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Old Yishuv  

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Old Yishuv - This term has two slightly different meanings. The Old Yishuv (Hebrew: היישוב הישן‎, ha-Yishuv ha-Yashan) is the term originally used by Zionists to refer to the Jewish community that lived in the land of Israel prior to the arrival of Zionists, from the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE to the First Aliyah in 1881 and their descendants.

Most of these communities became, in varying degrees, a part of the Zionist Yishuv in the early twentieth century. A part of these communities, especially the ultraorthodox Neturei Karta and other ultra-orthodox Ashkenazic Jews refused to have any part of the Zionist enterprise and held aloof from the new way of life - chiefly from productive work and army service. Together these continued to be called the "old Yishuv."

The old Yishuv was composed primarily of three groups: the Musta'arabim (Arabized indigenous Jews who had never left the land), the Sephardic Jews (Spanish Jews), who had fled the Inquisition and their descendants, and the Ashkenazic Jews, who came from Europe, primarily from Russia and central Europe.

The Crusaders murdered or expelled a large part, but not all, of the Jewish community in the land of Israel. Small numbers of Jews remained in Peki'in and in a few other towns. As the Crusades receded, groups of Jews began to return. The largest contingent prior to the arrival of the Zionists was provided by Sephardic Jews fleeing the Inquisition, who were allowed to settle in Tiberias, Safed, Jerusalem and Hebron. There were also Jewish communities communities in Haifa, Yaffo, Peki'in, Acre, Nablus (Shechem ) (until 1909), Shfaram, and until 1779 in Gaza. Attrition was due to conversion to Islam, emigration owing to harsh economic and physical conditions, natural disasters like the 19th century earthquakes in Safed and Tiberias, occasional attacks by Bedouin marauders and anti-Semitic Pogroms.  

Apart from the Sephardic Jews, these groups came primarily to pray and live holy lives, often subsisting on charity gathered in Eastern Europe, and perhaps just as often leaving the country because they could not make a living. In total, the Jews of the land of Israel consisted of a tiny proportion of the population, preserving a token Jewish habitation.

Though the "old Yishuv" is generally thought of as anti-Zionist or apathetic to Zionism, this characterization is only most evident in the unassimilated remnants of the early communities. Contrary to the popular picture, most of the "old Yishuv" merged into the Zionist movement in different ways, either by independent settlements that they had initiated or by joining Zionist ones. As might be expected, there was also considerable intermarriage between the Zionist immigrants and the members of the old Yishuv.

By the mid-nineteenth century the Jewish community, especially in Jerusalem had experienced significant growth, as is evident from the table below. By 1844, the Jews were the largest single minority in Jerusalem, all crammed into the narrow confines of the Jewish quarter of the old city,

 Population of Jerusalem in the nineteenth century

Year Total Muslim Jewish Christian % Jews
1844 15,510 5,000 7,120 3,390 45.9
1876 25,030 7,560 12,000 5,470 47.9
1896 45,420 8,560 28,112 8,748 61.9

 Source: Population of Palestine in Ottoman Times

Because of this population pressure, there were several attempts by Jews within the Old Yishuv to leave Jerusalem. The philanthropist, Baron Montefiore, founded Mishkenot Sha'anim as an almshouse, outside the walls of the old city. In the 1890s the little neighborhood was expanded into what is now called Yemin Moshe. A windmill was built there to provide a livelihood for the inhabitants.

In 1878, Jews from the old city of Jerusalem, Yehoshua Stampfer, Moshe Shmuel Raab, Yoel Moshe Salomon, Zerach Barnett and David Gutmann as well as Lithuanian Rabbi Aryeh Leib Frumkin and Zev Wolf Branda, founded Petah Tiqva, the first agricultural settlement. The "old Yishuv" had in fact developed a movement that paralleled Zionism in many ways, though it was fostered by internal needs and by the relatively favorable political and administrative climate in the Ottoman empire. Even so, the Sultan had vetoed a larger land purchase in Jericho. 

The Jews of the Old Yishuv spoke Hebrew amongst themselves, though it was a simplified version of the language and had not absorbed or invented words for modern mechanical inventions and concepts. The Sephardic accented Hebrew spoken in Tiberias and Safed was very likely the basis for the revived Hebrew of Eliezer Ben Yehuda (see Parfitt, Tudor, The contribution of the old Yishuv to the revival of Hebrew, Journal of Semitic Studies 1984 XXIX(2):255-265; doi:10.1093/jss/XXIX.2.255, for an outsiders' discussion of the question. The contribution of the old Yishuv to the revival of Hebrew was never really an issue in doubt, since Ben Yehuda's assistant and friend was a member of the Meyuhas family, an ancient Sephardic family of Tiberias.)  The first Hebrew schools in Jerusalem were founded and staffed by members of the "old Yishuv" as well.

Ami Isseroff

December 13, 2009


Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information:

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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