< Back

An English Account of the Jews of Jerusalem in the Seventeenth Century. From the Library of the Rev. Dr. J. H. Hertz, Chief Rabbi

Cecil Roth

<plain_text><page sequence="1">ACCOUNT OF JEWS OF JERUSALEM IN SEVENTEENTH CENTURY. 99 II. The Jews of Jerusalem in the Seventeenth Century An English Account The passages which follow are excerpted from an extremely rare pamphlet in the collection of Dr. J. H. Hertz, Chief Rabbi, entitled: "An information concerning the present state of the Jewish Nation in Europe and Judea, wherein the footsteps of Providence preparing a way for their Conversion to Christ, and for their Deliverance from Captivity, are discovered" (2 + 19 PP? + 4: unnumbered: sm. 8vo). The date has unfortunately been cut away, but from internal evidence it appears that it should be 1658. There is every reason to believe that the author was Henry Jessey, or Jacey (1601-1663), the correspondent of Menasseh ben Israel, who collected ?300 on behalf of the poor Jews of Jerusalem at about this period. Of this episode, a detailed account is to be found in the contemporary Life and Death of Henry Jessey, by Edward Whiston (London, 1671) and in Sokolow's History of Zionism, Appendix xxxiii. Jessey, it may be mentioned, was not a Dutchman, as so many historians allege, but English to the backbone. The tone of the pamphlet is not much different from that of so many other visionary conversionist publications of that age. It differs from them only in the unusually warm humanity which it breathes and in the considerable amount of historical information embodied in its pages. The details given may be supplemented and illustrated from other sources, such as Erumkin's History of the Rabbis of Jerusalem and the vast collection of historical material embodied in the new Palestinian historical publication, Zion: but much of it is entirely new. The passages reproduced here comprise everything of historical interest in the little work, with the exception of the translation of a</page><page sequence="2">100 miscellanies. letter from P. Serrarius to one J. D., dated April, 1657, giving an account of a conversation with Rabbi Nathan Spira about the coming of the Messiah. Cecil Roth. (i) Concerning the first, viz. Their Distress. The State of the Jews at Jerusalem of late was such, that they could not live and subsist there, without some yearly supply and contribution from their Brethren abroad, because the place doth yield them little or no trading, whereby to maintain themselves; but their love to the place doth oblige them to remain there, although with great poverty and want; And their Brethren abroad among the Nations, have been willing to uphold them there at Jerusalem, that the place should not be left destitute of some considerable number of their Nation, to keep as it were possession, or at least a footing in it, and to shew their hopes, till a full restitution come; Therefore the Jews of Poland, of Lithuania, of Prussia and Russia, where great multitudes of that Nation were seated, were wont in former time to send to the German Jews, dwelling at Jerusalem, yearly about 30000 imperiall Dollars; which will amount, if we mistake not, to 6563 pounds sterling, or thereabouts yearly; by which means they subsisted in some tolerable manner, and paid to the grand Signior of their taxes; but since the desolation, brought by war upon Poland, and the other parts, whence that supply was sent unto them, they have been in great extremity of want; insomuch, that in the year one thousand six hundred fifty five, four hundred of their widows were famished to death, and the taxes laid upon them by the Turks, being rigorously exacted, they were haled into prison, their Synagogues were shut up, their Rabbi's and Elders beaten and cruelly used. So that to find relief, because none came from Poland, Lithuania, and other parts of Europe, by the late war, and none could be had in those parts from their own, by reason of the general Pressures, which the Turks without Mercy laid upon them all, they send two of their chief Rabbi's to their Brethren in Europe, to acquaint them with their state, and to desire some help from them. The chief of the Rabbi's was called Nathan Saphira, son to the high Lord, Ruben David Tavel, &amp; man of great learning, and skill in their Cabala, and of a very pious, holy and humble disposition, who comming with his companion from Jerusalem upon this errand, and finding at Amsterdam little relief from the Portugal Jews, became accidentally acquainted with some of our Christian friends, who pittied their Condition, and were of their own accord moved to procure some relief unto them among their other Christian friends; and the whole sum which they then received from the Dutch Jews in Europe, amounted to six thousand Ryx-dollars, which we conceive to be about one thousand three hundred thirteen pounds, five shillings; and the Contributions which the Christians in Holland gave them, amounted to three hundred ninety Ducats, which if we mistake not, is one hundred seventy five pounds ten shillings. With this money they went away; and it availed them only to discharge</page><page sequence="3">ACCOUNT OF JEWS OF JERUSALEM IN SEVENTEENTH CENTURY, 101 the Interests of their capital debts, and to make some presents to their great ones that further time might be granted unto them, and the three hundred ninety Ducats relieved some of their private wants. This relief was made over unto them in the year one thousand six hundred fifty six; and having received it, they have written a letter of Acknowledgment and Thanks, dated at Jerusalem the 22 of April, 1657. wherein the Continuance