Monday, July 02, 2012

Find the Historical Errors

Children's paper Otiyot recently ran the following comics, part of a time-travel story series.

 (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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yoni becker said...

excellent, thanks. one question:

"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."

-source, please? i mean about the "religious jews" part.

keren said...

Tel aviv was not founded until aroudn 1909, maximum this is one of the neighborhoods outside of Yaffo, such as Neve zedek.

Ora said...

@Yoni - the first Hebrew language papers were established by "Old Yishuv" people a couple of decades before Ben Yehuda showed up. The minute you write and read news and editorials in Hebrew, you're not treating Hebrew as a dead or holy-only language.

The first Hebrew language school was also established by "Old Yishuv" people.

I'm not claiming Ben Yehuda did nothing, but he didn't do everything.

Batya said...

We all know that shimon peres instructs all that we shouldn't pay too much attention to history, all those details and dates and numbers...

Anonymous said...

is it possible that the waiter's name is "gershon" to bring to mind "garcon," the French word for waiter (and one of the only French words I know)?

I think that comics are a great vehicle for endearing history or any other area of learning to the younger set, even though plenty of innacuracies make their way in.

I also think it's okay for grownups to nitpick like you did here:-)

Anonymous said...

The above article, coming as it is to correct facts, fails to give proper weight to various developments relevant to the subject at hand -- the revival of the Hebrew language. In contrast, Ora used the comic to discuss the population of Jerusalem in the 19th century. But this is not relevant to the revival of the Hebrew language.

Ora discusses the newspapers in Jerusalem prior to Ben Yehuda, but fails to mention that these were influenced by the Hebrew newspapers that began to appear in Europe a decade beforehand - Hamagid came out starting in 1856 in Prussia. She also fails to give proper credit to the Haskala movement in Europe for its Hebrew literature. There was nothing altogether new in the Hebrew newspapers in Jerusalem. Only that Jerusalem began to participate in these publications alongside Europe.

Ora credits the "Old Yishuv" with establishing those newspapers as if to revive the language. The fact is that the leadership of the "Old Yishuv", headed by Shmuel Salant, the chief of the Ashkenazi community, refused to support Ben Yehuda publicly. Besides being suspicious of anything related to Ben Yehuda, they did not want to endorse the use of Hebrew in secular daily speech. In fact, to this day, Ben Yehuda's apartment in Mea Shearim remains unmarked as a historical location despite attempts to do so. They even got the authorities to arrest Ben Yehuda. R' Chayim Hirschensohn who worked with Ben Yehuda and established with him the "Safa Brura" society, was ex-communicated (Herem) and was forced to leave the country. The Ashkenazi Old Yishuv called it the "Safa Blula" society and Shmuel Salant is said to have compared Ben Yehuda and the Hebrew language to wine -- "Just as good wine, if touched by a heretic is forbidden, so too is the holy tongue."

Ora also claims that the first Hebrew school was founded by the people of the Old Yishuv. She is talking about Frumkin's school in Petah Tikva which began operating with 5 students in 1884. However, the commonly accepted school to be the first to teach in Hebrew was the Haviv school in Rishon LeZion, founded in 1887. Eliezer Troppe, himself from Petah Tikva and a historian of Petah Tikva, apparently places the first class in Hebrew in Frumkin's school in 1889.

In any case, aside from nitpicking two years here or there between the Moshavot, it is in fact the Moshavot such as Petah Tikva and Rishon LeZion, but also others, where the first schools to teach in Hebrew were found. Jerusalem had to wait until 1913 for its first Hebrew school. In my view, this makes the Moshavot the place where Hebrew was first truly revived. Not Tel Aviv as the comic would have you believe, nor Jerusalem as Ora would have you believe.

Anonymous said...

Another error. The architecture is all wrong for the era. As is the clothing.

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