Ben-Yehuda in his Ottoman Milieu: Jerusalem’s Public Sphere as Reflected in the Hebrew Newspaper Ha-Tsevi, 1884–1915

in Ordinary Jerusalem 1840-1940
Open Access

Newspapers are important primary sources for local, social, and urban history because they provide the necessary details for an analysis of daily life. When they are crosschecked and compared with other historical sources, they can be of great help to historians seeking to construct, deconstruct, and/or reconstruct the public sphere of a place from the bottom up. Such comparisons may help historians avoid the influence of ideology, mythology, and collective memory when interpreting the past. In the context of Ottoman Palestine, especially after the Young Turk Revolution of 1908, the local press emerged as an important new tool in the practice of citadinité. It played a central role in legitimating the city as a shared space and encouraged readers to participate responsibly in urban life.1 This chapter illustrates the role of the newspaper editor, writer, and intellectual Eliezer (Perlman) Ben-Yehuda (1858–1922) in his Ottoman milieu and shows how the wealth of information that appeared in Ha-Tsevi (Hebrew: הצבי) and its sibling paper Ha-Or (האור) constitute a major source for Palestinian history, particularly with respect to the public sphere and citadinité in Jerusalem.

To begin, we examine the reasons for the spread of Hebrew newspapers in Palestine generally, with a particular focus on Jerusalem, by exploring the influence of the Tanzimat and the 1908 Young Turk Revolution alongside the social dynamics created by Jewish immigration. We analyze Ben-Yehuda’s life, which has been mythologized in other writings, by highlighting the interactions and conflicts he witnessed in Ottoman Jerusalem. We present a short reading of Jerusalem’s public sphere as reflected in Ha-Tsevi. Our reading explores the relations between Jewish communities and Ottoman institutions around various issues including drinking-water shortages, hygiene, tourism, infrastructure, the administrative space of Jerusalem, and community interrelations in the city’s public sphere. Finally, we consider the work of urban geography scholar Yehoshua Ben-Arieh on Ben-Yehuda’s works and writings, and compare it to our own interpretation.

The Hebrew Press in Jerusalem: An Overview

To date, there have been many efforts to explain the spread of Hebrew publications and newspapers in Palestine. Some scholars see it as the continuation of the Haskalah2 as experienced by central and western European Jews. The arrival and spread of the Haskalah in Palestine was inseparable from the first wave of Jewish immigration and the establishment of new communities, the so-called New Yishuv, from 1882 onwards. The Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities who were called the Old Yishuv had settled in Palestine prior to that year. They had their own newspapers and their views differed from those of the Haskalah.3

The appearance of the Jewish press in Palestine developed in the geopolitical context of the Eastern Question, dating from the late eighteenth to early twentieth centuries, set against the background of the gradual dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and European–Russian rivalry. Alongside these developments, the region was affected by the internal issues of Tanzimat and Jewish immigration.4 Ha-Tsevi and other Hebrew publications were subjected to the Ottoman press law (al-Tanẓimāt al-Suḥufiyya) of January 6, 1857, according to which printing presses could be established for works, pamphlets, or newspapers only with the permission of the Sublime Porte. Foreigners could not set up a press or print newspapers without the authorization of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.5

The Young Turk Revolution of the summer of 1908 inaugurated a new political reality and ushered in a boom of publishing initiatives all over the Empire. No fewer than fifteen Arabic-language newspapers were established in Palestine by December 1908; another twenty appeared by the outbreak of World War I.6 Hebrew-language newspapers had begun to appear in Palestine as early as 1863. From then until 1914, new periodicals, weeklies, and newspapers sprung up in Palestine two or three times a week. The first paper was the Jerusalem-based Hebrew weekly Ha-Levanon (הלבנון; lit. “Lebanon”). It was first published in 1863, and remained in print until 1886. In the first six months of 1863, a second Hebrew paper called Havatselet (חבצלת; lit. “the Lily”) began publication. It was connected to the Hasidic movement and persisted until 1911 under the editorship of Rabbi Israel Bak, who also set up the first Hebrew printing press in Jerusalem. The Ottoman authorities later closed down these two publications. However, in 1885, Havatselet resumed printing and was joined by a new newspaper, Ha-Tsevi, which had started printing earlier in October 1884 and was edited by Ben-Yehuda. Ha-Tsevi was more news-oriented than Havatselet and focused less on opinion pieces. In 1901, the Ottoman authorities gave Ben-Yehuda permission to publish his own newspaper, Hashkafa (השקפה; lit. “Outlook”), from 1896 to 1900, and later from 1902 to 1908.7

Ha-Meʾasef (המאסף; lit. “the Collector”) was also in circulation in 1896. Its editor, Ben-Zion Abraham Cuenca, was one of the most prominent figures of the Sephardic community in Jerusalem at the time. The newspaper, which remained in circulation until 1914, published an array of responses,8 articles, and commentaries on religious matters and affairs, sent in by writers worldwide. At first, Ha-Meʾasef was published weekly as a supplement to Ha-Tsevi/ Havatselet and, from its third year onwards, it was issued independently once a month.9

Ha-Ariel (האריאל) was available in Jerusalem from 1874 to 1877, under the editorship of Michael Cohen. The newspaper was a descendant of Ha-Levanon founded on the initiative of Cohen, Yoel Moshe Salomon, and Yechiel Brill.10 Shaʿare Tsiyon (שערי ציון) was first issued in Jerusalem in 1876 as a bilingual weekly newspaper in Hebrew and Yiddish, and shut down in 1885. It was edited by Isaac Gastzinni, Haim Peres, and Abraham Moses Luncz and was considered a competitor to Havatselet.11

