Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Jews of Jerusalem, 1871

Sometimes I like looking through Google Books to see what life was like for Jews in Palestine in the 19th century. Here is a description of both prayer at the Kotel as well as how the Muslims treated the Jews at this pre-Zionist time.

Narrative of a Modern Pilgrimage Through Palestine on Horseback, and with Tents By Alfred Charles Smith, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (Great Britain),

On another occasion we paid a visit to the outer wall of the Haram, a spot in the Tyroposon where several courses of huge bevelled stones, such as I have mentioned above, are confidently asserted to be a fragment of the south-west wall of the Temple, but would be more correctly described as the base of the wall which supports the west side of the Temple area;4 at all events, it is the nearest approach which the Jews can make to the remains of their ancient sanctuary, and it is sheltered from observation by high walls and narrow passages.1 This is well known as the Jews' " wailing-place," and here may generally be seen two or three Israelites weeping and praying ; but on the afternoon of Friday, when we visited it, after threading our way through the intricate, not to say filthy, lanes which lead from the "Dung gate" through this crowded portion of the city, there must have been sixty or seventy Jews of both sexes assembled for the very touching service which is held here every week just before their Sabbath begins. We found the men assembled at one portion of the wall, the women at another; all were provided with Hebrew Scriptures, and first the minister read one portion, and then the people responded in loud voices, while all rocked their heads and swayed their bodies, and bowed again and again, after the manner peculiar to the Jews of every country. Then it was touching to see them handling the venerated stones of the beloved Temple ; old men and women feeling them with reverent and caressing touch, patting them, putting their fingers in the interstices between the several blocks, and kissing them with passionate earnestness,2 while tears streamed down their furrowed cheeks, and the lamentation was hearty and sincere. The younger portion of the community did not appear so demonstrative in their grief, though there were unmistakable signs of an intensity of feeling on every face ; and, doubtless, amongst that devout congregation there was nothing of hollow appearance or formal pretence, for, in accordance with the prophecy of Isaiah,3 they mourn over the departed glory of their race with most genuine sorrow, and they pray for the happy restoration of their country, for which they so ardently long, with such a vehemence of devotion, and with their whole souls so absorbed in the work, as to testify to their firm faith in the efficacy of united supplication.

With many authors it has been the habit to ridicule this weekly lamentation of the Jews over the desolation of their beloved Temple as a mere superstitious and idolatrous veneration of the glorious fabric long since destroyed; but, to my mind, then: persistent reverence, their ardent longings for restoration, their eager hopes for the future, far from exciting ridicule, bespeak our warmest sympathy; and if they do cling to the spot which recalls their past glory with the stubborn obstinacy for which the race is notorious, surely it is not only an excusable, but a very praiseworthy and patriotic tenacity, and is calculated to command respect and admiration for a body generally disliked and despised. It was certainly the most affecting scene we witnessed throughout our tour, and one which has impressed itself very deeply on my memory; for it was no exceptional service, no extraordinary outburst of overwrought feelings, such as sometimes accompanies religious revivals in England, but which rarely has any solid foundation on which it may rest when the excitement of the moment is passed away; but here was a congregation assembled from all parts of the world, meeting together regularly week by week—as has been the custom for many ages—on every Friday in the year, and their tears and their sobs showed how genuine was their lamentation, and how in real truth they mourned over the rough foundation stones of their revered Temple.

The Jews at Jerusalem were singularly forbearing with strangers, and—considering their general antipathy to all Gentiles—were almost civil and obliging. This unnatural good-will might perhaps be due in part to my escort, the well-known Yakoob ; perhaps, too, in part to their own despised condition, for, scarcely tolerated and often persecuted as they are by their Muslim rulers, they dare not show an illiberal spirit, or display any tokens of religious hostility or rancour through fear of retaliation ; still more, may we not say, in all probability to the kindness and charity and good feeling shown towards them by the Anglican and American missions, of whose disinterested goodness and large-hearted benevolence towards them they have had ample proof, and of which they are, for the most part, fully sensible.