of their lamentable condition is represented to be this: that for the payment of the capital debt, which in two years space they have bound themselves over unto the Bassa, who rales over Jerusalem, and engaged their Lives, Court, School, Wives and Children to him, and in the mean time they hunger and thirst, and go from house to house for a bit of bread, unto their Italian and Portugal Brethren that dwell at Jerusalem, who are in little better case than these German Jews, because the Italians and Portugals from abroad, help them with something; nor durst they go to any other to beg, besides their own Nation, or their Proselytes; which was a great aggravation of their distress, when their own either cannot, or will not assist them, as in the case of Babbi Nathan Saphira it fell out; for the Portugal Jewes at Amsterdam, not so assisting him, because they alledged that the Portugal and Spanish Jews at Jerusalem, at Hebron and Zephit and other places in Judea, did depend upon them, and were supplyed by them; yet nevertheless, having heard, that the Christians had assisted Babbi Nathan and his Companion with a Contribution, and suspecting that they had made their application to crave that assistance from the Christians, they were intend? ing to have disgraced him in their Synagogues, till they were otherwise informed, and having understood that the supply came not by any application of the Rabbi to the Christians; but by the free offering of the Christians to help him without his craving of it, which could not be taken ill, if the Rabbi only received what was freely offered, they did acquiesce. . . . (?) Concerning the second, viz. The preparing of a way for their Deliverance. .... Although God will have them to be east down; yet he will not suffer them to be destroyed; and although he will have them perplexed, yet he will not suffer them to despair, of which things there are clear instances to be given, lately fallen out, which ought to be observed. First, That God did appear for them in their utmost extremity, when no help could be obtained, or expected from men: an instance hereof is this: that about the year 1637,1 when there was for a long time no rain fallen upon Jerusalem, and the land about it, so that they were all in great extremity, both Jews and Turks, and like to perish; the Turks having for a season humbled themselves, and prayed unto God after their manner for rain; and receiving no answer from heaven, they did conceive that God was angry with them, because the Jews were suffered to live among them; therefore in great rage with drawn swords they went to the Jews, and threatened them, that if within three days they did not obtain Rain from heaven, they should all be put to *1651 in the text altered by hand to 1637.</page><page sequence="4">102 MISCELLANIES. death. Whereupon the Jews having appointed a solem fast, and the third day being all assembled at a place which they call the Sepulcher of Zachary, they prayed till noon, and after noon the clouds gathered, and with thunder they poured such a flood of rain, that all the Cisterns were filled and did run over: by which means they were saved from death, and it was made manifest that the Lord did own them, and accepted of their prayers, when none but he could help them. Secondly, Another instance is in this their present Calamity; for when in the year one thousane six hundred fifty five, they were in such want, that four hundred of their widdows dyed by famine; and that they could except no relief from any of their own Nations in Judea; &amp; having sent into Europe to those of their Nation, these also supplyed them no more but for the interest of their debt: so that all help from men seemed to fail them; it pleased God so to order it, that without any application of theirs unto Christians, some pious and charitable souls, were moved of their one accord to reflect upon their condition, and without their knowledge to make a considerable Collection for them, which did amount to some ease of their distress; although not to a total relief: and since that time God hath also moved the new Turkish Basha to shew some kindness unto them; for after his arrival at Jerusalem he satisfied all their Creditors with his own goods and wares, and made an agreement with the Jews, favorably using them; that in stead of fifteen thousand Ryx dollars, they should pay him only seven thousand, and that on two years term without any interest. Yet with this hard Condition, that if the agreement was not then performed, they must all become his slaves, and that he should do with them what he would. . . . (iii) An Appendix to the foregoing Information received from BeYOND-SeAS SINCE it WAS PRINTED. The state of the Jews at Jerusalem hath been many hundred years of late such, as that they ever lived of the supply and Contributions from their brethren abroad; because the place doth yield but little occasion for them to maintain themselves: and besides those that betake themselves thither, are either Old men or Women, only to do penitency and lay down their bones near the Sepulchers of their fore-fathers: or of younger men that for respect to the holiness of the place (as supposing God to be nearer there, and that all prayers must needs ascend that way into heaven) come thither, there to ply devotion and penitency for the sins of themselves and the whole Nation: and therefore cannot attend any trading, but all their time is taken up with praying, reading and hearing Sermons; as also with fastings and watchings and the like penitential Exercises: which intent and endeavours their Brethren abroad amongst the Nations well knowing, and with all desiring to keep (as it were) possession, or at least a footing in Jerusalem, and to shew their holiness till a full restitution come, have been ever willing to uphold them in it: and to that purpose, wherever any Synagogues of Jews are, on every Sabbath-day a Collection is made for the poor at Jerusalem; and what so is gathered, they are to send thither every year. Therefore the Jews of Poland, dkc.