Daily publications did not appear until the fall of 1908. It was at this point that Ha-Tsevi/Ha-Or, under the editorship of Ben-Yehuda and later his son Itamar Ben-Avi, became a daily. Over the next six years, until the outbreak of World War I, the press of the then-small Jewish Yishuv advanced significantly. Additional daily publications were the Ha-Herut (החרות; lit. “Freedom”) from 1909 until 1917, and Moriya (מוריה; lit. “Mount”) from 1910 until 1915. These coincided with the appearance of ideological weeklies affiliated with different labor movements (Ha-Poʿel, Ha-Tsaʿir and Ha-ʾAhdut), which often attacked the daily publications including Ben-Yehuda’s newspaper. World War I led to the closing of all newspapers except for Ha-Herut, which continued to appear until 1917.12

Ha-Tsevi and Ben-Yehuda in Focus

Ha-Tsevi/Ha-Or was one of the several newspapers published in Ottoman Palestine by Ben-Yehuda, the most prominent figure in the revival of Hebrew as an everyday spoken and written language. Ben-Yehuda initially wanted to call his paper Ha-Or but did not succeed in obtaining a license from the Ottoman authorities.13 The newspaper was therefore called Ha-Tsevi, which was a translation of the first portion of the surname of the license holder: Rabbi Isaac Hirschensohn (“Hirsch” in German is equivalent to “Tsevi” in Hebrew and means “stag”). Three editors were in charge in addition to Ben-Yehuda: Yechiel Michel Pines (1886–87), Hemdah Ben-Yehuda (1909), and Itamar Ben-Avi (1910–12).

TABLE 16.1Hebrew newspapers in Jerusalem, 1863–1914TABLE 16.1

From 1884 to 1890, the newspaper was issued weekly as Ha-Tsevi. From 1890 to 1893, it continued as a weekly, but its name was changed to Ha-Or and a note was added to the first page specifying that it was an extension of Ha-Tsevi. From 1893 to 1901, it was reissued as a weekly newspaper under the name Ha-Tsevi. From 1902 to 1907, it stopped publication and Hashkafa appeared as a substitute. As a result of the Young Turk Revolution and the flood of news that came in its wake, Ben-Yehuda ran it as a daily paper until 1910 under the name Ha-Tsevi. Between 1910 and 1911, it was issued as a daily, again under the Ha-Or name but without any reference to Ha-Tsevi. From 1911 to 1913, the reference “previously Ha-Tsevi” was included. In 1914, it was issued as a weekly, biweekly, and then daily paper again, though on an intermittent basis. It continued to be published with interruptions in 1915.14

Ha-Tsevi issues are available on the Historical Jewish Press (HJP) website, initiated by the National Library of Israel and Tel-Aviv University.15 There are 1,887 issues on the website with 7,670 pages digitized in transcripts and PDF files. The newspaper is nearly always four pages long and features headings related to Jerusalem in almost all issues. By 1887, the paper had already begun to publish “sections from a large book of words in a new order” which would become a preface to the chapters of Ben-Yehuda’s famous dictionary.16 These sections include translations of world literature and essays written by Jewish authors, descriptions of travel throughout Palestine, and articles on the history and geography of the land. In 1895, Ben-Yehuda initiated a special women’s section, “ʿEzrat Nashim” (Women’s Gallery), the first of its type in the Hebrew press. In 1897, another special section appeared on agriculture and the working of the land called “Ha-ʾIkar ha-Yehudi” (Jewish farmer). This section became a separate weekly publication a year later.17

Ben-Yehuda may be regarded as the originator of New Hebrew, which he claimed was a necessity for the “regenerated nation.” He sought to transform Hebrew into a spoken language in all spheres of life. Most of his new vocabulary was coined either from Talmudic literature or from the Arabic language.18 In 1918, Ben-Yehuda described the impact of Arabic on his philological studies in the prolegomenon of his dictionary:

Arabic, in particular, was a kind of source of salvation for me in the linguistic research of our language. First, because it lives at this moment, we are standing on solid ground when explaining the meaning of its words … The deeper I went into Arabic language research, the wider the gates of understanding of the Hebrew language opened before me; the Arabic vocabulary enabled me to discover the authentic explanation of many biblical words.19

The paper was well-known for its struggle against the Old Yishuv and the halukkah system,20 and for its support of the New Yishuv as well as for its favorable attitude towards Baron Edmond James de Rothschild (1845–1934), a French member of the Rothschild banking family and a strong supporter of Zionism. The newspaper fought in favor of reforms in the Ashkenazi community, which reached their peak with the controversy surrounding the shemittah21 (1889).22 A stinging article by Ozer Dov Lipschitz in issue 44, published in 1886, led to the outbreak of conflict between Ha-Tsevi and the Sephardic community in the city. The dispute resulted ultimately in the declaration of a boycott against the newspaper in the following year (1887). The boycott was connected to writings in which Ben-Yehuda denounced the Sephardic community for using Christian missionary medical services and for hiring a Jewish convert to Christianity as the community’s secretary.23

Ben-Yehuda pursued an uncompromising line against those who followed what he called the halukkah and “shenorer”24 system, just as he opposed ignorance, superstition, and squalor in the streets of Jerusalem. News about his positions reached the authorities and ultimately led to his arrest and the closing of the newspaper from December 1893 to January 1895. Ben-Yehuda had a bitter ongoing conflict with writers of the second wave of Jewish immigration (1903–14) and with writers of the Ḥakhame Odessa school, who objected to his flamboyant and “yellow” (צהוב) writing style as well as his use of new Hebrew spellings that they saw as “gaudy” and “vociferous” (צעקני). For them, his Hebrew innovations strayed away from Biblical Hebrew; the true, sacred Hebrew. Among Ben-Yehuda’s less controversial ideas was his undertaking to establish a large academy in Jerusalem that would constitute a national intellectual center for the whole of the Jewish people: the Academy of the Hebrew Language.

