Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Yom Kippur 100 Years Ago -- Or More:
Photographic Treasures from the Library of Congress
from Jerusalem, New York and a French Battlefield

Jews at the Kotel on Yom Kippur (circa 1904) See analysis of
 the graffiti on the wall for dating this picture. The graffiti on
the Wall are memorial notices (not as one reader suggested
applied to the photo later).

Next week Jews around the world will commemorate Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  For many Jews in the Land of Israel over the centuries the day meant praying at the Western Wall, the remnant of King Herod's retaining wall of the Temple complex destroyed in 70 AD.

We present here a reprint of our 2013 Yom Kippur posting.

Several readers commented on the intermingling of men and women in these historic pictures.
It was not by choice. 
The Turkish and British rulers of Jerusalem imposed restrictions on the Jewish worshippers,  prohibiting chairs, forbidding screens to divide the men and women, and even banning the blowing of the shofar at the end of the Yom Kippur service.

View this video, Echoes of a Shofar, to see the story of young men who defied British authorities between 1930 and 1947 and blew the shofar at the Kotel.

Another view of the Western Wall on Yom Kippur. Note the various groups of worshippers:
The Ashkenazic Hassidim wearing the fur shtreimel hats in the foreground, the Sephardic Jews
wearing  the fezzes in the center, and the women in the back wearing white shawls (circa 1904).

For the 19 years that Jordan administered the Old City, 1948-1967, no Jews were permitted to pray at the Kotel.  
The Library of Congress collection contains many pictures of Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall over the last 150 years.

After the 1967 war, the Western Wall plaza was enlarged and large areas of King Herod's wall have been exposed.  Archaeologists have also uncovered major subterranean tunnels -- hundreds of meters long -- that are now open to visitors to Jerusalem.
Click on the photos to enlarge.
Click on the captions to see the originals.
Photos of Yom Kippur in New York 115 Years Ago
The Library of Congress Archives also contain historic photos of Jewish celebration of the High Holidays in New York. 
Original caption: Men and boys standing in
front of synagogue on Yom Kippur (Bain
News Service, circa 1907)

Worshippers in front of synagogue (Bain
News Service, 1907)

And a Picture of Jews in the Prussian Army Worshipping on Yom Kippur 140 Years Ago
We were a little surprised to find this picture of a lithograph in the Library of Congress archives.  The caption reads, "Service on the Day of Atonement by the Israelite soldiers of the Army before Metz 1870."  No other information is provided.
Kestenbaum & Company, an auctioneer in Judaica, describes the lithograph in their catalogue (downloaded in 2012):

This lithograph depicts the Kol Nidre service performed on Yom Kippur 1870 for Jewish soldiers in the Prussian army stationed near Metz (Alsace region) during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.
   The Germans had occupied Metz by August of 1870, however were unable to capture the town's formidable fortress, where the remaining French troops had sought refuge. During the siege, Yom Kippur was marked while hostilities still continued, as depicted in the lithograph.
Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut, a scholar and Reform Jewish leader (1912-2012) provided more facts about the picture.  In fact, he called it a "fraud." 

In Eight Decades: The Selected Writings of W. Gunther Plaut. In a chapter entitled "The Yom Kippur that Never Was, A Pious Pictoral Fraud" he wrote: 
 Of all the things in my grandfather's house, I remember most vividly a large print.  It was entitled "Service on the Day of Atonement by the Israelite soldiers before Metz 1870."  Later I was to learn that this print hung in many Jewish homes.... It was reproduced on postcards, on cloth, and on silk scarves. The basic theme was the same: in an open field before Metz, hundreds of Jewish soldiers were shown at prayer.
 Rabbi Plaut cites a participant in the service who reported:
 A considerable difficulty arose in relation to the place for the services. Open air services were deemed impossible for Tuesday night because of the darkness and were ruled out for Wednesday because of the obvious reasons [it was a battlefield].... My immediate neighbour was willing to grant me the use of his room so that the service took place in our two adjoining rooms.

Another participant in the unusual Yom Kippur service reported, according to Plaut:
Of the 71 Jewish soldiers in the Corps some 60 had appeared. Amongst them were several physicians, a few members of the military government, all of them joyously moved to celebrate Yom Kippur.  The place of prayer consisted of two small rooms.

