(click to enlarge)
It says as follows:
Tel Aviv, end of the 19th century.
Waiter: How's the Hebrew dictionary coming along, Mr. Ben Yehuda?
Ben Yehuda: Fine, Gershon. Do you have an idea for a word to call for help?
There is one factual error and two conceptual errors in this comic.
Can you spot the historical errors?
The most glaring error is of course the fact that Tel Aviv didn't exist in the 19th century. Though Jews built various neighborhoods in and around Jaffa in the late 19th century, Tel Aviv itself was only established in 1909.
The second error is the idea that we'll meet Ben Yehuda in Tel Aviv. Ben Yehuda came to Israel in 1881, at the start of what later became known as the "First Aliyah" and settled in Jerusalem.
In the 19th century, the Jewish population of Jerusalem increased dramatically. By the 1840s Jews were a plurality, and by the 1870s they were already a majority.
To quote Wikipedia: "In the mid 19th century, with an area of only one square kilometer, the Old City had become overcrowded and unsanitary, and rental prices were increasingly rising."
What Wikipedia doesn't tell us is that the population in this 'overcrowded' Old City was about the same as it is today. So why did it feel so overcrowded? Because most of that population, the Jews, were all crowded around the old core of the Jewish Quarter. The rest of the Old City actually had some nice open spaces.
|Christian Quarter, 1860. In the background: David's Citadel .|
Before the 'Departure from the Walls', the Jews in the Old City went through a process of 'Departure from the Quarter' - they started expanding out into other neighborhoods inside the Old City. The Old City was filled with ruins that nobody was living in. In 1891 Abraham Moses Luncz wrote about Bab Al Huta, a neighborhood next to Herod's Gate, that it was 'mostly ruins and empty spaces'.
By the time Ben Yehuda came to Jerusalem, this process was in full swing. By 1880 15% of the Jews of the Old City lived outside the Jewish Quarter. Ben Yehuda therefore settled in one of these new areas: the Cotton Market, by the Temple Mount, in what is today the Muslim Quarter. Ben Yehuda only moved out of the Old City in the early 20th century. By that time, a third of the Jews in the Old City lived outside the Jewish Quarter. This remained the situation until the Arab riots in the late 1930s.
The third error is that the Revival of the Hebrew Language centered in Tel Aviv. This revival occurred long before Tel Aviv was established, deep within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, orchestrated to the most part by religious Jews.
The Muslim Quarter was much more spacious and available and attracted Jewish entrepreneurship. These included: a flour mill, commercial bakery (today Berman's Bakery), the first large-scale Jewish winery (today Arza), the first organized orphanage (Diskin), and the first women's hospital. In addition dozens of yeshivas opened up in the Muslim Quarter, including Torat Chaim, whose alumni include Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, Rabbi Zvi Pesach Frank, Aryeh Levin, and Yeshivat Chayei Olam - the most important Chassidic yeshiva in Jerusalem, which brought together Rabbis that were considered at odds with each other, like Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook and Rabbi Chaim Zonnenfeld.
The first printing press in the city was established in the Muslim Quarter, followed by two others in the same area, which in turn published no less than five Hebrew newspapers. Ben Yehuda worked for Israel Dov Frumkin's paper Ha'chavatezelet. Frumkin's press and compound, located next to the Mufti's house, became a hub of Jewish intellectuals. These intellectuals encouraged the revival of Hebrew and founded the first public library (today the National Library).
[To fully nitpick this comics: Ben Yehuda later orders another espresso. There was no lack of 'coffee houses' under the Turkish occupation, but I really doubt people were drinking espresso.]
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