With around three hundred copies sold among Yishuv residents in 1886, the paper’s circulation remained modest and Ben-Yehuda was forced to supplement his income with teaching. In 1887, he travelled to Russia and succeeded, with great effort, in obtaining three hundred additional subscribers, but as time passed they did not remain loyal to his publication. In the end, a monthly stipend of two hundred francs from Baron Rothschild allowed Ben-Yehuda to leave his teaching position behind and concentrate on the paper. Ha-Tsevi reached its peak in 1909, with 1,200 copies sold.25

Jerusalem’s Public Sphere as Reflected in Ha-Tsevi

Ha-Tsevi not only contains a wealth of information on the Jewish communities of Jerusalem; it is an important source of information on the city’s public sphere and citadinité, granting a perspective into Palestinian history in the late Ottoman period. This chapter presents a selection of Ha-Tsevi news material on the city’s public sphere collected from nine hundred print issues. A systematic, elaborate, and in-depth analysis of Jerusalem’s public sphere as reflected in Ha-Tsevi lies beyond the scope of this chapter. However, this reading takes the first steps in revealing the relations between the Jewish communities and Ottoman institutions around the issues of drinking-water shortages, hygiene, tourism, infrastructure, the administrative space of Jerusalem, and community interrelations in the city’s public sphere.

Relations between Jewish Communities and Ottoman Institutions

Interactions between Jewish communities and Ottoman institutions inside and outside Jerusalem preoccupied Ha-Tsevi and Ben-Yehuda. Readers of the newspaper repeatedly encounter the names of Ottoman officials such as al-Shaykh Yusuf, chief of the local army, Arif Bey, head of education, Bisharah Bey, translator for the governor (mutessarif), and others. These names appear, for example, when the officials visited Jewish schools in Jerusalem to supervise exam procedures.26 On another occasion, the governor paid a visit to the “Torah and Work” School and praised what he saw.27 Officials from the Ottoman army also visited Jewish religious schools to make sure they were observing the terms of the students’ exemptions from military service.28 Ben-Yehuda wanted his readers to know the names of prominent figures from Jerusalem’s different communities who sent their children to study at the city’s Jewish schools.29 Sometimes, he published numbers of the non-Jewish pupils enrolled in the Jewish schools of Jerusalem.30

Drinking Water Shortages

The shortage of drinking water in Jerusalem in the late Ottoman period was an enormous problem as well as a source of constant concern to Jerusalemites and to the city’s institutions.31 Ha-Tsevi frequently highlights the initiatives taken by the municipality to overcome this problem, and provides details about its effects on the city’s public sphere. One issue of the newspaper describes the shortage: due to the high temperatures, the water-shortage problem increased in the city as its wells were about to run out and the sellable water was polluted due to the negligence of well owners.32

Ha-Tsevi explains how the Ottoman central government instructed Jerusalem municipal officials to bring water from wells outside the city. An engineer from Beirut was brought to Jerusalem in order to oversee the process.33 Furthermore, the governor appointed a committee to consider bringing clean water to the city and using canals to get rid of wastewater. The names of the committee members were also published.34 Later, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Ha-Tsevi reports how a German and a French company came together to find a solution to the water problem in Jerusalem in the form of formal agreements with the Ottoman government.35 Ha-Tsevi also gives an account of a fifty-year trade license contract that the Jerusalem municipality intended to grant to another French company to sell drinking water to the city.36

Ha-Tsevi provides a glimpse of the social interactions among Jerusalemites looking to find a solution to secure the city’s water supply. An article in the paper describes how one hundred Jewish and Arab workers participated in a project organized by the municipal engineer to bring drinking water to the city from the al-ʾArrub spring outside of Jerusalem.37 Other articles deal with the newspaper’s own participation in the efforts to overcome the water shortage. The city governor, accompanied by the mayor and other officials, visited a spring near Jerusalem. The visit aimed to study how well water might be routed to the city. The Ha-Tsevi delegate promised to support the project.38


In its coverage of Jerusalem’s public sphere, Ha-Tsevi deals with the hygienic conditions of the city. Certain issues contain reports by Jerusalem residents about their concern regarding epidemics and transmission of sickness by local or foreign visitors. Ha-Tsevi records the number of persons affected by fever and flu, and the increase in these numbers. It also highlights initiatives taken by authorities such as limiting the number of passengers coming by train from Jaffa to Jerusalem in an attempt to contain diseases.39 Another issue of the paper includes official telegrams sent to the city governor to impose quarantine on all travelers coming from “Egypt and the Hijaz” because of cholera in those regions.40

The lack of a “cleaning culture” in some quarters of the city, especially those areas outside of the city walls, was a concern. Ben-Yehuda strongly criticized the absence of cleanliness in some Jewish quarters of the city and warned against epidemics and illnesses among Jewish inhabitants. There are many articles on the subject in Ha-Tsevi, with some discussing the spread of specific illnesses such as measles in certain neighborhoods. The sanitary state of some Jewish quarters in Jerusalem and outside of the city, in the areas of Meʾah Sheʿarim and Mishkenot, as well as the problem of cleanliness and sewage in the nearby neighborhood of Bet Yisra⁠ʾel, was discussed.