Monday, July 8, 2019

In Honor of CUFI's Summit in Washington in Support of Israel

The Bible Came Alive 120 Years Ago in Early Photographs of the Holy Land

By Lenny Ben-David

The Bible is timeless. Transmitted thousands of years ago to the People of Israel, its message and prophecy come true in modern Israel today. Some people meet its commandments and narration with skepticism, but photographs of the Holy Land from the 19th-century bear witness to the Bible’s veracity. Here are examples, found in the Library of Congress and archives worldwide. 

The Old City of Jerusalem, photographed from the Mount of Olives, (Ottoman Archives, 1865)
The history of photography starts with the daguerreotype photographic process in 1839 by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre. Several photographs of Holy Land landscapes exist from that period, but a newer, cheaper process took over by the 1850s, and photographers flocked to the Holy Land sailing on the new invention, the steamboat. They were fascinated by biblical scenes, holy sites, and people of the land.  The photographic process often took several minutes, so some of the subjects had to stand perfectly still; they had to be posed or models used in their stead.

One of the first resident photographers was Mendel Diness. His 1859 photograph below is probably the first picture of Jews at the Western Wall. Consider the chronological context of the two men: the photo was taken before Abraham Lincoln became president of the United States. George Washington was probably president when the older rabbi was born. 

Two rabbinic figures at the Western Wall, photographed by Mendel Diness. (Harvard University Library, 1859)

Mendel Diness also took pictures of the first Jewish homes built outside of the Old City Walls at Mishkenot Sha'ananim and the Montefiore Windmill. 

The construction of Mishkenot Sha'ananim beneath the landmark windmill, circa 1859 (Harvard University Library

Diness converted to Christianity, moved to the United States, changed his name to John Mendenhall Dennis, and served as an itinerant preacher.

The American Colony

The members of the American Colony in Jerusalem arrived in the Holy Land in 1881. When hundreds of poor Yemenite Jews arrived on their pilgrimage in 1882, the American Colony founder saw them as “Gadites,” descendants of the tribe of Gad, fulfilling the biblical prophecy of the return to Zion. The Colony helped to shelter and feed them. Many of them had to live in the caves of Silwan outside of the Old City.

This picture of the village of Silwan was found in a Lebanese Bonfils collection by the British Library. A note on the right points to the Jewish colony in Silwan.
The American Colony established a photographic department, and it dedicated itself to photographing the Holy Land. They published a beautiful series recreating scenes from Psalms and the Book of Ruth. 

Photograph of shepherd life illustrating the Twenty-Third Psalm. "He restoreth my soul." 


The second picture, also found in the Library of Congress, recreates “Ruth the Moabitess” in the fields of Bethlehem.

Recreation of the story of Ruth (Library of Congress)

The American Colony photographers also sought out sites showing remnants of the Jewish Temples. After an earthquake destroyed much of the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in 1927, a photographer took photos beneath the rubble. It appears incontrovertible that the pictures were of Temple remains.

Under the al Aqsa Mosque after the 1927 earthquake. (Library of Congress)
One of the biggest mysteries of the American Colony photographs is a photo taken in 1898 and entitled “Ash heaps from Temple sacrifices.”

Ash heaps from Temple sacrifices photographed in Jerusalem (Library of Congress)

Research into ancient Jewish texts, including the Mishna, confirms that the ashes and remains of the sacrifices were transported to a site north of the city not far from today’s Damascus Gate. The area has been built over in the last 100 years, but the photograph confirms the Temple ritual.

Another fascinating photograph confirms another Biblical tradition involving the making of unleavened matza for Passover. The matza must be “guarded” so that it does not come into contact with water along its whole baking process, starting with the grains’ harvesting.  This picture appears to have been taken in 1898 at the Mikve Yisrael school for agriculture. The workers are young students harvesting the grain supervised by their teacher wearing the white hat. But why is there a rabbinic figure (shaded by the umbrella) standing by? There is little doubt he is the rabbinic mashgiach, the kosher supervisor making sure the grain stays dry.

Harvesting wheat in Mikve Yisrael's fields. Who is the rabbinic figure? (Library of Congress, 1898)

The Biblical Prohibitions Too

Virtually every 19th-century photographer in the Holy Land took pictures of Arab farmers plowing or threshing grain.  Frankly, the number of photographs seemed excessive – until one remembers that many of the photographers were very familiar with the Old Testament. They were interested in presenting pictures of two Biblical prohibitions from Deuteronomy.

