Old Yishuv

Old Yishuv
Old Yishuv
A sepia photograph shows three elderly Jewish men sporting beards and holding open books, posing for the camera. Against a backdrop of leafy vegetation, the man in the centre sits, wearing a black hat and caftan, while the two others stand, wearing lighter clothes and turbans.
Jewish life in the Land of Israel before Modern Zionism
Key figures
NahmanidesYechiel of ParisBartenuraYehuda he-Hasid
Sephardim • PerushimHasidim
RambanAriHurva • Shomrei HaChomos
Related articles
History of the Jews in the Land of IsraelHistory of Zionism (Timeline) • Anti-Zionism (Timeline) • Haredim and ZionismEdah HaChareidisShaDaRYishuvThree Oaths
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The Old Yishuv (Hebrew: היישוב הישן‎, ha-Yishuv ha-Yashan) refers to the Jewish community that lived in the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael) from the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE to the First Aliyah in 1881-82, prior to the onset of Zionist immigration.[1]

The Old Yishuv was composed primarily of three elements: the Musta'arabim (indigenous Jews who had never left the land), the Sephardim (Jews with an extended history in Spain and Portugal, mostly expelled in 1492, and those descended from these) and the Ashkenazim (Jews with an extended history in Germany, and those descended from these).[2]

The Old Yishuv dwelled mainly in the Four Holy Cities: Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias and Hebron.[3] Smaller communities also existed in Jaffa, Haifa, Peki'in, Acre, Shechem, Shfaram and until 1779, in Gaza. Petah Tikva, although established in 1878 by the Old Yishuv, nevertheless was also supported by the arriving Zionists. Rishon LeZion, the first settlement founded by the Hovevei Zion in 1882, could be considered the true beginning of the New Yishuv.



Early settlers

Maimonides traveled from Spain to Morocco and Egypt, and lived briefly in Eretz Yisrael (after 1178), then returned and settled in Egypt. The aliyah of a group of 300 Jews headed by the Tosafists from England and France in 1211 struggled very hard upon arrival in Eretz Yisrael, as they had no financial support and no prospect of making a living. The vast majority of the settlers were wiped out by the Crusaders who arrived in 1219, and the few survivors were allowed to live only in Acre. Their descendants blended with the original Jewish residents, called Mustarabim or Maghrebim, but more precisely Mashriqes (Murishkes).[4]

In 1260 Rabbi Yechiel of Paris arrived in Eretz Yisrael along with his son and a large group of followers, settling in Acre.[5][6] There he established the Talmudic academy Midrash haGadol d'Paris.[7] He is believed to have died there between 1265 and 1268, and is buried near Haifa, at Mount Carmel.

Nahmanides arrived in 1267 and settled in Acre. In 1488, when Rabbi Ovadiya from Bertinoro arrived in the Holy Land and sent back letters regularly to his father in Italy, many in the diaspora came to regard living in Eretz Yisrael as feasible.

Exile from Spain

In 1492 and again in 1498, when the Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain and Portugal respectively, some took it as a call from heaven to return to their homeland, Eretz Yisrael.[citation needed] Don Joseph Nasi succeeded in resettling Tiberias and Safed in 1561 with Sephardic Jews, many of them former Marranos. By the early 16th century, Safed had become a center of Kabbalah, inhabited by important rabbis and scholars. Among them were Rabbi Yakov bi Rav, Rabbi Moshe Cordevero, Rabbi Yosef Karo, and the Arizal. At this time there was a small community in Jerusalem headed by Rabbi Levi ibn Haviv also known as the Mahralbach. Rabbi Yeshaye Horowitz, the Shelah Hakadosh, arrived in 1620.

Rabbi Yehuda he-Hasid

In 1700, a group of over 1,500 Ashkenazi Jews set out for Eretz Yisrael to settle in Jerusalem.[8] At that time, the Jewish population of the Old City was primarily Sephardi: 200 Ashkenazi Jews versus a Sephardi community of 1,000. These Ashkenazi new immigrants heeded the call of Rabbi Yehuda he-Hasid, a Maggid of Shedlitz, Poland who went from town to town advocating a return to Eretz Yisrael to redeem its soil.

Almost a third of the group died of hardship and illness during the long journey. Upon their arrival in the Holy Land, they immediately went to Jerusalem. Within days, their leader, Rabbi Yehuda he-Hasid, died. They borrowed money from local Arabs for the construction of a synagogue but soon ran out of funds and borrowed more money at very high rates of interest. In 1720, when they were unable to repay their debts, Arab creditors broke into the synagogue, set it on fire, and destroyed their homes. The Jews fled the city and over the next century, any Jew dressed in Ashkenazi garb was a target of attack. Some of the Ashkenazi Jews who remained began to dress like Sephardi Jews. One known example is Rabbi Abraham Gershon of Kitov.[citation needed]

Hasidim and Perushim

In the 18th century, groups of Hasidim and Perushim settled in Eretz Yisrael. In 1764 Rabbi Nachman of Horodenka, a disciple and mechutan of the Baal Shem Tov settled in Tiberias. According to "Aliyos to Eretz Yisrael," he was already in Eretz Yisrael in 1750. In 1777, the Hasidic leaders Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk and Rabbi Avraham of Kaliski, disciples of the Maggid of Mezeritch settled there. Misnagdim began arriving in 1780. Most of them settled in Safed or Tiberias, but a few established an Ashkenazi community in Jerusalem, rebuilding the ruins of the Hurvat Yehudah He-Hasid (the destroyed synagogue of Judah He-Hasid). Starting in 1830, about twenty disciples of the Chasam Sofer settled in Eretz Yisrael; almost all of them in Jerusalem.[9]

Earthquake in Safed

Finally, the Galilee earthquake of 1837 destroyed Safed, killed thousands of its residents, and contributed to the reconstitution of Jerusalem as the main center of the Old Yishuv.



