benjamin tudelaJerusalem is surrounded by high mountains, and on Mount Zion are the sepulchers of the House of David and of those kings who reigned after him. In consequence of the following circumstances, however, this place is hardly to be recognized at present.

Fifteen years ago, one of the walls of the place of worship on Mount Zion fell down, which the patriarch ordered the priest to repair. He commanded him to take stones from the original wall of Zion and to employ them for that purpose. About twenty journeymen were hired at stated wages, who broke stones from the very foundations of the walls of Zion.

Two of these laborers, who were intimate friends, one day were taking their ease together, and then after a friendly meal returned to their work. The overseer questioned them about their tardiness, but they answered that they would still perform their day’s work, and would employ thereupon the time during which their fellow laborers were at meals.

They then continued to break out stones and happened to meet with one which formed the mouth of a cavern. They agreed with one another to enter the cave and to search for treasure, in pursuit of which they proceeded onward until they reached a large hall, supported by pillars of marble, encrusted with gold and silver, and before which stood a table with a golden scepter and crown. This was the sepulcher of David, King of Israel, to the left of which they saw that of Solomon in a similar state and likewise the sepulchers of all kings of Jehuda, who were buried there.

They further saw locked trunks, the contents of which nobody knew, and desired to enter the hall- but a blast of wind like a storm issued forth from the mouth of the cavern, strong enough to throw them down, almost lifeless, on the ground. There they lay until evening, when another wind rushed forth, from which they heard a voice, like that of a human being, calling aloud- “Get up and go forth from this place.”

The men came out in great haste and full of fear proceeded to the patriarch and reported what had happened to them. This ecclesiastic summoned into his presence R. Abraham al-Constantini, a pious ascetic, one of the mourners of the downfall of Jerusalem, and caused the two laborers to repeat what they had previously reported. Rabbi Abraham thereupon informed the patriarch that they had discovered the sepulchers of the House of David and of the kings of Jehuda.

The following morning the laborers were sent for again; but they were found
stretched on their beds and still full of fear- they declared that they would not attempt to go again to the cave, as it was not God’s will to reveal it to anyone. The patriarch ordered the place walled up, so as to hide it effectively from everyone until the present day.

The above-mentioned R. Abraham told me all this. He is R. Abraham ha-Hasid al-Constantini al-Parush, the Parushim being a small group of men living closely among themselves, hardly talking to anyone outside the group nor even to each other, but devoting almost every hour of their lives to the study of Torah. R. Abraham spends time with me and with other visitors to Jerusalem in hopes of persuading us to remain here and follow his way of life. He himself came here as a young man, but others of the Parushim are sons of men who came here from the south of France, moved by their grief for the destroyed Temple; they came in the wake of Christians from France settling in the kingdom of Jerusalem. These Parushim have a particular method of studying Torah- they look not only at the verses and words of Scripture, but at the individual letters. By considering each letter’s numeri¬cal value, they seek a text’s deeper meaning. Thus they determine the way they shall pray, and endeavor to speed the coming of the Messiah.

The Parushim are few, while the Holy City’s Karaites are numerous, their ancestors having come from Persia long ago. Like the Parushim, these Karaites devote themselves to mourning for the Temple and to praying for the arrival on earth of the Kingdom of Heaven. And now they mourn for our brethren massacred here in the time of our grandfathers-as do we all.

You might suppose that in Jerusalem the Karaites’ grief would subdue their asperity, but here too they taunt and criticize the Rabbanites- having rejected the long rabbinic tradition, they continually argue against its worth. Although they denounce the teachings of the rabbis their scholars study them, it seems, in search of some comment or phrase which they can mock. They even ridicule the integral prayer of the Palestinian Rabbanites’ Yom Kippur services, the Kol Nidre, calling it dishonest to annul vows.

