The Jews in Palestine in the Eighteenth Century: Under the Patronage of the Istanbul Committee of Officials for Palestine

By Jacob Barnai; Naomi Goldblum | Go to book overview

11
THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF JERUSALEM AND ITS LEADERSHIP

HISTORY OF THE JERUSALEM COMMUNITY

In the second half of the seventeenth century the Jerusalem community was the largest and the most important of the Jewish communities in Palestine, after the decline of the center in Safed and the destruction of the Tiberias community. In Hebron and in the villages as well, especially in the Galilee, there were only small Jewish communities.1

The centrality of Jerusalem in the second half of the seventeenth century was reflected in the large number of its great sages, such as R. Jacob Hagiz, R. Hezekiah de-Silva, R. Moses ben Haviv, and R. David Itzhaki. These sages, whose influence went beyond the borders of Palestine, were concentrated around the yeshiva Beth Jacob founded by the Vega family, which was the spiritual center of the community.

In the city there were three communities with separate organizational frameworks. The Ashkenazi community numbered a few hundred and the Karaites numbered only a few dozen, whereas the central community--which is called kollel in Jewish sources--was that of the Sephardim.

The crisis brought about in Judaism by Sabbateanism was not particularly noticed in Jerusalem, as most of the sages of the city opposed Sabbetai Zevi and his teachings. Nevertheless there was a trace of a controversy among the sages of the community at the end of the century.2

At the end of the seventeenth century there was a great decline in the Jerusalem community, especially from a spiritual viewpoint. In the 1690s many of the sages of the city died, apparently from the great plague that had broken out there.3 The Jerusalem doctor R. Raphael Mordecai Malkhi, the author of a Torah commentary, wrote: "And now in the year 5458 of the creation [ 1698] the land has been almost completely destroyed. There was a Torah scholar who dreamed that 36 sages would die,

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