Articles appear describing the municipality’s efforts to preserve the city environment in light of the challenges imposed by the lack of hygiene. Ben-Yehuda sent letters of thanks to Salim Effendi, the mayor of Jerusalem, and to the city governor for bringing a cleaning machine similar to the one existing in Cairo, in order to reduce dust.41 In a long article praising the municipality’s cleanliness efforts, Ben-Yehuda complains about an inability to control the quality of agricultural products sold in city markets.42 The newspaper republished an announcement already distributed to city residents regarding regulations on litter collection at marketplaces that warned those who failed to follow them of imprisonment.43

Tourism Season

In light of the dependence of a considerable part of the city’s economy on travelers and pilgrims who visited the city due to its status as a holy place for followers of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, Ha-Tsevi features articles covering the tourism sector. Groups of tourists from western Europe, Russia, and North America were an important source of economic interaction within the city. Jerusalem witnessed periods of recession when the number of pilgrims and travelers decreased following disturbances and unrest in the city. Articles in certain Ha-Tsevi issues describe this phenomenon. There were also positive reports: in one issue about the tourism season in the city, the newspaper highlighted the number of pilgrims/travelers who arrived from Europe, Asia, and America, stating that all of Jerusalem’s hotels were fully booked.44 In another detailed piece on tourism, Ha-Tsevi depicted Jerusalem as a European city.45 The newspaper stresses the importance of the tourism season46 and discusses the difficulties encountered by some merchants. It cites complaints from many interviewees, including merchants and coach riders. One of the complaints was: “American tourists buy nothing from the city and don’t pay tips.”47


Ha-Tsevi also provides us with much information about the infrastructure of Jerusalem, from the leveling and sprinkling of the roads to the Jerusalem–Jaffa Railway.48 The newspaper congratulates its readers on the inauguration of the road from Jerusalem to Hebron thanks to carriages.49 Another news piece discusses the municipality’s intention to level Jaffa Street and to sprinkle it with water to limit dust. It mentions how residents overlooking the street may be asked to cover some of the expenses.50

Another article describes in detail the commencement of a paving project using natural materials, supervised by engineer ʾAmin al-ʿAqqad.51 The newspaper also covers the construction of the Jerusalem–Jaffa Railway, beginning with the issuance of a firman authorizing Yousef Navon (1858–1934), a Jewish-Jerusalemite businessman, to start the process.52 Another infrastructure project reported on is the laying of the cornerstone for the railway.53 Later on, readers learn that the manager of the French railway company in Jerusalem has arrived to inspect the Jerusalem–Jaffa Railway.54 Finally, on May 15, 1896, Mr. Fadoul announced that train carriages were ready to transport passengers from Jerusalem to Jaffa at a price of 15 qirsh per passenger. The inauguration of the railway provoked strong reactions from Jewish coach owners, who reduced the cost of transport to half a majidi (an Ottoman currency named after Sultan Abdülmecid I (d. 1861), equal to 20 qirsh) to compete with train fare.55

Ha-Tsevi also contains rich information about Jerusalem’s building infrastructure. There are many articles related to irregular buildings and the problems resulting from them. The newspaper makes suggestions to the government, such as punishing those who violated building regulations, especially those relating to the digging of wells under houses, which could overflow in winter and cause the houses to collapse.56 Ha-Tsevi also published information on tenders to establish electricity infrastructure in Jerusalem and its suburbs, including the conditions of eligibility for those interested in submitting offers.57

The Administrative Space of Jerusalem

Ha-Tsevi focused on the administrative space of Jerusalem and covered extensively the designation, resignation, and the deposition of city officials such as the governor, mayor, and the municipal council. The names of Rashad Pasha, Ibrahim Pasha, Yassin Effendi, ʿAli Rida Bey, Jawid Bey, Husayn Effendi al-Husayni and many others are mentioned in issues of the newspaper in relation to arriving or departing delegations and the organization of meetings by the governor, his deputy, the mayor, and other officials.58 The newspaper is a very helpful tool in constructing the actual administrative structure of the city at the time and speaks volumes about the interactions of Jerusalemite Jews with the communities and officials of the local administration.

One article in Ha-Tsevi states that Jewish officials visited government headquarters (al-Saraya) to congratulate the new governor, Subhi Bey. Among them were Ben-Yehuda and a number of rabbis.59 Ha-Tsevi also reported on the inauguration of a new hospital in the city owned by the Rothschild family. The inauguration was attended by the governor, Raʾuf Pasha, and the mayor.60 Earlier Ha-Tsevi had issued a report on the summoning of the headmen (mukhtars) of the Ashkenazi community by the government to pay 6,500 qirsh in military taxes.61

Another article details a meeting between the Jerusalem governor, Mecid Bey, and a Jewish delegation to discuss the procedures imposed on the Jews of Palestine and Jerusalem in order to obtain Ottoman citizenship.62 Drawing on the decision of the Ottoman authorities to invalidate the capitulations granted to foreign consulates and their nationals, Ha-Tsevi and Ben-Yehuda encouraged Jerusalemite Jews to consider obtaining Ottoman citizenship. Ben-Yehuda called on western Jews to replace their names with Hebrew ones and become Ottomans.63 This created much controversy, but controversy that must be seen within the wider context of Ottoman laws, regulations governing Jerusalem, taxes, military service, and parliamentary elections. The newspaper showed interest in publishing these laws and regulations for its Jewish readers, especially for Sephardi Jews, most of whom were considered Ottoman citizens.

