be a synagogue, but that before it was completed the Muslims expropriated the building and gave the Jews another site on the Temple Mount as a substitute location for their synagogue.
The completion of the Dome of the Rock in 691, located approximately where the Temple stood, and of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in 705, in the south area of the Temple Mount facing Mecca, changed everything. In 720, the Umayyad Caliph Omar Abd al-Aziz (r. 717-720) banned Jews from praying in the Temple Mount. This was the earliest attempt the establish the Temple Mount as a uniquely Islamic holy site. Despite these efforts, there are other hints at the occasional existence of synagogue structures in the Temple Mount throughout the period that precedes the Crusaders conquest in 1099.
DID YOU KNOW THAT … in 1700, R. Yehudah HaChasid (1660-1700), a great Polish scholar and preacher, arrived in the Land of Israel with a large number of followers?
- Yehudah HaChasid left home in 1697 with about thirty families and travelled throughout Europe, urging repentance, asceticism, and Aliyah, in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, which in his view was imminent. In the process, he gathered a large number of followers, estimated at around 1500 during his passage through Italy. Ultimately, the group headed to Israel, the largest group to make Aliyah in a couple of centuries.
The voyage was rather difficult. About one third of the group perished due to illness and poor travel conditions. Finally, on Oct 14, 1700, between 500 and 1,000 people reached Jerusalem. The arrival and settlement in Jerusalem was not easy either. The inflow of such a large contingent put an enormous pressure on the local community of around 1,200, and which relied mainly on charity from abroad. In addition, as the new arrivals were suspected of Shabbateanism they were received with hostility. To make matters worse, R. Yehuda HaChasid died only a few days after arrival, on Oct 17.
Eventually, most of the group dispersed. The remnant settled in about forty dwellings in what is now the Jewish Quarters of the Old City. In the location of an old synagogue from the 1400s, they built a small synagogue in honor of R. Yehuda HaChasid, a structure which is known today as the Churba Synagogue, The Ruin.
DID YOU KNOW THAT … the defeat of the First Jewish Revolt of 66-70 CE at the hands of the Romans had a staggering cost in human losses, in plundered resources, and in retaliatory measures? It is estimated that 1,100,000 Jews perished during the revolt while a further 93,000 were taken captive as prisioners of war.
In 71 CE, the Land of Israel was officially established as the Roman province of Judaea, thereby ending any appearance of Jewish autonomy. Heavy punitive taxation, the ‘Fiscus Judaicus’, was introduced. Also in 71 CE, and as a punitive measure, the Menorah and other Temple artifacts, as well as the Temple treasures, were seized and taken to Rome.
The same was the fate of many of the Jewish prisoners of war. To celebrate what was perceived as a highly significant victory after a bitterly fought campaign, the Romans minted new coins with the words ‘Judaea Capta’. To further memorialize this feat, specifically the conquest of Jerusalem, an Arch of Triumph was built in Rome. under which the Temple artifacts and treasures, as well as the Jewish war prisoners were paraded.
The Zealot leaders of the revolt led the parade and were later executed. Notably, the construction of the Colosseum in the heart of Rome, which started around this time, was made possible by the spoils of the revolt as it relied to a large extent on the financing provided by the looting, including of the Temple treasures, and on free labor provided by the thousands of prisoners of war.
Yet, despite all of these losses, Jews continued to live in the Land of Israel in significant numbers.
It is estimated that about 2/3 of the population in the Galilee and 1/3 of the coastal regions were Jewish. Of the greatest relevance was the fact that Jews were allowed to continue to practice Judaism, although now without the Holy Temple as a reference point.