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Emet m'Tsiyon

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Jewish Joy in Medieval Jerusalem -- Hosha`ana Rabba on the Mount of Olives

When the Arabs first conquered Israel [640 CE] and the rest of the Fertile Crescent, they were wary of arousing too much opposition among the native populations. So they made promises here and there and played off one group against another. Following this policy, they allowed Jews to come live in Jerusalem, which had been forbidden to Jews during the Byzantine period. One of the privileges which they obtained was that in Jerusalem, Jews could openly celebrate the joyous Hosh`ana Rabba holiday on the Mount of Olives. Hosh`ana Rabba is the last day of the seven-day Sukkot holiday; immediately after Hosh`ana Rabba comes Simhat Torah, a very joyful holiday, making in effect a continuous eight-day holiday [in the Land of Israel; in the Dispersion, the holiday is somewhat different].

Jewish pilgrims came from many places to Jerusalem to celebrate. This is the poetic account of Rabbi Eliyahu ben Menahem, a Jewish sage from France, expressing his happiness on the occasion [first half of 11th century].
And I spent Hoshana Rabba on the Mount of Olives,
And Simhat Torah in Jerusalem,
The City of our God, the mountain of His Holiness...
When we stood on the Mount of Olives during Hoshana Rabba,
Even though there were people from all the communities in the world
There seemed to be only about two hundred,
Yet they were twelve thousand
From Hulda's Gate to the Priest's Gate...
[Avraham Grossman, "The Early Muslim Period," in Avigdor Shinan, Israel: People, Land, State (Jerusalem: Ben Zvi, 2005), p 149]

These open, public Jewish celebrations took place before the Crusades, and contrasted with the pecuniary exploitation and humiliation of the dhimmis going on already then. Hence, open joyful Jewish celebrations in Jerusalem were an exception, both in Jerusalem and rest of the Muslim domain. The Crusaders of course did not allow Jewish celebrations while Jerusalem was under their control, nor did the Muslim rulers in the city after the Crusades, the Mamluks and later the Ottomans, allow Jewish celebrations on the Mount of Olives to resume. Under Mamluk [and Ottoman] rule, Jews were at the bottom of the social ladder, more harshly treated than even the Christian dhimmis, as Francesco Suriano reported in an earlier post here.

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Coming: More on Jews in Jerusalem, poems of Zion, etc.


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