Warm Muslin welcome for Jews

In the wake of the warm Muslim welcome that greeted many Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis who made aliyah in the 18th and 19th centuries, some Hasidic masters reflected on the positive experience that local Jews had with their Muslim neighbors; according to Yitzhak Y. Melamed, a Professor at Johns Hopkins University and Member of the Steering Committee of the Stulman Jewish studies Program:

“In the wake of the Hasidic aliyah in the 18th and 19th centuries, Hasidic masters reflected on the positive experience the local Jews had with their Muslim neighbors, as well as the importance of loving the land’s inhabitants as part of loving the land itself. The first Hasidic masters settled in Palestine in the eighteenth century, even before the movement developed a consciousness of itself as a new life-form of Jewish piety.

Rabbi Avraham Gershon of Kitov (d. 1761) — the brother in law of the founder of Hasidism, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (ca. 1700-1760); [who was not a Hassidic master himself], settled in Hebron in 1747, and by the early 1750s had moved to Jerusalem.

… After his immigration to Palestine, Rabbi Gershon of Kitov maintained a correspondence with his brother in law. The Besht’s celebrated Letter of Spiritual Ascent [אגרת עליית נשמה], one of the founding documents of early Hasidism, was part of this correspondence.

In a letter written during his early tenure in Hebron, Rabbi Gershon expresses astonishment about the nature of the relations between local Jews and gentiles:

‘In this holy city, there is a Jewish courtyard which they [Jews are permitted to] close during the Sabbath and festivals, no one can come in or out all night, and they have virtually no fear of gentiles. Its doors were kept unlocked at night…

And when there is a celebration, such as circumcision or some other occasion, the Muslim elders come, and all rejoice.

And it is not only this, but the local gentiles, even the greatest ones, love the Jews very much, and whenever there is a celebration, such as circumcision, their leaders come to greet the Jews and dance with the Jews, almost exactly just like Jews.

When I came here, the city’s highest officer greeted me, and I gave him a nice zibbuk (pipe?) I had from Istanbul. And they [the Arab officers] love me and say that I brought them great fortune and luck.

At the evening of the recent festival of Simhat Torah, when I was designated as Hatan Torah, all the [Jewish] sages came to celebrate with me, and the [Muslim] dignitaries [שרים] came too, and they were dancing and singing just like the Jews, and praising God in their language, Arabic.

And [Jews] here wear green and colorful clothes, while no one protests!’

The tone of the letter makes it clear that R. Gershon could hardly believe the reality that transpired before his eyes. Having spent most of his life in Eastern Europe, he was not accustomed to gentiles who dance with the Jews in their celebration and treat them as beloved neighbors.”

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S Maller has published over 150 articles on Jewish values in popular magazines; Jewish, Muslim and Christian. He has also published original research in scholarly journals (Jewish Social Studies, Journal of Dharmah and Journal of Ecumenical Studies). Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah."
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