Before 1948, Jews lived throughout the Old City of Jerusalem

There is a common misconception that Jews only lived in the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, In fact they lived all quarters. Elder of Ziyon has this fascinating post:

Old City from the Mount of the Olives

The Moslem Quarter is described in detail by one of the great rabbis of Jerusalem, who died ten years ago, Ben-Zion Yadler. Rabbi Yadler would go to the Kotel on Tisha B’av at midnight, when he would begin teaching Midrash. Up till twelve o’clock he wouldn’t appear – there were too many ‘Zionists’ who used to come. But at twelve we would all gather together and he would tell us about Jerusalem. I remember once that Arabs began throwing stones at us. He said to us in Yiddish, “Don’t be upset. You wanted them to give you back Palestine; they’re giving it to you stone by stone.”

He writes a full description of what is today called the Moslem Quarter, and says as follows: Not only did the majority of Jews of Jerusalem live in the so-called ‘Moslem’ Quarter, but, also the more important Jews lived there, rather than in other sections of the city. And he goes on to describe twenty-two synagogues (I’ve been able to locate practically all of them), many mikvaot and yeshivot, among them, the biggest yeshiva in that part of the city – which is fortunately still standing – Torat Chaim. As you come from Damascus Gate, it’s on the left side of El Wad Road. Very strange: it is right on the Via Dolorosa part of the street. (The Via Dolorosa curves at one point, and part of it is on El Wad Road.)

Then you have another big yeshiva, Chaye Olam, with a Talmud Torah of twenty-two classrooms — each classroom today is an Arab home. (A Talmud Torah consists of eight grades, and here there were three parallel classes.) Part of the building is now unused. That part was never finished because  the Arabs brought a case against it in 1927 when the yeshiva wanted to start a new wing. They weren’t able to finish it, so they just have the walls up. The yeshiva is close to what is the holiest part of Jerusalem for Jews.

There is another building, very close to the golden-domed mosque, which a Hungarian Jew, who arrived here about a hundred years ago, put up. In that building were two yeshivot called Mishmarot (Watches) because twenty-four hours a day Torah was studied there. Rabbi Yadler described how at midnight one group would come from the farthest corners of Jerusalem and another group would go home at that late hour to a place called Bab-el-Hota, close to the Lions Gate. I was still able to find one or two Jews who lived there in their youth. A synagogue was there, but it’s been abandoned for over forty years. You can still see the building near two Turkish baths. One is on the corner of the Bab-el-Katunin, and is called Hamam-el-en; and closer to the Temple Mount, very close, is the second bathhouse. Both of these bath-houses had good mikvaot under the supervision of rabbis. The Arab owners didn’t want to lose Jewish trade, and they made special arrangements for mikvaot.

 

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This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

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