3. Jewish “Aliyah” Attempts to Return to Palestine – Frustrated by Christian Millenium Crusades (Phase I )Thursday, September 11th, 2008
The 9th -11th centuries, saw the a rise in a Jewish movement to Palestine which believed that “aliyah” – “ascent” to the Land of Israel, would hasten the resurrection of Israel.
Jewish communities along the coast, such as those as Rafah, Gaza, Ashkelon, Jaffa and Caesarea flourished at this time and maintained cultural relations with Egypt.
- A man from Rafa, living in Egypt, wrote a letter (discovered in the Cairo Genizeh) to the Rafah Jewish community in 1015. It begins:
“To our beloved Rabbi Solomon, the Judge, may his soul rest in peace, and the elders and the rest of the holy community who dwell in Rafah, may God preserve them.”
- In 1047 the Persian traveller, Nasir-i-Khusraw, wrote:
“From Byzantium many Christians and Jews come to Jerusalem in order to visit the church and the synagogue there.”
However Jewish “aliya” movement to return to the Holy Land however was affected by the millennium of the 11th century.
Many people feared (or hoped) the world was coming to an end. Plagues, volcanic eruptions, crime and sin are fulsomely described by contemporary chroniclers. Barbara Tuchman in her seminal The Bible and the Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour (Ballantine Books, New York, 1988) describes the period as one of religious hysteria, in which the year 1000 was expected to bring the end of the world. It afflicted all of Western Europe like an epidemic. Hastening to the scene of man’s Redemption before the final awful moment of reckoning, “hordes”, according to some chroniclers, poured into the Holy Land, of whom a large proportion never returned. Some died of want; some of plague; some were killed by marauding Arabs; some were lost at sea by storms or shipwreck or pirates. Only the lucky or the well provided came back alive.
For the Jews the year 1070, the millennium since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, also brought reality to their fears of future events:
- In 1071 Seljuks (http://www.themiddleages.net/people/seljuks.html ) conquered Jerusalem from the Abbasids whose power had been on the wane for some time. The Seljuk Empire was very extensive, stretching from Anatolia to Punjab.Because that empire also included the Holy Land, it became the target of the First Christian Crusade to free Jerusalem from the control of the “Saracens” a term used initially in the Middle Ages for Fatimids and subsequently for all who professed the religion of Islam. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saracen)In the eyes of the Crusaders, both Jews and Muslims were viewed as “pagans. They therefore made no distinction between them: all were either put to the sword or burnt. In consequence upon a Crusader approach many Jerusalem Jews (and presumably others) fled south-eastwards to Ashkelon, which was fortified.
- For the Crusaders, the Jews were viewed as the source of all the trouble in the Holy Land, especially for the destruction of the Holy Sepulchre by the Fatimids in 1009 (http://www.christusrex.org/www1/jhs/TSspdest.html.)One of the chroniclers of the time, Ralph Glaber, in his Miracles de Saint-Benoit (from Migne, PL 142:655ff)(http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/glaber-1000.html) expressed his deep concern for the future and like many others he, too, expected the end of the world at the time of the Millennium. As regards the Holy Land in general and Jerusalem in particular, Ralph was aware that “the prince of Babylon” was in command of Jerusalem, but placed the blame on the local Jewish communities in the Holy Land for all the mishaps that occurred to the Christians there:
At that time, moreover, that is in the ninth year after the aforesaid thousandth anniversary, the church at Jerusalem which contained the sepulchre of our Lord and Saviour was utterly overthrown at the command of the prince of Babylon.. . . After that it had been overthrown, as we have said, then within a brief space it became full evident that this great iniquity had been done by the wickedness of the Jews. When therefore this was spread abroad through the whole world, it was decreed by the common consent of Christian folk that all Jews should utterly driven forth from their lands or cities. Thus they were held up to universal hatred and driven forth from the cities; some were Slain with the sword or cut off by manifold kinds of death, and some even slew themselves in divers fashions; so that, after this well-deserved vengeance had been wreaked, scarce any were found in the Roman world. Then also the bishops published decrees forbidding all Christians to associate themselves with Jews in an matter whatsoever; and ordaining that, whosoever would be converted to baptismal grace and utterly eschew the Customs or manners of the Jews, he alone should be received. Which indeed was done by very many of them for love of this present life, and impelled rather by fear of death than by the joys of the life everlasting; for all such of them as simulated this conversion returned impudently within a brief while to their former way of life..[gma emphasis] . .