The first is "Thou shall not plow with an ox and an ass together" (Deuteronomy 22:10). The second prohibition isThou shall not muzzle an ox in its threshing" (Deuteronomy 25:4).

Colorized photo of an ox and ass plowing (Library of Congress, circa 1890)

Plowing (University of Dundee, Scotland)
Variation of the plowing prohibition - cow and camel. (Library of Congress) 

Variation of the plowing prohibition.(Keystone-Mast Collection, University of California, Riverside)


Man threshing with muzzled oxen while a woman winnows in the Galilee (Keystone-Mast Collection, University of California, Riverside)

Muzzling an ox during threshing (Library of Congress) 

The first photographs in the Holy Land provide a glimpse into Biblical life in the Land of Israel.  There are thousands of photographs taken after 1840 that show native life in the land, including Jewish life that flourished well before the Zionist movement or the founding of Israel in 1948.

Lenny Ben-David is a former senior Israeli diplomat and author of American Interests in the Holy Land Revealed in Early Photographs. He has written extensively on American and Israeli foreign policy. An exhibit of his photographs was prominently displayed at the July 4th reception held for the first time by the American Embassy in Jerusalem.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Golden Gate -- Sha'ar Harachamim on the Temple Mount

The Golden Gate (Sha'ar Harachamim, Gate of Mercy) of Jerusalem's Old City wall has special significance on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.  If the gate were opened, it would lead directly onto the Temple Plaza.  The outside of the gate would open to the Kidron Valley and the Mount of Olives beyond.  In Talmudic literature the gate was also known as the Shushan Gate because of its eastern direction (toward the Persian city of Shushan) and perhaps because of the role played by the Persian leader Cyrus in the Jews' return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile.

The Golden Gate viewed from within the Temple Plaza (1860)
According to Jewish tradition, on Yom Kippur a messenger (usually a priest) took the sacrificial lamb from the Temple through the gate to the desert.  The Red Heifer purification ceremony also involved taking the sacrifice through the eastern gate to the Mount of Olives.
Interior chamber of the Golden Gate. Are the columns from the Temple structure? (1900)
Unlike most of Jerusalem's other gates, the Golden Gate was originally built at least a millennium before Suleiman the Magnificent rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in 1540.  Indeed, some archeologists believe that the original gate, dating back to Herod's construction or even Nehemiah's period (440 BCE), still exists beneath the current gate.  Perhaps because of the great religious significance of the gate to Jews and Christians as the Messiah's route into Jerusalem, it is believed Suleiman sealed the gate and permitted the construction of a Muslim cemetery in front of the gate.
Hebrew writing - graffiti - on the internal walls of the gate's chamber is believed to have been left by Jewish pilgrims at least 1,000 years ago. (See study by Shulamit Gera, Catedra, in Hebrew.)
The graffiti scratched into the wall by "Avraham"

Diagram of the two levels of the Golden Gate (with permission of the
Biblical Archaeology Review)

The ancient subterranean arch and the pit  of bones. (James Fleming)
The theory of an ancient gate received support in 1969 when an archeological student named James Fleming was inspecting the current gate. Suddenly the rain-soaked ground beneath him opened and he found himself in a pit of bones looking at the top of another gate eight feet beneath the surface.  Fleming photographed his discovery. When he returned the next day, the tomb had been sealed with a cement slab by the Islamic custodians of the cemetery.
Perhaps the bones date back to 625 CE when a Jewish revolt supported the Persians vs the Byzantines. Led by Benjamin of Tiberias and his army, the Jews controlled the city for several years, possibly even restoring religious practices on the Temple ruins. The period was marked with slaughters committed by all sides.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Gates of Jerusalem Then and Now, Part II
The Damascus Gate

Updating first postings in Israel Daily Picture in preparation for Book 3, Jews and Holy Sites in the Holy Land, Revealed in Early Photographs.
Damascus Gate (circa 1860)
The Jerusalem Old City's Damascus Gate, also known as the Nablus Gate (Sha'ar Schem), faces north toward those two cities.  It is part of the wall of the Old City built in 1540 during the reign of the Ottoman ruler, Suleiman the Magnificent.

