Bombardment on Succos

    October 1998         
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Opinion & Society

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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