Intercommunal Relations in Jerusalem’s Public Sphere

The interactions between ethnic and religious communities and between different subgroups of the same religious community occupied a major place in the articles and news of Ha-Tsevi throughout its existence. Missionaries were a recurring theme. Ben-Yehuda must have seen their continued endeavor to infiltrate Jewish communities in Palestine, and particularly in Jerusalem, as a fertile source of material. He did not hesitate to criticize the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities who sought to benefit from the services of missionaries. Numerous news items and references in articles written by Ben-Yehuda reported complaints by Jews that Jewish figures were sending their children to Christian missionary schools. The newspaper even published individual testimonies of Jewish parents who sent their children to these schools.64

In 1914, Ben-Yehuda republished a letter from 1912 warning the Jews of Jerusalem from having any dealings with Christian missionary schools, calling for their boycott; these included the Missionary Girls School and English Mission Hospital.65 The newspaper was filled with news related to the activities of these missionaries, their ambitions, places they lived, and finally, the attitude of Ha-Tsevi towards them.66 This conflict with the leaders of the Old Yishuv reached its peak in 1886, with the announcement of the famous “boycott” of Ha-Tsevi67 in direct response to the newspaper’s constant attack on the clergy, who were accused of getting help from Christian missionaries.

The newspaper related information about the Christian missions and their activities in Jerusalem, missionaries visiting the city,68 assemblies of Christian churches, and their efforts to consolidate their influence in the city through the construction of new churches and modern luxurious buildings.69 It published news regarding disputes between the different Christian denominations, such as arguments between the Armenian and Greek churches during the Christian holidays70 and another “between a few priests of the Catholic Church who prevented two Russians from the Palestinian-Russian Society from visiting the Church of the Nativity. Therefore, they were all engaged in hand-to-hand fighting during which the Russians fatally shot two priests and injured one.”71

With regards to Jewish–Muslim relations, Ha-Tsevi focused on covering the dynamics of contact between the two communities. The coverage was limited to the official level. The newspaper details the exchange of visits between the heads of the Jewish communities and notables of the city with their Muslim counterparts and of city officials during religious and public festivals. Ha-Tsevi is replete with accounts of meetings between Jerusalem notables and Rabbi

Bashi (Yaʿakov ʾElyashar). The rabbi also visited the Jerusalem governor, who received him with great hospitality.72 Ha-Tsevi contains a news item about Salim Effendi, president of the Municipal Council, who congratulated Mr. Irnisberg on his position as head of the Bet Yaʿakov synagogue.73 Furthermore, readers learn about a committee, headed by “The Judge- al-Qadi” and “al-Mufti,” that was preparing to receive an army that would pass through the city. The article discusses the Jews’ participation in these preparations.74

Ha-Tsevi does not provide evidence that distinctions were made between Muslim and Christian Arabs. This is in contrast to what Abigail Jacobson points out in her article on the Ha-Herut Hebrew newspaper from 1912 to 1914. She concludes that the Sephardi Ha-Herut made a clear distinction between Muslim and Christian Arabs, identifying the Christians as the “worst enemy” of the Jewish communities.75 In his analysis of interviews published in Ha-Tsevi in 1909 between Ben-Yehuda and the Ottoman Palestinian intellectual and politician Muhammad Ruhi al-Khalidi, Jonathan Gribetz explores how the use of Judaism as a counterpoint facilitated the construction of a Palestinian Arab national identity that united Christian and Muslims on religious and textual grounds. He concludes that this association of Christianity and Islam, in explicit contradistinction to Judaism, is a phenomenon that developed further in the years immediately following World War I.76

All in all, Ha-Tsevi devotes more space to news about Jewish communities in Palestine and in Jerusalem than to the public sphere of Jerusalem as a whole. A clear understanding of the nature of mobilization among the Jewish communities in Palestine and in Jerusalem in particular would require an additional study of the articles published in Ha-Tsevi. Such a study could examine the notion of the kolelim77 in different Jewish communities, conflict between those communities (disunion and emergence mechanisms), budgets and regular donations to each community, and taxes imposed by the authorities for the exemption from military service. A study could also look at news about Rabbi Bashi, the Jewish institution of Jerusalem, religious schools or yeshivot, elections of Jewish committees, Jewish immigration from and to Jerusalem, visits paid by Jewish figures from outside the city, and various conflicts. These subjects are all covered at various moments in Ha-Tsevi and the other Hebrew newspapers.

Ha-Tsevi and Ben-Yehuda in the Works of Yehoshua Ben-Arieh

The remainder of this chapter will examine previous treatments of Ha-Tsevi and its editor in academic writings. The work of Yehoshua Ben-Arieh is a particularly salient example. One of Ben-Arieh’s best-known works is his two-volume book Jerusalem in the 19th Century. The first volume, The Old City, appeared in English in 1984, and the second, Emergence of the New City, was published in 1986. Ben-Arieh regularly quotes Ben-Yehuda on Jerusalem’s public sphere and discusses the cultural role he played in the city. These quotes tend to bolster the image of Jerusalem that Ben-Arieh seeks to present in his book.

Scholarly reviewers of Ben-Arieh, particularly late-Ottoman specialists such as Alexander Schölch and Justin McCarthy, have pointed out some methodological problems related to his writings. Schölch suggests that the sources used in Ben-Arieh’s book determine the picture that emerges. The problems and developments are viewed through the eyes of Europeans and members of the Jewish communities and focus on European activities. Ottoman rule and the Arab communities are dealt with in a rather cursory manner.78 McCarthy, on the other hand, contends that Ben-Arieh provides a descriptive, not analytical history. And yet, when reading his book, one cannot help but wonder what Ben-Arieh was trying to convey with his “marvelous” pictures and anecdotes. Why were things the way they were?79

Most of Ben-Arieh’s citations of Ben-Yehuda illustrate the development of Jewish neighborhoods particularly beyond the city walls, and make no mention of the public interactions among the social components of Jerusalem within their Ottoman context. However, attentive readers of Ben-Yehuda find many indications of such interactions, as the current chapter has shown. For Ben-Arieh, the New Jerusalem is merely the “Jewish Jerusalem.” Such terminology creates an artificial barrier that divides Jerusalem’s public sphere and hides, in consequence, the city’s interactions. In his descriptions, for example, Ben-Arieh uses a series of ideological and heroic terms such as the “Father of the Hebrew Language” to qualify Ben-Yehuda and the “Father of Jerusalem’s Neighborhoods” for Yosef Rivlin.80 He frames the period in the city’s history as a battle between the modern, Jewish Jerusalem and the old, Muslim Jerusalem. In this context, Ben-Arieh cites Ben-Yehuda’s long description of the “New” Jerusalem, published in Mevaseret Tsiyon (1883–84),81 which the Jews built outside the Old City “30 years ago” when not a single building stood there.

