Ottoman Rule of Safed 1760 to 1918

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Ottoman Era Tzfat
Ottoman Era Tzfat
צפת בתקופה האוטומני
Other Names:
Turkish Era, Tzfat history of the late Ottoman period
History of Safed during the second part of the Turkish-Ottoman rule, years 1760 - 1918

Following the destruction caused by the 1759 earthquake, the Jewish population of Safed plummeted. Most survivors left the city and moved to other Jewish centers including Jerusalem and Tiberias. The final 158 years of the Turkish-Ottoman rule in Tzfat saw many changes in the fortunes of the city. New immigrants including both Hassidim and Misnagdim began to arrive from Eastern Europe settling together with the veteran Sefardic inhabitants. New challenges and events including a deadly plague in 1812, an Arab progrom in 1834, another devastating earthquake in 1837 and a Druze rampage in 1838 greatly tested the resistance of the Tzfat community but it continued to survive.


[edit] Aftermath of the Earthquake

The 1759 earthquake destroyed a good portion of Tzfat. A landslide covered over many of the structures that did not collapse and only one synagogue, the Alsheich, remained standing and usable. Most of the population left but the survivors began to rebuild.

[edit] New Immigrants

Beginning in 1765 new immigrants from Eastern Europe began to come to Israel. The trickle started in 1765 and increased dramatically in 1777 when many of the new immigrants came to Safed. New residents of Safed consisted of either Hassidim or Mitnagdim - those who opposed Hassidism. Both groups were of Ashkanazi lineage.

Hassidism taught that Jews can serve G-d by worshiping through joy and heartfelt prayer, and by treating their fellows with loving-kindness. The Hassidic founders did not place great emphasis on textual study, a fact that the “Mitnagdim” -- opponents -- found unacceptable. The communities were split in Europe and even once they arrived in Israel, each community maintained its own institutions and communal functions.

An observer in Tzfat in the early 19th century described a situation where neither group could speak to their Sepharadi neighbors because of language difficulties, but would not communicate between themselves even though there were very few Yiddish-speaking Jews living in Tzfat at the time.

[edit] Hassidic Aliyah

Hassidic teachings emphasize the efforts that their revered founder, the Ba’al Shem Tov, made to come to the Land of Israel. He was not able to complete the trip but by the mid 18th century many of his followers were attempting the journey. The trips were dangerous and difficult but in 1777 the first group, led by Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk and Abraham of Kalisz led 300 people on a four month voyage from Galatz, Romania to Constantinople and from there to Acre. The group settled in Safed though afterwards some families moved to Tiberias. Early Hassidic settlers in Tzfat included Rabbi Rabbi Chaim Hager of Kosov, Rabbi Klonymos Kalman Halevi Epstein and Rabbi Avraham Dov of Avritch. Each Hassidic community established their own synagogue. The Hassidic communities in Tzfat during the late 18th and early included Chabad, Breslev, Sanz, Stolner, Karlin, Mekarev, Cherynobyl and Lemberg.

[edit] Mitnagdim

The immigration of mitnagdim began in 1808 but most members of this group moved to Jerusalem. Some mitnagdim did settle in Tzfat including Yisrael Bak who brought his publishing house with him from Volhynia when he arrived in 1831.

[edit] Other Immigrants

During these years, Jewish immigration continued with new Jewish families coming to Tzfat from Turkey, Persia, North Africa and, in 1830, several families from Germany.

[edit] Disease

In 1812 the Jews of Safed were struck by a plague. Some accounts relate that over one half of the residents of the city died while most of the survivors fled to Jerusalem. Jews began to come back but were again targeted for abuse by Abdullah Pacha, the Ottoman governor.

[edit] Pogrom

As the Jews were beginning to establish their community anew following the plague, a rebellion by the local Bedouins and Arabs against the new local governor, Abrim Pacha, developed into a pogrom against the Jewish settlement of Tzfat. In June 1834 hundreds of Arabs, from the Arab Quarter of Safed, the area surrounding Tzfat and from across the Jordan River, invaded the city. They were able to move around freely, looting, destroying and murdering, everything and everyone in their path. The Jews fled with only the clothes on their backs. Some arrived at the nearby Jewish communities of Meron, Ein Zeytim and Biriya while others found shelter in local Arab villages.

