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Emet m'Tsiyon

Friday, December 30, 2005

Devastation of Jewish Communities in Israel during the Tribal Raids and Civil Wars of the Fatimid Period

The Fatimid dynasty were Shi`ites claiming descent from Muhammad's daughter Fatima. As Shi`ites, they were hated by many Sunni Muslims, and their rule [in Israel from 969 to 1099] was challenged by Badawin tribes eager for booty, plus armed sects like the Qarmatians, Turkish [Turkoman] tribes --originally mercenaries, and the Byzantine Empire, eager to recover the Holy Land, who were curiously able to form alliances with various Muslim tribes. The Byzantine army penetrated through today's Lebanon and Syria and reached northern Israel.

The Jews were often victims of the various warring forces, and it seems that the Fatimid period was one of accelerated emigration from the country, with Europe as one of the destinations of the emigrants. The Fatimids viewed their Jewish and Christian subjects with somewhat more favor than did the Sunni Arab rulers. Avraham Grossman writes: "The Fatimid Shi`ite authorities, however, considered the Jews and Christians to be loyal elements on whom they could rely and base their rule against the Sunni majority" in their empire, covering Egypt, Israel, and Syria, its capital at Cairo. Hence it is no surprise that the Jews suffered from attacks by enemies of the Fatimid state. However, the Jews also suffered at times from Fatimid troops, as we have seen in an earlier post.

The passage below from a letter written by Jerusalem Jews and found in the Cairo genizah describes the devastation of Jewish communities in Jerusalem and Ramlah, apparently at the hand of enemies of the Fatimids.

And men and women died, some from the blows and some from the terror and some who threw themselves into the pits. . . And no sustenance was left for a man. . . And those who survived wept and moaned, one man to his brother, until they stopped paying [the taxes]. . . and the persecutor once again struck and tormented. . . because on account of sins our elders died and our associates perished and our young men expired and our wealthy men have become impoverished and we remain just a few [in Jerusalem], about fifty persons. . . . and most of our sustenance came from the [Jewish community] officials of Ramlah and its merchants from whom we used to take on credit and sell and pay off the debts with interest. And because of our iniquities, the bad time has come for Ramlah, and they stopped supplying us, and the daily burden is heavy to the point where there is no rest, and no way to escape, and if it were not so, we would flee. . . And life throughout the Land of Israel is in a state of turmoil because of the troops. . . and we are plagued with many evil troubles, the like of which have not been seen in the Land of Israel [since it has been] under the dominion of Ishmael. [Moshe Gil, The Land of Israel during the First Muslim Period, vol. II (Jerusalem 1983-tashmag), pp 86-87 (Hebrew); quoted in Avraham Grossman, "The Early Muslim Period," in A. Shinan, ed., Israel: People, Land, State (Jerusalem: Ben Zvi, 2005), p 140 (English)].

Prof. Grossman writes: ". . . the harsh suffering of the Jewish population in the Land of Israel at that time. . . had led to a dwindling of their numbers" [p 141]. Note the reasons for Jewish emigration from the land: 1) frequent warfare among Muslim factions, sects, and tribes, plus Byzantine intervention, often turning against the Jews; 2) the heavy tax burden on non-Muslims, the dhimmis. Note that the letter-writer states: ". . . there is no rest, and no way to escape, and if it were not so, we would flee. . ." These are some of the major reasons explaining the Jewish emigration from the Land of Israel in the early period of Muslim rule, before the Crusades. Another reason, only hinted at here, was likely the humiliations and abasement prescribed in Muslim law for the non-Muslims.

Can we hear a response from those "politically correct" academic clowns [like Prof. Mark Cohen] who still try to depict Jewish life under Arab rule as some kind of Garden of Eden, or significantly better than under the European Christians? How does Prof. Cohen explain Jewish emigration from Israel during periods of Muslim rule?

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Coming: Poems of Zion, Jews in Jerusalem under Muslim rule

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