- The Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem
Dating from the time of `Umar, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umar) the Quarter was located in the southern part of the city, near the gates of the Temple Mount and the pool of Siloam. An 11th century document briefly mentioned it as being located opposite the Temple and adjacent to ‘the Gate of the Priest’
In the eleventh century the southern wall line was abandoned, and the Jewish quarter, now without sufficient defence, moved to the northern part of the city.
A midrashic commentary, probably from an earlier period – the Song of Songs Rabba – cites that the phrase “There he stands behind our wall” (Song of Songs 2:9) is
“a reference to the Western Wall of the Temple, since the Holy One Blessed Be His Name has sworn that this wall will never be destroyed; the Gate of the Priest and Hulda’s Gate have never been destroyed”. It seems … that the Gate of the Priest was located in the Western Wall, and that the Jewish quarter extended from the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount southward toward the Zion and Siloam Gates.
The commentary states:
the kings of Ishmael treat us well and have allowed Israel to come to the Temple and build there a place of worship and study. All the Israelites in exile that live near the Temple make pilgrimage there on holidays and festivals and pray in it. (Rabbi Avraham Bar-Hiya, 1065-1135).
- The Crusader Siege of Jerusalem
On 7 June the crusader army camped outside Jerusalem, described in “Chronicles of the Crusades” as “one of the strongest cities in the world.”
An attempt to storm the walls on June 13 failed, and the army settled in (in the baking heat) for a siege.
Fulcher of Chartres wrote:
During the siege we were so oppressed by thirst that we sewed together the hides of oxen and buffalo, which we used to carry water of a distance of about six miles… we were in daily distress and affliction for the Saracens used to lie in wait around the springs and water sources, and would ambush our men, kill them and cut them to pieces…”
After an all out attack, the Crusaders took Jerusalem on 15 July 1099. The Gesta Francorum (The Deeds of the Franks), written circa 1100-1101, by an anonymous writer connected with Bohemund of Antioch (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/gesta-cde.html) famously describes the scene:
Before we attacked Jerusalem, the bishops and priests preached to us, telling us to go in a procession in God’s honour around Jerusalem, and pray and give alms and fast…
…all the defenders of the city fled along the walls and through the city, and our men, following Lethold, chased after them, killing them and dismembering them as far as the Temple of Solomon. And in that place there was such slaughter that we were up to our ankles in their blood.
At last the pagans were overcome and our men captured a good number of men and women in the Temple; they killed whomsoever they wished, and chose to keep others alive… All our men came rejoicing and weeping for joy to worship at the church of the Holy Sepulchre
- Nor was Jerusalem the only city besieged. Albert of Aachen in his Book of Travels, refers to the conquest of Haifa by the Crusaders:
“And the city of Haifa… which the Jews defended with great courage, to the shame and embarrassment of the Christians.”
A later writer, Marcel Ladoire, a French priest (also an historian) who visited in 1719 wrote:
“And Haifa, although moderate in size, was strongly fortified, and perhaps because of this, for a long time it withstood the mighty onslaught of the Prince Tancred, who attacked it from the sea and also from the land, with the help of the Venetians. Although the Jews fought with courage, they were overcome by the might of the invaders.”
Thus, a full thousand years after the fall of the Jewish state, there were still Jewish communities throughout the Holy Land, fifty of which are known including Jerusalem, Tiberias, Ramleh, Ashkelon, Caesarea and Gaza.