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

Part V
THE ECONOMIC LIFE OF THE JEWS IN PALESTINE

THE STRUCTURE OF THE GOVERNMENT in Palestine in the eighteenth century and the economic situation in the country had a decisive influence on the economic life of the Jews. The local rulers generally did not develop the country, but cared only about their own profits and extorted money in various ways. Moreover, the means of transportation in the country were in very bad condition, and because of the lack of security on the roads danger awaited all travelers. Rabbi Azulay wrote the following in his diary:

And afterwards they came out like the ten sons of Haman from Halhul [a village near Hebron] and they distressed us and brought us back like war prisoners.1

And the shaykhs of Yata and Samóa persecuted us and demanded a large sum of money.2

These factors prevented the development of trade and industry, and the country sank into a state of nearly absolute economic degeneration.

The social composition of the population also had a decisive influence on the economic life. Many Jews immigrated to Palestine in the evening of their lives and did not intend to work for their living, but took care in advance to arrange regular support from the Diaspora. Among the rest of the Jews there were also many who only studied the Torah, and so they did not contribute to the development of an economic life. Moreover, the continual turnover in the Jewish population of Palestine during the eighteenth century also prevented the development of an orderly economic life, even in areas such as finance and trade.

In general, in the eighteenth century there were only a few Jews who were engaged in agriculture, industry, trade, agency, and moneylending. Most of the Jews of Palestine lived on donations from the Diaspora or from the charity funds of the communities, and even then in difficult conditions. The following was written by R. Abraham Gerson of Kuty in the letter he sent to the Baal Shem Tov in 1757: "It would be better that my sons should remain in the holy city and I am sure that they will study the Torah and worship diligently all their lives because

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