Jerusalem contains more Karaites than Rabbanites. This has been the situation for many generations, at one time the Karaites outnumbering the Rabbanites even more than they do now. The particular piety of Karaites stirred them to leave their Babylonian home (then the center of rabbinic Judaism) for the Jewishly provincial Palestine, where they would be free to devote themselves entirely to their prayers. Here Jews were living decently. The local Rabbanites did not give all their time to study- they worked, in dyeing and tanning, and a few of them in banking. As Karaites came to lead the Jewish community and speak on its behalf to the Moslem sovereigns, the Rabbanites encouraged more followers of the rabbinic tradition to come here to study and to settle. They moved the Palestine Academy (Yeshiva Eretz Yisrael) from Tiberias to Jerusalem, and for a long time the rosh yeshiva at Jerusalem was called the Gaon of Tiberias.

Around the beginning of the last century, Jerusalem again knew warfare, battles being fought incessantly over a large region by the Fatimids and Seljuks and Bedouin Tayys and such peoples. Earlier Jews had been humiliated to see the site of the Temple being used for non-Jewish rituals; now Jews had to suffer additionally while Gentiles were devastating the Holy Land. As the years passed and the warfare continued, Jerusalem’s Jews became poorer and poorer and had to appeal increasingly to communities abroad for sustenance; and many Jews left the city.

The Byzantines came here about a hundred years ago to help their coreligionists; they strengthened the fortifications of the city’s Christian quarter. At the same time, a new Jewish quarter was created, in what is now the Syrian quarter, in the northeast of the city. (Although the Franks razed it and turned it into the Syrian quarter, this area of the city is still called the Juiverie.) The Seljuk Turks seized Jerusalem in 1072, and five years later the Palestine Academy moved to Tyre. By then, Jerusalem’s Jewish popula¬tion had decreased significantly, to hardly more than a few dyers and their families.

During hundreds of years, from the time that the Byzantines ruled Jerusalem, Christians have come here on pilgrimage. When the Seljuk Turks took over the city, they continually harried Christian pilgrims and even killed them. The Christians of the Eastern church feared Turkish invasion of their own soil and asked aid from the West in preventing it; whereas the Western church concerned itself only with assuring free passage to Jerusalem for Western pilgrims. The Church in the West preached its holy war to oust the Seljuk Turks. While the Franks were grouping their forces on the Palestine coast in summer 1098, the Seljuk Turks were conquered and driven out of Jerusalem. . . by the Fatimids, who in their previous long rule of the Holy Land had never molested Christian (or Jewish) travelers. The Fatimid king begged the Franks to spare Jerusalem, promising freedom of worship and free access for pilgrims. But the advantageous change of sovereignty did not deter the Franks.

Early in 1099, at the end of the short, cold winter, the people of Jerusalem prepared for a long siege. They brought into the city all the animals from the surrounding area and they organized continuing supplies of food and water. They poisoned the water sources outside the city, leaving the pool of Siloam from which to obtain drinking water. Their governor, Iftikhar ad-Daula, expelled the city’s Christians as potential saboteurs. He also, in his position of commander of Jerusalem’s garrisons, took stock of the munitions and found them adequate. He had sent to Egypt for military support, to supplement his own soldiers, whom he knew to be loyal to him; the Egyptian soldiers were on their way.

