Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies
Bar-Ilan University Ramat-Gan, Israel

Jerusalem: Life Throughout the Ages in a Holy City

Internet Educational Activities <>
March 1997
David Eisenstadt     11/12

The Dawn of Modernity - The Beginnings of the New City

Introduction - ' The Backwater of a Dying Empire'

Despite glorious beginnings, Jerusalem didn't fare well under Turkish rule. The 17th - 19th centuries were a period of social and economic decay. The central government in Istanbul was weak and inefficient. Local governors often functioned as independent rulers. Having little connection to the city or country before their arrival and knowing their stay wouldn't be long few high ranking Ottoman officials in the local administration ctually cared about the city or its residents. Much of their activity was directed at personal financial enrichment, until they could move on to a more desirable location. Security in the country deteriorated, especially on the roads. The activities of marauders made road travel dangerous, except in large groups. Consequently few foreign visitors came to Jerusalem. The security problems, together with cruel actions by corrupt officials (high taxes, confiscations, etc.) also resulted in a sharp decline of the of the village population. In many areas of the country, including the Jerusalem region, sedentary village culture gave way to nomadism.

Jerusalem's population dwindled to less than 10,000 residents. Evidence of the city's decline may be seen in the fact that Napoleon, who crossed the Land of Israel's Coastal Plain between Egypt and Acco twice in 1799, never bothered to visit Jerusalem, because it was not on his route. Apparently Jerusalem was not sufficiently important/attractive to justify a 60 kilometer diversion for an emperor who had crossed half the world. Jerusalem had truly become a 'backwater of a dying empire'.

Non-Moslems, and non Ottoman citizens lived under numerous restrictions, especially with regard to land purchase and building development they were also subject to special taxes which they paid both to the Turks and the local Moslem authorities. The city's Jewish community grew at this time, but its absolute numbers remained small. Many Christian denominations no longer maintained bishops or patriarch of (or at least in ) Jerusalem.

A Century of Change

This situation was to change dramatically in the 19th century. Several divergent forces simultaneously influenced the city's population and urban growth. These forces may be grouped together in three categories: Ottoman legal, administrative and political reforms; Jewish immigration and neighborhood building; 'Great Powers' and foreign Christian activity in Jerusalem.

Ottoman Reforms

Ottoman reform in Jerusalem, as well as the rest of the Land of Israel, didn't begin with the Ottomans. In 1831 the Land of Israel was conquered and occupied for nine years by an Egyptian force led by Mohammed Ali and his son Ibrahim Pasha. They cast off the yoke of their former Turkish superiors and seized control of Egypt, Palestine and most of Syria. The country's new Egyptian rulers issued a series of reforms, which left a lasting impact on legal and political affairs, even after the Turks returned to power nine years later. These reforms I included: 1) Legal rights were extended to non-Moslems - until then they had been second class citizens and were even required to pay a special, 'humiliating' head tax: 2) The regional administration was reorganized and more direct control by the central government was instituted: 3) A municipal advisory council (majlis) was established - the first buds of local government: 4) Law and order were enforced, including maintaining security on the roads - a factor which made Jerusalem and the rest of the country much safer and more accessible to foreign visitors at a time the country's were trying to Western European favor.

In 1840 the Ottoman Turks succeeded in driving the Egyptians from the country, with the aid of several European powers, and reinstituted their rule. They did not, however turn back the clock. The returning Turks continued these reforms through a policy known as the Tanzimat, which included a major reorganization of regional administration and a more liberal approach to non-Moslem subjects and foreign representatives/citizens. The administrative reforms sought, among other things, to enhance the involvement of the central government in local affairs. This came at the expense of local and regional governors, but was meant to decrease corruption by establishing more centralized supervision. The liberalized approach to foreigners and non Moslems came at a time of increased Jewish immigration to Jerusalem (both from within the country and from abroad) as well as intensified 'Great Power'/Christian activity, especially by diplomats and missionaries.