Many of the Jews arriving at this time were elderly and arrived with their life's savings. Others engaged in Torah study and had no source of earning. To alleviate their financial hardship, a Jewish support system developed called the halukka (lit. "distribution"). Many of the arrivals were noted Torah scholars whose communities felt honored to be represented in Eretz Yisrael and sent them ma'amodos (stipends) on a regular basis. A kollel network was established to allow Jews to sit and learn without having to work for a living. Money for this purpose was raised in Jewish communities around the world for distribution among the various kollelim. The halukka system, which promoted dependence on charity, was harshly criticized in later years.[10]

Etrog export

The export of etrogs cultivated in Eretz Yisrael was also a source of income for the Old Yishuv. This predated the Hovevei Zion idea of the return to the land and Jewish farming, prior to which citrons for use on the Sukkot holiday were cultivated exclusively by Arab peasants and then merchandized by the Jews. According to Jacob Saphir,[11] the etrog business was monopolized by the Sephardic kollel even before 1835. They had contracted with the Arabic growers of Umm al-Fahm for their entire progeny of Balady citron. In the 1840s they were also the instrumental in the introduction of the Greek citron which was already cultivated in Jewish owned farms.[12] In the 1870s the Sephardim switched to the Greek variety, and the Ashkenazi Salant partners took over the Balady business. After a little while, controversy erupted regarding its Kashrut status.[13] Rabbi Chaim Elozor Wax was instrumental in making the Israeli-grown etrogim saleable in Ashkenazi Europe. He planted thousands of trees in a donated orchard near Tiberias, and turned the proceeds over to the Warsaw Kollel he was heading.

Agricultural settlement

The goals of the Hovevei Zion were similar to those of the Old Yishuv, namely returning to Zion and living in holiness in the Holy Land, but with the additional purpose of farming the land. Towards this end, tracts of land were purchased from the Turkish government and local inhabitants. The initiator and leader of Hovevei Zion was Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Kalischer of Thorn who published his views and love of Zion in his work Drishat Zion.[14]


In the Jewish communities of the Old Yishuv, bread was baked at home. People would buy flour in bulk or take their own wheat to be milled into the flour to bake bread in brick or mud ovens. Small commercial bakeries were set up in the mid-nineteenth century.[15] Wheat flour was used to make challah and biscuits, ordinary bread and cooking. Because of its scarcity, bread that had dried was made into a pudding known as boyos de pan.[16]

Milk was usually reserved for pregnant women or the sick. Almond milk was often used as a substitute. Labneh or sour milk was sometimes purchased from Arab peasants. Sephardim kept soft cheese in tins of salt water to preserve it.[16]

In the 1870s, meat was rare and eaten on Sabbath and festivals, but became more available towards the end of the nineteenth century; however, chicken remained a luxury item. Meat was primarily beef, but goat and lamb were eaten, particularly in the spring. Almost every part of the animal was used.[16]

Fresh fish was a rare and expensive food in Jerusalem, particularly in the winter. Salted cod was soaked and then prepared for both weekdays and Sabbath meals. Sephardim also had a preference for fish called gratto and for sardines. Another fish that was available was bouri (grey mullet).[16]

Even until the end of the nineteenth century, both Ashkenazim and Sephardim in Jerusalem stored large quantities of foodstuffs for the winter. In Sephardi households these included rice, flour, lentils, beans, olives and cheese. Ashkenazim stored wine, spirits, olives, sesame oil and wheat. At the end of the summer, large quantities of eggs were packed in slaked lime for the winter. Most Sephardic and Ashkenazi families would also buy large quantities of grapes to make wine. Olives were also pickled and Sephardim pickled eggplants too.[16]

See also



  1. ^ Parfitt , Tudor (1987) The Jews in Palestine, 1800-1882. Royal Historical Society studies in history (52). Woodbridge: Published for the Royal Historical Society by Boydell.
  2. ^ Abraham P. Bloch, One a day: an anthology of Jewish historical anniversaries for every day of the year, KTAV Publishing House, 1987, ISBN 9780881251081, M1 Google Print, p. 278.
  3. ^ The Jerusalem Cathedra "Building the Land: Stages in First Aliyah Colonization (1882-1904)" Yad Izhak Ben Zvi & Wayne State University Press, No. 3, 1983
  4. ^ A description of the Murishkes is cited in וזה שער השמים from שאלי שלום ירושלים, whose author participated in the "Hasid's" Aliyah. Rabbi Shlomo Suzen, from the times of the Beth Yoseph, was known as a descendent of the Murishkes.
  5. ^ Jafi education
  6. ^ Lookstein Bionotes
  7. ^ Jewish History
  8. ^ Some sources claim that only 300 arrived: The Churva, by Dovid Rossoff
  9. ^ Talmidei Chatham Sofer beEretz Hakodesh, Jerusalem, 1945
  10. ^ Rav Avraham Itzhak HaCohen Kook: Between Rationalism and Mysticism, Binyamin Ish Shalom
  11. ^ HaLevanon 14 no 2 page 4
  12. ^ HaLevanon 14 no 14 - page 4
  13. ^ ibid & Kuntres Pri Etz Hadar (Jerusalem תרל"ח)
  14. ^ HaLevanon 8 – no 21
  15. ^ Gur, Jana, The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey, Schocken (2008) ISBN 0805212248 pp. 158-160
  16. ^ a b c d e Cooper, John, Eat and Be Satisfied: A Social History of Jewish Food, New Jersey, Jason Aronson Inc., 1993, ISBN 0876683162 pp. 124-128

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