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Bombardment on Succot
By Dovid Rossoff
Jerusalem is the city of peace. Or so it should be.
Unfortunately, there have been periods in her long history when
the city of peace became a scary place to live in, a city besieged
by a stalwart enemy. Such a time occurred in ancient history when
Sennacherib attacked Jerusalem with a vast army during the kingship
of King Hezekiah around 520 B.C.E. More recently, we have a little
known story which occurred in 1825.
Nineteenth century Jerusalem, like all the Middle
East, lay under the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire. Federal
taxes were collected every spring, something which no one was
very happy about. One year, in 1824, the Pasha in Damascus ordered
that an additional tax be levied on all the residents of the Holy
City. The non-Jewish peasants of Jerusalem reacted by starting
a revolt. In order to oust the five-hundred-man Turkish garrison
from the Citadel of David, they cunningly staged a fake war with
the Arabs of Bethlehem. They then approached the leader of the
Turkish legion and asked him to aid them against their Bethlehemite
enemies. The Turkish commander agreed, and once he marched out
of the city with his troops, the remaining skeleton staff in the
Citadel were easy prey for the insurgents. The shocked commander
was unprepared to attack the city and retreated to Damascus. Thus,
Jerusalem fell without any blood being shed. Yet the Jewish community
was pessimistic about the future.
When word reached Constantinople, the Sultan ordered Pasha Abdullah
of Acco to quell the rebellion. His legions reached Jerusalem
in Tishre, 1825, and surrounded the city. Imagine the feeling
of being attacked for doing nothing wrong. The Jews, innocent
bystanders, were caught in the net and might be forced to pay
for it with their lives. Prayer was the only weapon available
to them, and everyone beseeched the Almighty for mercy.
Abdullah was a fiery character who rose to power with blood on
his hands a few years earlier. Everyone knew him to be aggressive
and ruthless. This only intensified their apprehensions of what
might await them.
He chose to attack the city from the east. He had a row of cannons
set up on the Mount of Olives and besieged the city with cannon
fire. People hid in cellars and dried underground cisterns. Abdullah
gave his soldiers explicit instructions to strike the marketplace
and not the residential sections - his objective was to stop the
rebellion, not to destroy the city. However, cannons had limited
accuracy, and as a result, the whole city was endangered.
The bombardment took place on Succos, when most Jews lived in
their succos, which they built on their rooftops. At a time like
this, they were exempt from the mitzvah. One Jew refused to leave
his succah during the shelling, and was injured in his leg.
The eerie sound of cannonballs crashing into courtyards and onto
rooftops gripped the inhabitants of Jerusalem with fear. They
cowered from the terrifying sound and prayed for deliverance.
During one shelling, Rav Avraham Mizrachi Sharabi, the famous
kabbalist of Beis El Yeshivah, sat down with his scribe, Rav Yedidiah
Abulafia, and wrote various holy names and permutations on a parchment.
He ordered his disciple not to move from his place while he concentrated
on the holy names. It seemed that Rav Sharabi's prayers and meditations
were effective. The damage from the shelling was extensive, but
not a single human being was killed. At the end of the day, Rav
Abulafia went outside to see what had happened. As soon as he
started down one of the corridors, a piece of shrapnel struck
him and left him limping for the rest of his life.
When Abdullah realized that the hand of God was protecting the
Holy City, he offered to make a peace treaty. The rebels agreed
to relinquish their hold on the city in return for safe conduct
to escape. Abdullah consented and the following day entered with
his legions. The Jews paid him homage as their emancipator and
hoped to return to their normal routine. However, they would not
get off scot-free. Before returning to Acco, Abdullah demanded
a special tax from the Jews which burdened them tremendously.
Yet, freedom of body and soul was worth the price.
© by Dovid Rossoff The author, Dovid Rossoff, resides in
Jerusalem over twenty-five years. He has written Land of Our
Heritage, Safed: The Mystical City, and The Tefillin Handbook,
among others. He has just published a new book entitled When Heaven Touches Earth which is about the Jewish history of Jerusalem
from the Crusader period until the present.
from the October 1998 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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