Consulates and Capitulations

An important result of the new political reforms was granting permission to foreign countries to establish consulates in Jerusalem. The first consulates were established by Great Britain, Prussia and France. They were soon followed by others of the 'Great' and not so great powers of the day, including Austria, Russia, the U.S.A., Greece, Norway, Persia and Sardinia. These consulates enjoyed special rights, known as capitulations, which exempted both the consuls and their citizens from local Turkish legal jurisdiction. These capitulations became a very significant factor in local society as various foreign diplomats sought to extend their protection over local religious minorities.

The capitulations gave Jerusalem's various foreign consuls political power at a time when the power of the city's Turkish governor had declined as a result of greater central government involvement in local affairs. Often foreign consuls resided in Jerusalem for lengthy periods while the city's Ottoman governors changed constantly. This produced the paradoxical situation that various European consuls frequently knew the city better than its Turkish overlords. The British consul James Finn lived in Jerusalem for 16 years! He established an extensive network of connections throughout the city and initiated various relief projects on behalf of the Jewish community, with whom he felt a special affinity.

Baladiyat El Quds

Jerusalem (perhaps because it attracted so much European attention) was the site of another important reform in Ottoman administration - local government. In 1863 Jerusalem became the second city in the Ottoman Empire to be incorporated as a municipality. (The first was Istanbul). It had a Moslem mayor and councilors who were appointed to represent the various religious communities, including separate Ashkenazic and Sephardic representatives. Local elections weren't held until 1909, but the fledgling municipality conducted an active program of public works and its establishment predated the Ottoman Municipalities Law by 14 years.

It should be noted that the reforms primarily benefited the Jewish and Christian communities, but specifically not the Moslems, who lacked foreign diplomatic or philanthropic assistance at this period. The granting of rights to non-Moslems decreased the legal authority and income of Moslem clerics, who formally benefited from special taxes imposed on the various Jewish and Christian communities.

Jewish Population Growth

The Jewish community of Jerusalem grew rapidly during the 19th century as a result of immigration from both with in the Land of Israel and abroad. During the first three decades of the 19th century Jerusalem's Jewish community grew steadily from 2000 to 3000 (1837). Most of the city's Jewish population was Sephardic, but at this time Jerusalem's Ashkenazic community was reestablished, initially by prushim (alternately mitnagdim - opponents of Hasidism), most of whom arrived from Eastern Europe via Safed.

In 1837 the cities of Safed and Tiberias (the two largest Jewish communities in the Land of Israel) were destroyed by an earthquake and some of their residents sought refuge in Jerusalem. By 1840 the city's Jewish population reached 5000. The flow of immigrants increased in the 1840's as a result of improvements in overland transportation in Europe and sea travel on the Mediterranean (railroads and steamships).

The Birth of the New City

The sharp rise in Jerusalem's Jewish population, together with the fact that most of its Jewish residents were poor produced a major housing crisis. Over-crowding was rampant, together with its by-products, such as poor sanitary conditions, epidemics, etc. The Jewish Quarter was particularly squalid and Jews who sought refuge in other parts of the city paid exorbitant rents to non-Jewish landlords. The Rothschild family attempted to alleviate the harsh conditions of their coreligionists by erecting a set of apartments known as the Batei Hamahse in the 1850's, but this provided only a partial, temporary solution.

At this time Sir Moses Montefiore, a son-in-law of the Rothschilds, visited the city. Montefiore, wealthy in his own right, was troubled by the plight of Jerusalem's Jewry. He attempted to acquire more housing for Jews, but to no avail. Instead he encountered a curious offer from Jerusalem's Turkish governor - a plot of land on an open, airy hillside, west of the city across the Hinnom Valley. In 1857 Montefiore imported a windmill from Canterbury, England and erected it on this plot of land in order to provide Jerusalem's poor Jews with a cheap source of flour.

Progress on alleviating Jerusalem's housing crisis came three years later when Montefiore, with funds from the estate of a wealthy American Jew from New Orleans, named Judah Touro, established, near the windmill, the first residential neighborhood outside the city walls - Mishkenot She'ananim. The new neighborhood consisted of one long, single story building with 19 apartments. The apartments were offered to the city's poor Jews as a healthy alternative to the squalid conditions inside the city, but at first their few takers, because people feared living outside the Jerusalem's high, 'protecting' walls where they were likely to be prey to bandits or wild animals. According to some sources, Monefiore, determined to populate the new dwellings went so far as to pay people to live in his newly-built apartments. The idea of living outside the city walls didn't catch on for another four years. In 1864 Jerusalem was struck by a cholera epidemic the Jewish Quarter suffered particularly harsh consequences. At this time Jerusalemites took note that across the Hinnom Valley, in clean, airy Mishkenot She'ananim the epidemic hadn't struck. This heightened interest in housing beyond the city walls and Montefiore responded by adding another building nearby.