The Franks arrived at the beginning of June and besieged the city for six weeks. They finally won it by bombarding two parts of the wall-in the north and in the southwest-vulnerable because, since the land outside the walls there is high, the terrain does not slope steeply downward as from the rest of the walls. In the southwest, near Mount Zion, the forces from the south of France fought under Raymond of Saint Gilles. Geoffrey de Bouillon led men from the north of France and from Flanders against the wall in the north and northeast, where the Fatimids’ forces included many Jews because the Jewish quarter lay just behind this wall. The Franks fought furiously in their compulsion to liberate the Holy City from the Moslem infidels. For the Mohammedans, on the other hand, it was not a holy war-it wasn’t as though non-Moslems were attacking Mecca! The Moslem forces faltered. Geoffrey de Bouillon, the first of the Franks to succeed in scaling the wall, later became the first ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Inflamed with their conquest, the Franks rampaged through Jerusalem, intent on destroying the venerable city they had vowed to rescue. Without restraint they sliced down Jews and Moslems. They pushed numerous Jews into synagogues, which they then set on fire. They took a small number of Jews as prisoner, of whom the few lucky ones were sold as slaves along the Italian coasts, most of these slaves redeemed soon afterward by the local Jewish communities. (After many months of subjugating the Holy Land, it would not have served the Franks to take many prisoners to sell as slaves, for following any major battle, when the victor sells slaves, the price of these drops in consequence of the rise in the number being sold.) The Franks kept some of their Jewish and Moslem captives busy in Jerusalem for several months, clearing the streets of the maimed and bloodied corpses. From these stinking streets only a few very fortunate Jews managed to flee, carrying their tales of horror to Askalon, Egypt, and elsewhere in the Moslem lands.

As Jerusalem under the Fatimids had contained mostly Moslems and Jews, the Franks soon realized themselves to be rulers of a new kingdom without inhabitants. One of their first decrees banned any Moslem or Jew from entering the city. Directly they brought in tribes of Arab Christians from across the Jordan and settled them in the heretofore-Jewish quarter in the northeast part of the city. Only Christians were to dwell in the Franks’ Kingdom of Jerusalem, which they would administer in the French manner. Just a year after his grand conquest, Geoffrey de Bouillon was fatally wounded by an arrow; it was his brother who was crowned King Baldwin of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, on the Christian eleventh day of November of the year 1100.

The Franks, with their armies and navies from many European lands,
went on to subdue the other towns of the Holy Land, extending the Kingdom of Jerusalem from the Great Sea east to the river Jordan and from Aqaba in the south to Beirut in the north and establishing other kingdoms further north as well. Everywhere they went they slaughtered Moslems and Jews; the Jewish communities were destroyed, their survivors dispersed. The story of the Jews in Palestine since then has been told by grieving individuals trudging from town to town inquiring about lost relatives.

Throughout, Christian pilgrims flocked from Europe to Jerusalem. Gradually the Franks devoted less of their effort to war and more to administration. Palestine’s towns could live peacefully again, with their new populations of Eastern Christians and Syrians, Western Christians who came as pilgrims and stayed, and the few Jews who were drifting back. Although most Jews would have preferred living under Moslem rather than Frankish sovereignty, the Christian towns (that is, those already won by the Franks) offered the greater security. But the Jews were still barred from living in Jerusalem.

The Franks’ Jerusalem grew prosperous, thanks to its soldiers and administrators and the thousands upon thousands of pilgrims and the Church officials and the royal court. From the first the Franks encouraged local Eastern Christians and even Arabs to trade in the city. Jerusalem quickly organized itself for selling to the many men who would buy luxuries; but then it found it had few people to produce them. Not even the beautiful cloths so characteristic of the East were being made locally. Jews had traditionally been among the most skilled of dyers, and now they could live only in the kingdom’s small towns, where they worked individually or in pairs. So the Franks finally granted the right of residence in Jerusalem to several families of Jewish dyers. The king sold the exclusive privilege of carrying on this trade in Jerusalem to the Jews, who rent the dyeing-house by the year.

So the Jews were once again permitted, albeit grudgingly, to come back into the City of David, the City of Peace, to dwell with adherents of the new religions. At least the Jews live here in peace, even if the Christian groups are always fighting among themselves. The native Christians, who naturally outnumber the ruling Franks, belong to Eastern (Byzantine) sects. The Franks keep trying to subject the native Christians to the same taxes they impose on the kingdom’s non-Christians. And the Eastern Christians are particularly incensed that the Franks have taken over their big old churches for the Latin rite.

Disregarding the Christians’ acrimony, I find it convenient to be once more in a land where the main language is Arabic. Arabic-speakers comprise not only native Christians, but descendants of the Frank conquerors as well; indeed, many of these have native mothers and grandmothers. Most of the soldiers in the royal army are sons of unions of Franks with native women.