After six weeks Abrim Pacha, who had been occupied in Jerusalem and not been aware of the situation in Safed, requested that his Druze allies relieve Tzfat. The Druze forces recaptured Tzfat from the marauders and allowed the Jews to return. Some of the Arab perpetrators were arrested and hung but the Jews hardly received compensation for their damages.

More.jpg Read full Zissil article on the 1834 Safed Arab Pogrom

[edit] Earthquake of 1837

In January 1837 a terrible earthquake destroyed Safed. Estimates of loss of life vary from 2000 dead to 4000 dead. Many of the survivors spent days trying to dig out their families and friends who had been buried underground. Buildings which did not collapse were buried by a landslide and, as with the 1759 earthquake, the only one of Tzfat’s ancient synagogues left standing was the Alsheich and the wall which supported the Ark where the Torah scrolls were housed in the Abuhav Synagogue. In the Bat Ayin Synagogue, Rabbi Avraham Dov Auerbach of Avritch saved his congregants by predicting the earthquakes moments before it happened and gathering his followers by the Torah Ark who's wall miraculously remained standing. Most Jews left Tzfat after the earthquake fearing another one. Some residents remained based on a vow made by Rabbi Avraham Dov Auerbach that no major earthquake would again hit Tzfas.

More.jpg Read full Zissil article on the 1837 Earthquake in Tzfat

[edit] Plunder of 1838

Those few families who stayed in Safed following the earthquake were targeted by Druze marauders in 1838. These robbers, the same people who had halted the Arab plunder of 1834, attacked Safed as part of their own struggle against Abrim Pacha. They destroyed anything that had been left standing after the earthquake. Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, a traveler who visited the city in 1850 wrote that “under the present government, Safed is left entirely exposed to the pleasure of the surrounding Bedouins and Arabs, and its Jewish inhabitants lead a constant life of terror”. He noted that in 1850 there were two functioning synagogues in Safed, one for the Ashkanazim which served about 200 families and one for the Sepharadim which served about 150 families.

More.jpg Read full Zissil article on the 1838 Safed Plunder

[edit] Assistance

Baron Edmund de Rothschild visited Tzfat in 1840 and provided financial assistance for the re-establishment of the community. In addition, Yitzhak Gueta, an Italian Jew, financed the reconstruction of several of Tzfat’s synagogues including the Abuhav, the Yosef Caro, the Ari Ashkanazi and the Ari Sepharadi.

[edit] Rosh Pinna

Even before the first Zionist aliyah began in 1882, members of the Tzfat community considered creating new settlements outside of the city. In 1878 several young people from Tzfat established a small agricultural settlement, Gei Oni, east of Safed. After three years of drought they abandoned the site. Rosh Pinna was subsequently re-established by Romanian immigrants in 1882.

[edit] End of Turkish Rule

The waning decades of Turkish rule were stable for the population of Tzfat. Abdul Majīd, the Turkish governor, maintained order and did not abuse the Jews. New settlers arrived, bringing the Jewish population of 1895 to 6,620 residents. The Arab population also numbered approximately 6000 residents.

Most of the Jewish population lived off the “Haluka” – donations -- collected abroad during this time. Rabbi M. Taubenhaus opened a weaving shop in Safed to provide employment for Jewish workers, bakeries and other small workshops opened and some Sepharadi residents made a living from trade and handicrafts. Rabbi Yaakov David known as "Ridbaz," a great Torah scholar, served as Tzfat’s chief rabbi and fought to reinstitute full observance of the “shmitta” -- Sabbatical -- year in Israel.

The poverty of the Jewish community encouraged Christian missionaries to target the Jewish residents. Taking advantage of the lack of health care in the region, the Christian missionaries established the Scottish hospital whose goal was to encourage conversion. Several Tzfat Jews did convert leading to the creation of a Jewish hospital in 1912, thanks to the donations of the Baron Rothchild.

Years of the First World War were extremely difficult for the Jews of Tzfat. Donations from overseas dried up and the Ottoman Turks persecuted the Jews whom they suspected of supporting the British. The citizens suffered from famine and over half of the population left the city. Many citizens emigrated to Brazil, Australia, Canada and the United States. When the British, under General Allenby, took over the city in 1918 the Jewish population of the city numbered less than 3000 residents.

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