In 1867 the leader of Jerusalem's Moroccan Jewish community, Rabbi David Ben Shimon, founded the second neighborhood outside the city walls - Mahane Yisrael - for the poor of his community. Mahane Yisrael was built around an open courtyard. All the entrances to the apartments opened in to the courtyard, so that the outer walls of the building could function as 'fortifications'. The courtyard itself had only one gate which could be locked from the inside. The neighborhood's water cisterns and baking ovens were also located in this courtyard.

The third residential neighborhood built outside the city walls - Nahalat Shiva - stands out for its style of organization. This neighborhood was founded in 1869 as a cooperative effort by seven Jerusalem families. They pooled their funds together in order to purchase the land and build the first houses. The land was owned by a local Arab who despised Jews. In order to buy the land, the founders of Nahalat Shiva, sent one of their daughters, disguised as an Arab woman to purchase the field and then register it in the Ottoman land office. The cost of purchasing the land left sufficient funds to build only one house. Lots were cast and the winner Rabbi Yosef Rivlin, built the first house in the neighborhood, along Jaffa Road in downtown Jerusalem of today.

These first three Jewish residential neighborhoods represent three separate style in neighborhood building/organization. Mishkenot She'ananim was founded by a wealthy philanthropist for the benefit of poor Jews; Mahane Yisrael was ethnically specific; Nahalat Shiva constituted a communal effort on the part of its members. These patterns would repeat themselves in the establishment of other neighborhoods: The fourth neighborhood (1870) outside the city walls - Beit David - was 'philanthropic'; Meah Shearim (1873), the fifth neighborhood of the 'New City' was 'communal'. These first five neighborhoods may be connected in an arch, which stretches west and northwest of the city. None of them were built adjacent to the city walls as might be expected in the case of normal urban sprawl, but all maintained a clear line of vision with the city walls. This was no doubt strongly influenced by the availability of land, but also reflects a desire to move out of the walled city, while still being connected to Jerusalem as a large population center, a Jewish community and a holy city. The next stage in Jewish neighborhood development extended west along the Jaffa Road. It included the neighborhoods Even Yisrael, Mishkenot Yisrael, Succat Shalom and other neighborhoods in the vicinity. Here we find a clear effort to build adjacent neighborhoods on or near the main road (Jaffa Road) leading to the west (coastal sea port of Jaffa), the direction which both Jerusalem and the rest of the country were facing with increasing interest.

'Great Power' and Foreign Christian Activity in 19th Century Jerusalem

Christian Europe rediscovered Jerusalem in the 19th century. French cartographers, who crossed Palestine with Napoleon in 1799, made the first 'scientific' map of the Land of Israel - the Jacotin Map. This marked the beginning of nearly two centuries of intensive exploration of the Land of Israel. The budding sciences of archeology, geography and anthropology made there first in roads in Jerusalem at this time. 19th century explorations of Jerusalem produced a wealth of information and literature, which did much to arouse western interest in the city. The explorers came motivated by religion, intellectual curiosity and romantic imagination. They worked under difficult, primitive conditions, but still managed to make lasting contributions to modern scholarship, and more than a few major errors. The names of several sites in Jerusalem still bear testimony to these early explorers, i.e. Wilson's Arch, Warren's Shaft, Barclay's Gate and Robinson's Arch.

The 1840's witnessed a sharp upsurge of Christian religious activity in Jerusalem: For the first time a Protestant bishop (initially a 'Joint Anglican-Lutheran bishop) was appointed in Jerusalem; the first Protestant church - Christ Church was built at this time; The Latin Patriarch resumed residence in Jerusalem as did the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, both after protracted absences. The Anglicans engaged in missionary activity aimed at converting Jews to Christianity. In order to advance this goal they established schools and a hospital. This spurred Jewish philanthrop

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