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Emet m'Tsiyon

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


The first direct contact between the Jews of Hebron and what became the United States ofAmerica occurred a few years before the American Revolution when Rabbi Hayim Karigal of Hebron arrived in North America on a fund-raising mission to help the poor Jews in Hebron. He met various prominent personalities, Jewish and non-Jewish, including Ezra Stiles who later became the president of Yale University. Stiles and Karigal had a number of discussions on the Bible and other religious topics.
About sixty years later an American came to Hebron.

John Lloyd Stephens was an American writer who traveled in the Levant in the 19th century, in 1836, while Muhammud Ali, ruler of Egypt was also in control of Syria and Israel. Two years before, in 1834, the Muslims living on the mountain ridge between Hebron and Sh'khem had risen up against Muhammud Ali, because he was drafting their sons for the army, which was an innovation in Muslim society where regular soldiers were usually slaves [including janissaries], nomadic or militarized tribes, etc. Encouraged by the Ottoman Empire which Muhammud Ali had driven out of Israel and Syria, and by local notables close to the Ottomans, and led by local Muslim notables, the Arabs rose up and, incidentally, made pogroms against Jews in Jerusalem, and afterwards against Christians there. Muhammud Ali's suppression of the rebels was also cruel and his soldiers too attacked Jews, as in Hebron.

Stephens arrived in Hebron in 1836 after crossing the desert from Egypt with a hired Bedouin escort. In Hebron, he was lodged by the authorities with the local Jews. Here is Part One of his account.

"I followed the janissary [government soldier], who conducted me around outside the walls and through the burying ground. . . to a distant and separate quarter of the city. I had no idea where he was taking me; but I had not advanced a horse's length in the narrow streets before their peculiar costume and physiognomies told me that I was among the unhappy remnant of a fallen people, the persecuted and despised Israelites. They were removed [at a distance] from the Turkish [i.e., Muslim] quarter, as if the slightest contact with this once-favored people would contaminate the bigoted follower of the Prophet [Muhammud]. The governor, in the haughty spirit of a Turk, probably thought that the house of a Jew was a fit place for the repose of a Christian; and, following the janissary through a low range of narrow, dark, and filthy lanes, mountings [risings], and turnings, of which it is impossible to give any idea, with the whole Jewish population turning out to review us, and the sheik and all his attendants [who had escorted Stephens across the desert] with their long swords clattering at my heels, I was conducted to the house of the chief Rabbi of Hebron." [p 312]

John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land
(reprint: Norman, OK: Oklahoma University Press, 1970)

to be continued


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