Its construction was made possible through an initiative of Moses Montefiore in 1855 to house the impoverished Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem and “to extricate them from the narrow confines of the city.”82

On another occasion, Ben-Arieh cites Ben-Yehuda and an issue of Mevaseret Tsiyon in an apparent attempt to convey the impression that all of the features of Jerusalem outside its walls were purely Jewish. Ben-Yehuda states: “And here [in Jerusalem] my eyes behold beautiful houses and gardens, and all this belongs to Jews! This can only mean that the city has begun to shake off its dust, and it is being rebuilt by Jews.”83 Later, Ben-Arieh mentions a description of Claude R. Conder (1848–1910), who lived in Jerusalem in the early 1870s, stating that the first sight to greet the visitor from the West was the great Russian church, with its white walls and heavy lead roofs in neo-Byzantine style, adding that “some claimed that the Russian hospice dominated the whole city.”84 Indeed, the image of “New Jerusalem” and its builders that this quote conveys is entirely different from the impression provided by Ben-Yehuda’s observation.

The ideological and ethnic background of travelers and journalists passing through Jerusalem was often reflected in their description of Jerusalem outside its walls. However, Ben-Arieh often fails to acknowledge this. Ben-Yehuda, who was an ardent supporter of the New Yishuv, saw the outer city of Jerusalem as purely Jewish. Conder, meanwhile, saw in it the “great Russian Church” and mentioned only in a cursory manner the Jewish neighborhoods outside the walls. Ben-Arieh tends to divide all civil activities in Jerusalem on a religious-ethnic basis. He presents two main classifications in this regard: Jewish and non-Jewish activities, with the latter referring to the activities of the Muslim and Christian communities.

The activities of the municipality of Jerusalem were discussed in Ben-Arieh’s work under the broad category of “the Muslim population” or “the activities of the Muslim community.” Ben-Arieh’s quotes originate almost exclusively from Ha-Tsevi, Ha-Or, and Hashkafa. As such, Ben-Yehuda is his main source on the subject. In his first volume on Jerusalem in the nineteenth century, Ben-Arieh cites Ben-Yehuda three times in a discussion of the activities of the municipality. The first citation concerns the formation of the municipal hospital in 1891. The second is about the repairs of the city’s Turkish baths in 1904, and the third deals with Rashid Bey’s decision to arrange a horse race in Jerusalem in 1906.85 Ben-Arieh concludes by referring to Haim Gerber’s assessment that, for the greater part of the nineteenth century, the government exhibited no desire to develop Jerusalem. The city was far from being its principal concern, and the question of Jerusalem’s progress was hardly of interest to it.86

In the second volume, Ben-Arieh depends entirely on second-hand sources. He suggests that the contribution of the Muslim community to the development of the new city was limited, particularly in the early stages, in comparison to other communities. He states as evidence the absence of government or municipal plans for the city or even suburbs beyond the walls. Muslim settlement outside the city walls relied on private construction by rich families such as the al-Husayni, al-Nashashibi and Jarallah families. Such construction was scattered over a wide area but remained concentrated in a number of quarters in the area north of the Old City such as al-Husayni and al-Shaykh Jarrah. There were no public buildings, religious institutions, or services such as mosques, market-places, and shops.87 However, Ben-Arieh’s conclusions are based on those of Ruth Kark and Shimon Landmann.88

Having outlined plans by the Ottoman authorities to move the government headquarters beyond the walls, Ben-Arieh shifts to the relocation of the Jerusalem Municipality in 1890 to a building opposite the Howard (Fast) Hotel at the intersection of Jaffa and Mamilla Roads. He refers to Hashkafa while reporting the establishment of the municipal hospital and the Museum of Antiquities near the Jaffa Gate outside the Old City. Ben-Arieh quotes Ben-Yehuda in Ha-Or on the construction of new law courts near Herod’s Gate and on the necessity of providing space for petition-writers and stamp-sellers.89

Citing other sources, Ben-Arieh states that the Jerusalem Municipality and the local Ottoman authorities extended their administrative activities to the area outside the walls through a series of initiatives and projects that included, first, the Pasha appointing a headman for each Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem, and not for each community, as was previously the case; second, the municipality and local authorities carrying out population censuses; and, third, greater efforts being dedicated to city cleaning and paving new carriage roads.90 For Ben-Arieh, many of these actions continued in the first decade of the twentieth century as the Jerusalem Municipality stepped up its activities, particularly after the elections to the municipal council in 1909 and 1910.

