Friday, May 22, 2009

Must Read on Jerusalem and the Kotel/Western Wall

Excerpts from

“The Howling Place of the Jews” in the Nineteenth Century: From William Wilde to Ahad Ha’am by Elliott Horowitz

Late in the first half of the nineteenth century Jewish prayer and mourning at the Western Wall began to attract the interest of Christian visitors to Jerusalem, many of whom imposed upon it their own theological interpretations...

...Dr. William Wilde’s Narrative of Journey…along the Shores of the Mediterranean (1840). The young Irish physician singled out Jewish prayer at the Western Wall as one of the scenes that had most moved him during his extensive journey. “Were I asked what was the object of the greatest interest that I had seen, and the scene that made the deepest impression on me, during my sojourn in other lands,” wrote Dr. Wilde (father of the future playwright Oscar), “I would say that it was a Jew mourning over the stones of Jerusalem.”[1]

...the children’s writer Favell Lee Mortimer (1802-1878), in the second part of her Far Off (1852), devoted to Asia and Australia – neither of which she had visited. Addressing her “little readers,” Mrs. Mortimer (a daughter of Barclay’s bank cofounder David Bevan and wife of London minister Thomas Mortimer) informed them that “every Friday evening a very touching scene takes place” in Jerusalem, near the Mosque of Omar. “There are some large old stones there,” wrote Mrs. Mortimer, “and the Jews say that they are part of their old temple wall, so they come at the beginning of their Sabbath…and sit in a row opposite the stones.” Upon arriving, the Jews “read their Hebrew Old Testaments, then kneel low in the dust, and repeat their prayers with their mouths close to the old stones; because they think that all prayers whispered between the cracks and crevices of these stones will be heard by God. Some Jewesses come, wrapped from head to foot in long white veils, and they gently moan and softly sigh over Jerusalem in ruins.”[3]...

...James Creagh (1836-1910), a native of Ireland who had studied at Sandhurst, wrote of his own visit to what he called “the Howling-place of the Jews at Jerusalem.”...“whole families of Jews, some dark and some fair, some wearing the English and some the Asiatic costume, and coming from every part of the world.” In a remark that would have appealed to some of the Hebrew poets of medieval Spain, Creagh reported that among those who were “crying and wailing in the most bitter accents” were some “lovely Jewish girls, who wept and sobbed with an appearance of real grief that would appear more natural for the loss of a lover than for the misfortune of their nation in the remotest times.”...[4]

...Albert Rhodes, who was born in Pittsburgh in 1840 and who had served as US consul in Jerusalem between 1863-65.[5] In his appropriately titled Jerusalem As It Is (1865) Rhodes presented a penetrating (and perhaps still relevant) comparison of the Holy City’s Sephardim and Ashkenazim,[6] and also described the weekly prayers at “the wailing-place of the Jews…a spot of interest to every traveler,” focusing particularly on what today might be called “women who weep.” On Fridays afternoons, he wrote, “every available spot along the foot of this wall is occupied by weeping Jews,” adding that “the greater part of these are women, who often sit in little circles around a Talmud-learned Jew, who reads to them – for a consideration… - portions of the Jewish chronicles.” Rhodes also reported that ‘those who arrive early, particularly the women, commence at one end of the wall and kiss and touch every stone within reach, from one end of the wall to the other.” Like Fisk and Creagh, the former US consul also stressed the importance to many of physical contact with the Wall, adding that some of the Jews “almost hide their heads in the fissures, and remain for some time in this position, sobbing in the most affecting manner.”[7]

[1] William R. Wilde, Narrative of a Voyage to Madeira, Tenerife and along the Shores of the Mediterranean (Dublin, 1840), quoted in Linda Osband, ed., Famous Travellers to the Holy Land (London,1989), 155. Osband’s book includes an introduction by the distinguished British travel writer Jan Morris, who has also written under the name James Morris. On the remarks by modern travelers about the Jews of Jerusalem see also Elliott Horowitz, “As Others See Jews,” in Nicholas de Lange & Miri Freud-Kandel, eds., Modern Judaism: An Oxford Guide (Oxford, 2005), 415-425, esp. 415-419.

[2] George Fisk, A Pastor’s Memorial, Of Egypt, The Red Sea… Jerusalem, and Other Principal Localities of the Holy Land, Visited in 1842 (third edition, London, 1845), 290-91. In a later edition (1865) the pious pastor wrote less cautiously that “the Jews have a persuasion…” (ibid., 199). For an annotated Hebrew translation of Fisk’s comments on Jerusalem and its Jews see Michael Ish-Shalom, Christian Travels in the Holy Land (second ed., Jerusalem, 1979), 539-43.

[3] F. L. Mortimer, Far Off , or Asia and Australia Described (London, 1852), 21.

[4] James Creagh, A Scamper from Sebastopol to Jerusalem in 1867 (London, 1873), 405-06. On the participation of women in prayer at the Western Wall see Stuart Charmé, “The Political Transformation of Gender Traditions at the Western Wall in Jerusalem,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 21:1 (Spring 2005): 5-34, who, relying on Adler’s outdated list, misses the testimonies of both Fisk and Creagh.

[5] Ruth Kark, American Consuls in the Holy Land, 1832-1914 (Jerusalem and Detroit, 1994), 314

[6] idem, Jerusalem As It Is (London, 1865), 363-64.

[7] Rhodes, Jerusalem, 373-74. On Rhodes in Jerusalem see Lester I. Vogel, To See a Promised Land; Americans in the Holy Land in the Nineteenth Century (Pennsylvania, 1993), 166, 172.

[8] Richard Newton, In Bible Lands (London, 1880), 60-61. I have quoted from the first British edition, published with a slightly different title.

[9] Ibid., 62.


Menachem Butler said...

The entire post wasn't that much longer, you might as well have just suggested to readers that they read the entire thing!!!

YMedad said...

True but

a) I never like to quote in toto but to point the reader to the blog so his counter should go up.

b) I'm an editor at heart and always find something to drop out.

Anonymous said...

Ahad Ha'am was also an editor - why leave HIM out?

YMedad said...

A) Hey, not two editors share the same post.

B) He was a Ruzhiner recidivist.