Archeologists found a Roman gate built by Hadrian in the second century, probably on the foundations of an even earlier gate. Heaps of ashes, believed to be remains of Jewish Temple sacrifices, were found a few hundred meters from the Gate and remained until the early 20th century when they were cleared for buildings.

This photo is labeled "Damascus Gate."
Actually, it is the city wall just to the
right of and above the Gate.
The earliest photo of Damascus Gate dates back to 1844, taken by a French photographer, Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey (1804 - 1898), believed to be a student of Louis Daguerre who is credited with inventing photography in 1839.
The daguerreotype photos were found in a storeroom in Girault de Prangey's estate in the 1920s. In recent years, the Biblioteque Nationale de France digitized them. 

This Damascus Gate photo dates back to circa 1859. It was
taken by the first Jewish photographer in Jerusalem, Mendel
Diness. After converting to Christianity, Diness moved to
the United States where he became a preacher named John
Mendenhall Dennis.

The photo below, from the Library of Congress collection, was colorized with an early process, "photochrome," by the Detroit Photographic Company. The photo is dated 1890-1900.

Damascus Gate, circa 1890.

Photographs over the last 180 years indicate that the Damascus Gate was the primary entrance to the Old City. The gate is adjacent to the Old City's Muslim and Christian Quarters. 


The buildings on the right and left of the gate were shops built by a Jewish Jerusalem banker, Chaim Aharon Volero, at the turn of the century, Picture shows the construction of the row of Valeros' shops outside Damascus Gate  (circa 1900). The domes of the Hurva and Tifferet Yisrael  synagogues are on the horizon in the center-left of the picture. The shops were demolished by British city planners in 1937
Photographs also show how Damascus Gate was a center for nationalist and military activity in the 20th century after World War I.  

Arab Anti-Zionist demonstration, March 8, 1920, less than three years after the Balfour
Declaration and the British capture of Jerusalem. Many demonstrators declared
that they were Syrians. 

Old City held by insurgents, 1938. Damascus Gate locked

In 1938 local Arab terrorist gangs  took control of the Old City.  In October 1938, the British recaptured the city, described in the British Mandate report below: 

During the month [October 1938], the arrival of strong military reinforcements brought about an improvement of the security position. The Old City of Jerusalem, which had become the rallying point of a large number of bandits and from which acts of violence, murder and intimidation were being organized and perpetrated freely and with impunity, was fully re-occupied by the troops on the 19th of the month. This was a successful, organized operation of considerable magnitude.

Search for arms en masse outside Damascus Gate, September 9, 1938

Damascus Gate. Troops retaking the Old City, October, 1938

Damascus Gate today
 Click on the photos to enlarge. Click on the captions to see the originals.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Gates of Jerusalem Then and Now, Part I
Zion Gate

Updating first posting in Israel Daily Picture in preparation for Book 3, Jews and Holy Sites in the Holy Land, Revealed in Early Photographs.

The walls of Jerusalem's Old City that we see today were built in 1540 during the days of the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent.  

The location and name "Zion Gate" appear on maps dating back to the 12th century.  It is one of eight gates in the Old City Wall.  

Zion Gate, picture by Bergheim, circa 1867.  Today, the walls are pock-marked from
bullets and artillery shells fired during the1948 war in the Jews' attempt to resupply and 
relieve the Jewish Quarter besieged by the Jordanian Legion.
Zion Gate (circa 1898)  The photo was captioned "Jerusalem" 
with no further detail. While the American Colony photographic
 department was established in 1898, its founder, Elijah
 Meyer, was an active photographer prior to that date.

Zion Gate circa 1900

Camels leaving "David's Portal" (circa 1910)

Expulsion of Jews from the Jewish Quarter in the 1948 War
through the Zion Gate (John Philips for Life Magazine)
Located between Mt. Zion and the Jewish and Armenian Quarters, the gate was the setting for fierce fighting during the 1948 war.  A small Palmach force, commanded by David "Dado" Elazar (later IDF chief of staff in 1973), attempted to break through the gate on May 1948 to relieve the besieged Jewish Quarter.  They were met with stiff resistance by the Jordanian Legion and were forced to withdraw.

On May 28, 1948 the Jewish Quarter surrendered.  Jews were expelled through Zion Gate and didn't return until the city of Jerusalem was reunited 19 years later in the June 1967 war.