</page><page sequence="5">ACCOUNT OF JEWS OF JERUSALEM IN SEVENTEENTH CENTURY. 103 .... An Instance hereof is this, that in the year 5399. from the Creation, which is now nineteen years ago, there was a great drought in Jerusalem, the which had put all Inhabitants to prayers, the Necessity being extream: but worst of all was this, that an apostated Jew going out to the Turks, perswaded unto the then Bassa, the Lord Mahomet Bassa, that the sole cause that the heaven were shut up, were the Jews by reason of their disobedience unto God; wmereupon an Edict was put forth, commanding all Jews, great and small, young and old, to be cast out of the Town presently. Whereupon some eight of their Eldest were sent up to the said Bassa: which Eldest with great Expences bestowed partly on the Bassa, and partly on his Consellours, had much to do, to crave only three dayes delay: If perhaps within that time the Lord should accept of their prayers and penitency: If not, and that the Lord gave no Rain, he might do with him what he pleased. This being so stated, it was proclaimed throughout the City, that if within three dayes no rain came, all the Jewrs should be expelled, and their goods made prize to the Turks: and whosoever should be found remaining, was to be killed. Hence arose a dolefull Lamentation amongst the Jews: a continual fasting for those three nights and dayes was put upon all, except Babes and Women with Child or in Child-bed, who were bound only to one day and night: So they prayed and humbled themselves all that while with great Cries and Weepings, so that the voyce of it was heard throughout the City; and on the Evening on the second day, they seeing no likely-hood their prayers should be heard, and judging their sins to be too great, they took a Resolution, like to Saul, rather to kill one another, one Brother the other, the Father his Children, the Husband his Wife, &lt;fcc. then to suffer themselves to be polluted by the merciless Turks. Yet one thing they would first request of the .Bassa. viz. That they might all go out to the Sepulchre of the Prophet Zachary, which was out of the Town, and whither they could not come without his consent. So one B. Emanuel Alba-chry was sent unto him, who hearing of their desperate Resolutions pittyed them and said, Go ye and make your prayers there, if perhaps God might hear you and save you from being kild. So on the morning of the third day early, all went forth and laid themselves down at the Sepulchre of Zachary, and there wept bitterly. One B. Asaria made a very pathetical Sermon, and caused all the people to weep, and so did R. Meyer likewise. And at Length arose one B. Samuel, who put the people in mind of the sins of their fore-fathers, and against this Prophet, at whose Tomb they now were prostrated, how they arose against him, and stoned him most cruelly: how (said he,) shall wTe here obtain mercy at his feet, seeing our Fathers had no mercy on him? At which words the people wept bitterly, and strook their hands together, and poured out tears as water, and lift up their voyces, men and women, young and old: and the Lord remembered his surety: and he made this B. Samuel to think on the words of the Prophet Elijah on the Mount Carmel, when he said to his man go up and see, &amp;c. and therefore commanded the people to Go seven times round about the Sepulchre, at the first Circuition he ordained Psalm 24. and certain prayers to be pro? nounced; at the second he assigned Psalm 48. and other prayers, and so at each of the seven Circuits some peculiar Psalm and prayer till the Vesper time came. And then the people going forth saw a little Cloud on the West side of Heaven as large as the palm of a hand. That very day it had been</page><page sequence="6">104 MISCELLANIES. very hot, even as it had been Mid Sommer, so that no man could have believed any rain could have fain that day; which made that the Turks had already gathered up stones, wherewith they thought to have stoned the Jews at their return into the City: But such was Gods providence that even that day before Sun-setting the said Cloud grew thick, and a wind began to blow, and then came Thundring, and Lightning, and such a blessed showr of Rain, that in two or three hours all the Cisterns were brim-full; so that for the Rains sake the Jews were forced to remain that whole Night in Holes and Concavities of the Sepulchre. And when on the next morning the Women went first of all toward Jerusalem, the Turkish Women met them by the way, and Congratu? lated them, that God had heard their prayers; and so likewise many of the Chief Turks met with the men, and brought them some presents of fruits and Confitures; and the Bassa bestowed a suite of apparrell on every one of their Rabbies. This is an extract drawn out of an Authentique Copie; written by the said R. Samuel, and signed by all the Elders of the High-Dutch Synagoge at Jerusalem, 1657. April. 22. An other Instance of the same kind we could add of the year (as we count) 1651. and another yet since while Rab. Nathan was here; but this afore mentioned being most Considerable and most Authentical, and exactly pend, whereas the others are but received by word of mouth, we shall here desist. . . .</page></plain_text>