Under the subtitle “Municipality of Jerusalem,” Ben-Arieh continues his presentation of the “non-Jewish activities” in the city. He quotes most of his material from Ben-Yehuda in Ha-Or newspaper from 1909 to 1913. Among the activities quoted from Ha-Or are the municipal elections of 1910, when three Jews were elected to the Municipal Council, tasks awaiting the new municipality, the increase in the size of the Jerusalem police, the paving of sidewalks by skilled workers brought from Egypt, an attempt to pave a part of Jaffa Road with asphalt, and other plans to pave main roads in the city.91 Drawing on issues reported in Ha-Or, Ben-Arieh states that in mid-1911, Jerusalem witnessed considerable improvement in public hygiene, the installation of additional lamps, the planting of trees along the main road, and budget approval for ten public conveniences in the city equipped with running water.92 Referring to Ben-Yehuda, Ben-Arieh confirms that in 1913, the Jerusalem Municipality was dealing fully with the problem of roads, having sponsored extensive repairs. In addition, sanitation had improved.93 Ben-Arieh completes his analysis by concluding that the Jerusalem Municipality had indeed increased its activities both in volume and scope, but they were cut short by the outbreak of World War I.94

Ben-Arieh considers Ben-Yehuda as an invaluable source of information regarding Jerusalem outside its walls and in the Old City, but he falls short of presenting any in-depth analysis of the information he provides. Rather, he depends on second-hand sources to come up with conclusions that are consistent with the “Jewish” image of “New Jerusalem.” If Ben-Arieh had read Ben-Yehuda alongside other contemporary Ottoman sources, such as the records of the religious court, waqf, and the Jerusalem Municipality records themselves, this could have given an accurate picture of Ben-Yehuda in his Palestinian-Ottoman milieu. To a large extent, Ben-Arieh describes Jerusalem in a context that is separate from its Ottoman milieu, as though it were an independent city and not subject to Ottoman laws and administration. In other words, he reads Jerusalem in a selective and partial manner that demonstrates only the development of Jerusalem as a Jewish city, limiting himself to meager information about the Muslim and Christian communities and about interactions among city inhabitants. This reading contradicts our preliminary reading of Ha-Tsevi, which concluded that Ben-Yehuda always considered his publication to be a Hebrew-Jewish newspaper issued in an Ottoman environment and that he was aware of its authorities, governors, local notables, and municipal council.

Conclusion: Urban Citizenship in Question

Looking back upon his arrival in Jaffa and then Jerusalem in 1881, Ben-Yehuda states in his memoirs, written during World War I, that the Arabs in Palestine were acting as “citizens of the country,” while he found himself in the land of his ancestors no more than a stranger or an intruder without any political or civil rights. Later, in the same memoir, he mentions that his arrival in Jerusalem did not stir his emotions as a Jew, declaring that the citizens of the country were simply “those who lived there” and participated in its public life.95 These declarations contradict the above paragraph quoted from Ben-Arieh96 in which Ben-Yehuda describes his arrival in Jerusalem with enthusiasm. Ben-Yehuda appears to have been a man of contradictions on many levels; more effort is needed to interpret or reconcile these complex dimensions and if possible, to produce an acceptable interpretive framework.

Menachem Klein, who has written extensively on Jerusalemite Jews, maintains that at the end of the nineteenth century, Jews from the city’s new neighborhoods mixed with the Arabs of the Old City in the open area outside the gate.97 He suggests that at that time, Muslims took part in Jewish religious celebrations and vice versa. Believers from both faiths prayed together for rain at Nabi Samuʾil, the tomb of Prophet Samuel, north of Jerusalem. Businessmen from both communities made transactions freely. Jewish and Arab families shared backyards, attended the same schools, and sometimes also intermarried.98 These complex relations are absent from both the Jewish and Arab national narratives and what prevails instead is a case of disinheritance of the past or at least part of it.

Drawing on this, a major question still lies beyond the details and remains to be answered: How does civic modernity emerge in Ben-Yehuda’s view, and how does his own Hebrew-Jewish project fit into an Ottoman or Jerusalemite project led by Arabs and others? The answer to this question requires continuing work on Ha-Tsevi and other sources of Ben-Yehuda, particularly the memoirs he produced in the last years of his life. In-depth comparisons and cross-checking with local Ottoman sources will then be necessary, and time must be taken to develop more arguments that link text with context and that pave the way for future studies on Ha-Tsevi and Ben-Yehuda.

Michelle U. Campos, Ottoman Brothers: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Early Twentieth-Century Palestine (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011), 170.

Literally, “wisdom” or “understanding,” but used in Neo-Hebrew in the sense of “enlightenment,” “liberalism”. The Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment, was an intellectual movement of Jewish character in Europe that lasted from about the 1770s to the 1880s. See Herman Rosenthal and Peter Wiernik, “Haskalah,” Jewish Encyclopedia,; Shira Schoenberg, Jewish Virtual Library, For a detailed and comparative study of the Haskalah with the Nahda (Arab renaissance movement in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries), see Lital Levy, “The Nahda and the Haskala: A Comparative Reading of ‘Revival’ and ‘Reform’,” Middle Eastern Literatures 16, no. 3 (2013).

See Israel Bartal, “Mevaser U-Modiʿa le-ʾIsh Yehudi: Ha-ʿItonut ha-Yehudit ke-ʾAfik shel Hidush” [The Jewish press as a conduit of modernization], Cathedra, no. 71 (1994).

Rina Cohen Muller, “La presse hébraïque, un vecteur de l’entrée des Juifs dans la modernité,” Yod. Revue d’études hébraïques et juives, no. 17 (2012).

Philip Sadarove, The Egyptian Press and Ottoman Press Law, in al-Dawla al-ʿUthmaniyya: Bidayat wa Nihayat [The Ottoman state: beginning and end] (English section), ed. Muhammad Arnout and H. Abu Al-Sha⁠ʾar (al-Mafraq: Publications of Al-Bayt University, 2001), 30.

Ami Ayalon and Nabih Bashir, Introduction: History of the Arabic Press in the Land of Israel/Palestine, Arabic Newspapers of Ottoman and Mandatory Palestine, Wide selections of the Palestine newspapers of late Ottoman and mandatory periods are available on the Jrayed website, initiated by the National Library of Israel:

Rebecca L. Torstrick, Culture and Customs of Israel (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2004), 70.