The Franks rule by means of three main armies- the royal army and the armies of the Templars and the Hospitaliers, Templars and Hospitaliers being the names of religious orders of military men, existing only in the Holy Land, having been founded in the days of Moslem rule to protect Christian pilgrims. There are at Jerusalem two hospitals, which support four hundred knights and afford shelter to the sick; these are provided with every thing they may want, both during life and in death. The second house is called Hospital of Sal’mon, being the palace originally built by King Solomon. This hospital also harbors and furnishes four hundred knights, who are ever ready to wage war, over and above those knights who arrive from the country of the Franks and other parts of Christendom. These generally have taken a vow upon them¬selves to stay a year or two and they remain until the period of their vow is expired. Although I expected to see many Germans here, there are in fact very few, considering that when the Germans were leaving their Rhine homeland to come here and fight the infidel, they exhibited such ardor.

The current king of Jerusalem is the second son of King Fulk, King Amaury. He devotes his resources to acquiring Egypt. The Frankish kings do not exercise lordship directly over each Jew; rather, Jews here are subject to their city lords. The Jews’ position is much like that of dhimmis under the Moslems. Indeed, the tax imposed on Jews, as on all non-Franks in the kingdom, is the capitatio, which the Franks instituted as a direct replacement of the Fatimid jizya paid formerly by all non-Moslems. Jews may not own fiefs or city property, as they will not swear the Christian oaths required upon the purchase of such property.

Originally the Franks prohibited non-Christians from dressing in the Frankish style, as they wished to maintain a visual distinction between rulers and subject peoples, but by now most Franks wear burnous and turban like the natives. This scandalizes Christian pilgrims, perhaps especially because local clothing is so exquisite- always colorful and, for the rich, of expensive cloths, garments being trimmed even with silver and gold. The descendants of the Frank invaders live rather more luxuriously here than they could in Europe. Not only do they receive better medical care, here they have water channeled to their houses, and wood and porcelain and glass of intricate design and superior workmanship, and carpets and draperies of the best wool and the best artistry. And their jewelry!

For the most part the Franks neither farm nor exercise a craft. When unoccupied in military activities, they hunt, all live creatures from bears to birds, and they drink-one sees much drunkenness on the streets here. Their quieter pastimes are, however, like ours- gambling with dice and playing chess. To some of the Jewish boys here I’ve taught several verses of Abraham ibn Ezra’s poem on chess, the one where he describes the moves of the game with phrases from the Bible.

It seems to have happened here as in Spain- the grandsons of aggressors are not aggressive; they live with wealth and pomp but they don’t make trouble; they want only to enjoy the fruits of the conquests. Some knights demonstrate their scorn for Jews, but happily, so far, these feelings have not been written into laws – nor, since Jews have returned to reside in Jerusalem, in any violence. Notwithstanding the atrocities committed by the Franks at the start of their holy war, their massacres in Europe and in the Holy Land, since the Franks settled into the governance of their kingdom here they have not rampaged against the Jews.

Jews worship freely if discreetly in Jerusalem, and observe the festivals in peace. The Jewish community has a ritual slaughterhouse in a separate section of the abattoir at the bazaar. The community has its own court, as anywhere else, for matters regarding the family or a contract between Jews, and the Franks accept the jurisdiction of the Jewish court in such cases. For suits between a Jew and a non-Jew, there is a court in the marketplace (Cour de la fonde), where each litigant swears on his own scripture, Jews naturally swearing on the Torah. All its jurors are Christians.

Jerusalem has a multiplicity of institutions; it is again, after a thousand years, a capital city. Sadly, not of the Jews. Jerusalem thrives, while the position of Jerusalem’s Jews in the world’s Jewish community is now insignificant.

Sandra Benjamin. The World of Benjamin of Tudela- A Medieval Mediterranean Travelogue. Fairleigh Dickenson University Press, 1995. pp.174-180.