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Safed Plunder 1834

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A "plunder," pogrom or massacre took place in Safed, Palestine in the summer of 1834.  It is unclear how many people were killed, but the entire Jewish community of Safed, numbering between 2,000 and 4,000, was forced into hiding while Arab mobs ransacked and looted their homes. There are two separate accounts of the causes of this riot, not necessarily totally contradictory. According to one, the riots took place on the background of a rebellion against the rule of Mehmet Ali of Egypt. According to another, a holy man named Damoor appeared and "prophecied" that on June 15 there would be a great plunder of the Jews. On the 15 of June, to be sure, the mob rose up and plundered the Jews for 33 days, until order was restored on July 17.  A contemporary traveler wrote:

...the Jews of the place, who were exceedingly wealthy, had lived peaceably in their retirement until the insurrection which took place in 1834, but about the beginning of that year a highly religious Mussulman called Mohammed Damoor went forth into the market-place, crying with a loud voice, and prophesying that on the fifteenth of the following June the true Believers would rise up in just wrath against the Jews, and despoil them of their gold and their silver and their jewels...When that day dawned the whole Mussulman population of the place assembled in the streets that they might see the result of the prophecy. Suddenly Mohammed Damoor rushed furious into the crowd, and the fierce shout of the prophet soon ensured the fulfilment of his prophecy. Some of the Jews fled and some remained, but they who fled and they who remained, alike, and unresistingly, left their property to the hands of the spoilers. The most odious of all outrages, that of searching the women for the base purpose of discovering such things as gold and silver concealed about their persons, was perpetrated without shame. The poor Jews were so stricken with terror, that they submitted to their fate even where resistance would have been easy...When the insurrection was put down some of the Mussulmans (most probably those who had got no spoil wherewith they might buy immunity) were punished, but the greater part of them escaped. None of the booty was restored, and the pecuniary redress which the Pasha had undertaken to enforce for them had been hitherto so carefully delayed, that the hope of ever obtaining it had grown very faint.

The Safed Jewish community was practically destroyed by an earthquake in 1837 and only a tiny remnant remained after an addition Druze attack in 1838.

The extant accounts describe mostly plunder. It is not known how many people were killed, but there were evidently a considerable number of deaths, as well as futile attempts at self-defense. 

According to an account that appeared in Haaretz Newspaper of  May 22, 1934, The Great Plunder of Safed by Eliezer Rivlin: 

...The rebellion in Safed was declared on 8 of Sivan (June 15, 1834). From all the nearby towns and villages Arabs and Bedouins came to the city drunk from revolt and began delivering havoc on the Jews. With large and small shields, lances and rifles, the first thing they did was to attack the Jews. They stripped the clothing from men and women, tore pillows and featherbeds, and spread the feathers around, tore Bible books, raped a man and a woman, destroyed houses and synagogues, and murdered many people from Israel.

“Gentiles came to the domain of the Lord, in the little holiness of our temples and synagogues, and defiled the chamber of our holiness and threw all our cherished books of the Torah to the ground. They tortured righteous women upon them, and all holiness of our homes, phylacteries (tefilin) and doorpost (mezuzah) looted and plundered and thrown. And they took from the Bible books to make straps for their horses and shoes for their feet… they destroyed our homes, beating the Jews blows of death and loss. And many of them became blind and invalids, and from among them, several souls died strange deaths.”

Many of the Jews fled immediately to the near and the faraway fields and mountains, outside the city, many among them naked and barefoot. Others ran to the synagogues to die a holy death there. “In the house of learning (beit midrash) of the Pharisees many gathered with their Rabbi, Rabbi Israel, author of Pe’at Shulhan –- and among them many were already wounded and injured – and they where blowing in the shofar.” And many found cover in neighbors’ yards, with Arab acquaintances and in basements.


“the Rabbi Ha’magid from the holy congregation of Satanov, and the rabbi from Piotrkow,” had the strength to hold against the bandits and to be remembered in the list of the author of “Korot Ha’Etim” (‘The history of the times’ or the ‘Chronicles’): “ The rabbi Mo’har Ya’acov Hirsh from Mohilov, and with him a Sephardi scholar, who prepared self-defense, closed the opening to their yard and piled a large number of stones on the roofs of their homes to throw at all those coming closer to their yard. This made their assailants angry and they opened fire at them. The Sephardi scholar died instantly and rabbi Ya’acov Hirsh was severely wounded. Later the attackers entered the yard looted and plundered”.

According to Rosoff and Speilberg:

On a sunny Friday afternoon in Sivan, 1834, hundreds of armed Druze and Arabs galloped into Safed and inaugurated a month-long pogrom. They murdered, maimed, looted and destroyed everything Jewish. The synagogues were pillaged, Torah scrolls profaned and furniture burnt. Even Tefillin straps were desecrated and used to tie their booty in bundles. (Rossoff, Dovid, and Fruma Spielberg, Safed, The Mystical City, Sha'ar Books, 1991, p. 149)

No numbers are given, and it is not clear that this attack is not being conflated by Rossoff with the later attack of Druze in 1838, a different incident that is also mentioned in the same source.  


Ami Isseroff

April 6, 2009

Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information:  Palestine Massacre, the Forgotten Pogrom

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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