The Perushim ( _he. פרושים ) were disciples of Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon Zalman (known as the Vilna Gaon), who left Lithuania to settle in the Land of Israel, then a province of the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The name Perushim comes from the _he. פרש "parash", meaning "to separate", because this ascetic group attempted to separate themselves from what they saw as the impurities of the society around them. (Note that this was the same name by which the Pharisees of antiquity were known).

Influenced by the Vilna Gaon, who wanted to go to Eretz Yisrael, but was unable; a large group of his disciples and their families, numbering over 500, were inspired to follow his vision. Enduring great hardships and danger, they traveled to and settled in the Holy Land, where they had a profound effect on the future history of the Yishuv haYashan. Most of the Perushim settled in Safed, Tiberias and in Jerusalem, setting up what were known as the "Kollel Perushim", and forming the basis of the Ashkenazi communities there. Their history is chronicled in Hastening Redemption by Israeli historian Arie Morganstern.

The journey to the Holy Land

The Perushim began their journey from the city of Shklov, about 300 kilometers southeast of Vilna in Lithuania. The organization they formed was called "Chazon Tzion" ("Prophecy/Vision [of] Zion"), and was based on three main principles:
#Rebuild Jerusalem as the acknowledged Torah center of the world,
#Aid and speed the ingathering of the Jewish exile, and
#Expand the currently settled areas of the Land of Israel.

The "Perushim" migrated in three groups. The first group left in 1808 led by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Shklov, and the following two in 1809, led by Rabbi Sa'adya Ben Rabbi Noson Nota of Vilna, and Rabbi Israel of Shklov.

They traveled via Constantinople on foot and by horse and wagon, and then sailed by boat to Acre. The trips lasted about fifteen months, and the travelers suffered many hardships, including starvation. The journey was made all the more dangerous because of the Napoleonic Wars that were raging across Europe.


Reaching the shores of Palestine, however, was not the end of their journey. When the Perushim first arrived, they faced a ban on Ashkenazi Jews settling in Jerusalem. The ban had been in effect from the early 1700s when, as a result of outstanding debts, the Ashkenazi synagogues of the Old City had been forcibly closed and many Ashkenazim were forced out of the city and barred from returning. While some managed to evade the ban by entering Jerusalem disguised as Sephardi Jews, most of the Perushim journeyed on to Safed, where they joined a strong Sephardi community that was already there. Besides the Sephardim, the community comprised many Hassidic Jews, with whom the Perushim, as Ashkenazi Jews who followed the Vilna Gaon, had an ongoing feud. However, the two groups set aside their ideological differences and worked hand in hand to settle the land and develop their community and eventually intermarried.

Because flourishing agriculture was seen as a sign of Redemption, the immigrants had brought agricultural implements with them, so that they could observe the biblical commandments connected to working the soil in the Holy Land.

Safed in the first quarter of the nineteenth century was a bustling town of over five thousand Jewish inhabitants, but was still struggling to recover from the devastating earthquake of 1759. The physical and economic conditions under which its inhabitants lived were extremely harsh. The community was nearly destroyed by a horrific plague in 1812, and they continued to suffer murderous attacks by Arabs and Druze. The community was further diminished by a catastrophic earthquake in January 1837, which killed thousands of people throughout the region. It leveled the city of Safed and seriously damaged Tiberias. Over 4,000 people perished, 200 from the Perushim community in Safed.


Believing that the catastrophe was a direct product of their neglect of Jerusalem, the surviving members of the Perushim community in Safed decided that the only hope for their future in the Land of Israel would be to reestablish themselves in Jerusalem. However, entrance to the Holy City could only be gained once the decree against Ashkenazim had been annulled. The Perushim could then reclaim ownership of the Hurva Synagogue and its surrounding courtyard and homes, sites that were historically Ashkenazi property.

The refugees succeeded in renewing the Ashkenazi presence in Jerusalem, after nearly a hundred years of banishment by the local Arabs. The arrival of the Perushim encouraged an Ashkenazi revival in Jerusalem, which until that time had been mostly Sephardi.

By 1857, the Perushim community in Jerusalem had grown to 750 people. Rabbi Yisroel of Shklov, who had moved to Jerusalem in 1815, became one of the leaders of the new community. In the interests of strengthening the "Yishuv" ("settlement") and its economic base, Rabbi Yisroel corresponded with and met Sir Moses Montefiore regarding the establishment and funding of agricultural settlements in the vicinity of Jerusalem. As a result, members of the Perushim community were among the first to settle in the new neighborhoods of Nachalat Shiva and Mishkenot Sha’ananim, the first Jewish areas established outside the old walls of Jerusalem.


The aliyah of the Perushim had a widespread and ongoing effect on the Jews in Palestine. They spread the teachings of the Vilna Gaon, which had a considerable influence on Jewish thought and religious practice amongst the Ashkenazi community. They also set up several kollels, founded the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim, and were instrumental in rebuilding the Hurva Synagogue, which had lain in neglected ruin for 140 years.

ee also

*Edah HaChareidis
*Haredi Judaism
*Neturei Karta
*Hastening Redemption


*"Encyclopedia Lechaluts Hayishuv Uvonav: Demuyot Utemunot", by David Tidhar (Tel Aviv: Sifriyat Rishonim, 1947-1971).
*Morgenstern, Arie: Hastening Redemption: Messianism and the Resettlement of the Land of Israel Published in Hebrew, 1997, Jerusalem, Ma’or; Published in English, 2006, Oxford University Press.
*Encyclopedia Judaica, Ya’ari, Avraham. Talmidei Hagra Vehishtarshutam Ba’aretz.
*Berman, S. "Mishpakhot K"K Shklov". Shklov, 1936. (H)

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