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Thursday, April 03, 2008

1849: England grants protection to Russian Jews in Palestine

(Part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here.)

We continue our look at excerpts from James Finn's "Stirring Times: Or, Records from Jerusalem Consular Chronicles of 1853 to 1856".

In consequence of this and some other circumstances taking place in Jerusalem [referring to the persecution of Jews by Muslims and Christians described in parts 1 and 2 - EoZ], another instruction was issued by the Foreign Office, to the effect that whenever any Austrian, French, or other European Jew should be suffering under persecution or injustice, and should be repudiated by his own Consul, the English Consul might take up his case, unless the repudiating Consul, when applied to, should assign some strong and sufficient reason for objecting to that action. The spirit herein contained, notwithstanding the establishment since of other Consulates, was in conformity with the rule in 1839 'to afford protection to Jews generally.' The Russian Jews had of late increased considerably in number among us — notwithstanding the stringent laws of that empire for keeping its population at home. Even for leaving the country for brief periods, vexatious formalities and fees had to be submitted to by all classes of Russian subjects, and sureties were required to answer for the reappearance of the travellers in order to satisfy the requisitions of taxes and military conscription, at the date written on the passport ; and besides all these conditions when fulfilled, the license to travel abroad was discountenanced rather than encouraged.

All this was felt more keenly by Jews than by other classes of the Russian population, for they entertained a peculiar horror of the Russian conscription, which entailed violations of their laws for Sabbath and diet, with compulsory attendance at church image-worship. Still, when the wit and determination of a Jew have only to grapple with the venality or obtuseness of Russian officials, obstacles often displace themselves. Jews were smuggled over the frontier, and the numbers repairing to Jerusalem for the inestimable privilege of being buried there became alarming. At length the Imperial Government resolved upon assuming fresh vigour of action within its dominions, and to get rid of the troublesome responsibility involved in looking after people who never meant to return, and whose sureties had no sufficient means for paying up the arrears of the home-taxes ; this trouble was all the greater since there was no Russian Consul at Jerusalem.

It was, therefore, determined to set adrift all the Russian Jews then found in Palestine, furnishing them with papers of dismissal, which also allowed them to resort for protection to any European representatives they might think proper to select, but recommending the English Consulate. These papers were written in French and Arabic, and delivered by the Russian Vice-Consul in Jaffa. This was in 1848, at a period of ' entente cordiale ' between England and Russia, and when no cloud had appeared in the sky intimating peril to Turkey.

Only those who have ever known the sentiments of Jews within the Russian dominions can adequately imagine the joy of these emancipated people — they were 'As those that dream,' and they flocked in large numbers to the English Consulate for protection, though some, on account of family connections or transactions of business, took Austrian or other protection. A register of names, dates, etc., of these prottgis was duly kept in the consulate, the business of which was consequently much augmented.

As one of the many tokens of gratitude, from the people so benefited, will be found in the Appendix the translation of an address in Hebrew to Her Majesty the Queen, received in Jerusalem in July, 1849. It was a beautiful specimen of penmanship on parchment. The translation, although exact, affords but a feeble idea of the gracefulness of the composition with its Oriental peculiarities.

Translated Extract from an Address of Russian Jews in Safed on their coming under English protection, 1849, After compliments to the Consul in Jerusalem to the people of Israel and to succour them with every kind of aid, for great and small, and to defend them from those who rise up against them:

With a perfect heart
Of mercy and loving kindness ;
And with the tips of the wings of Mercy
And the grace of her Righteousness
She has extended and caused to shine upon us,
Who dwell in our own land,
The holy (be it established in our days),
Us, who are burdened with troubles —
Sinking into distress,
Poverty and calamity,
But loving the land of our Fathers,
The place of our honour.
We here are those
Who are the sons of the provinces of Russia,
And this is the day we have looked for :
We have found it, we have seen it —
For she has bent down her pity to receive us
Under the shade of her wings of compassion,
And to comfort us with shade of her mighty rule,
For a name, for a praise, and for glory !
Yea, our souls within us are bound
To implore Him, who is fearful in mighty acts,
With praises and prayers,
That He may prolong her days
In rest and satisfaction ;
That the Lord may hedge her in,
And all that are hers :
The princes around her,
With her nobles,
And all those comforted in her shadow.
May they rise on wings of elevation, of prosperity,
In fulness of joy ;
And may her kingdom be established
Until the coming of Messiah !
May the Lord bless their lives and their substance,
And increase their honour,
And crown their praise !
Amen, so be Thy will !

Finn noticed, outside of this poem, the feelings that Jews had to the Land of Israel:
The intense attachment of a believing Israelite to the Holy Land can be but faintly appreciated by others. In proportion to the bitterness of soul and to the sufferings attendant on the exile, so is the affection, the yearning of heart towards the beautiful Land of Promise where sleep the fathers of the people. ' I long to return there as a child to its mother,' are literally the words used by a Jew who had visited Jerusalem. The miracles which attended the deliverance from Egypt, the giving of the law, the forty years in the desert, the entrance into and possession of the Land ; the splendour of David's kingdom, and the culminating glory of the Divine Presence in the Holy House : all these are for ever present to the mind of a pious Israelite, kept fresh and vivid by the constant recital of their Liturgies, by the never-ceasing study of the sacred writings, the law, the prophets, the psalms. What wonder that in far distant lands the living messengers from the ruins cf the Holy City and Temple should be looked upon with veneration, that willing hearts are moved to give liberally for the support of brethren who, for love of God and their nation, have been ready to go and suffer among ' the heathen,' in order that they may offer supplications where alone they believe they can be completely effectual — at the Sanctuary itself — for the termination of the long tribulation, for the fulfilment of all the glorious promises of restoration that have during centuries past nerved the people of Israel to eudure, and to look forward through present agonies — undespairing, uncrushed — to the coming glory, the final bliss that are to outshine all the past by a splendour scarcely to be conceived!