Sheʾelot u-teshuvot (lit: questions and answers) were replies from rabbinic scholars to submitted questions about Jewish law. See

Historical Jewish Press (hereafter HJP), “Hameasef,” National Library of Israel and Tel-Aviv University,

Yechieal Limor, “Kronika shel Mavet Yaduʿa be-Mahshava Merosh: ʿAl Goralam Shel ʿItonim Yomiyim be- Yisra⁠ʾel” [Chronicle of a death foretold: about the fate of daily newspapers in Israel], Keshr 25 (1999).

Geda⁠ʾon Fox, “Bibliyografiya, ʿItonim ve-Kitve ʿEt Yehudiyim bi-Rushalayim, 1854–1923” [Jewish newspapers and periodicals in Jerusalem, 1854–1923], Cathedra, no. 6 (1977): 193.

Ha-Or is a Hebrew word meaning “light.” The political implications and assumptions of the time led the Ottoman authorities not to grant a newspaper license under this name.

Menocha Galboa, Leksikon ha-ʿItonut ha-ʿIvrit ba-Meʾot ha-Shemone-ʾEsre ṿe-ha-Teshaʿ-ʿEsre [Lexicon of the Hebrew press in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries] (Tel Aviv: Hotsaat Mosad Byaliq, 1992), 308–14,; HJP, “Ha-Tsevi,”

For the dictionary of Ben-Yehuda, see Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, Milon ha-Lashon ha-ʿIvrit ha-Yeshana ve-ha-Hadasha [The dictionary of the Hebrew language, ancient and modern], 16 vols., ed. Moses Segal and Naphtali Tur-Sinai, (Jerusalem: Hotsa⁠ʾat Makor, 1980). An incomplete electronic version of the dictionary is also available online:

Gotthard Deutsch and Judah David Eisenstein, “Ben Judah, Eliezer,” Jewish Encyclopedia,; İlker Aytürk, “Revisiting the Language Factor in Zionism: The Hebrew Language Council from 1904 to 1914,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 73, no. 1 (2010).

Scott Bradley Saulson, “Eliezer Ben-Yehudah‘s Hamavo Hagadol: Introduction, Translation, Annotation” (PhD diss., University of South Africa, 1985), 70–71.

The halukkah (חלוקה‎‎) was an organized collection and distribution of charity funds for Jewish residents of the Yishuv in Palestine.

The sabbath year (shemittah: שמיטה‎‎, literally “release”), also called the sabbatical year or sheviʿit (:שביעית, literally “seventh”), is the seventh year of the seven-year agricultural cycle mandated by the Torah. During shemitṭah, the land is left to lie fallow and all agricultural activity, including plowing, planting, pruning and harvesting, is forbidden by halacha (Jewish law). See Judah Eisenstein, Jewish Encyclopedia,

Galboa, Leksikon Ha-ʿItonut Ha-ʿIvrit, 308–14.

Shenorer (שנארער; also spelled schnorrer) is a Yiddish term meaning “beggar” or “sponger.”

Ha-Tsevi, September 19, 1888.

Ha-Tsevi, August 7, 1898.

Ha-Tsevi, May 10, 1911.

Ha-Tsevi, September 19, 1888.

Ha-Tsevi, September 30, 1887.

For further details on the subject, see Vincent Lemire, La soif de Jérusalem: essai d’hydrohistoire (1840–1948) (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2010).

Ha-Tsevi, September 30, 1887.

Ha-Tsevi, October 20, 1893.

Ha-Tsevi, October 23, 1908.

Ha-Tsevi, February 6, 1911.

Ha-Tsevi, October 5, 1911.

Ha-Tsevi, March 15, 1911.

Ha-Tsevi, October 28, 1908.

Ha-Tsevi, July 21, 1893.

Ha-Tsevi, May 22, 1896; January 18, 1911.

Ha-Tsevi, April 10, 1896.

Ha-Tsevi, October 23, 1911.

Ha-Tsevi, June 3, 1898.

Ha-Tsevi, March 10, 1893.

Ha-Tsevi, March 3, 1911.

Ha-Tsevi, May 11, 1888 (Highlighting the pilgrims and travelers from France); Ha-Tsevi, December 5, 1911 (Highlighting the pilgrims and travelers from Russia).

Ha-Tsevi, March 9, 1911.

See Sotirios Dimitriadis’ chapter, “The Tramway Concession of Jerusalem, 1908–1914: Elite Citizenship, Urban Infrastructure, and the Abortive Modernization of a Late Ottoman City,” in this volume.

Ha-Tsevi, May 25, 1888.


Ha-Tsevi, May 22, 1911.

Ha-Tsevi, October 26, 1888.

Ha-Tsevi, April 25, 1890.

Ha-Tsevi, June 16, 1893.

Ha-Tsevi, May 29, 1896.

Ha-Tsevi, December 28, 1911.

Ha-Tsevi, March 30, 1911.

See Ha-Tsevi, May 17, 1889; November 7, 1890; January 2, 1911; December 21, 1911.

Ha-Tsevi, October 2, 1908.

Ha-Tsevi, September 4, 1888.

Ha-Tsevi, June 19, 1885.

Ha-Tsevi, November 22, 1914.

Ha-Tsevi, November 15, 1914.

Ha-Tsevi, June 12, 1885; October 23, 1911.

Ha-Tsevi, July 17, 1914.

Ha-Tsevi, December 4, 1885.

Ha-Tsevi, February 5, 1886. It commented on a letter in Havatselet newspaper by the Sephardi chief rabbi (Haham Bashi) who attacked Ha-Tsevi under the headline of “Ha-Tsevi under boycott,” Ha-Tsevi, December 18, 1885.

Ha-Tsevi, May 12, 1893.

Ha-Tsevi, June 26, 1885; February 17, 1893.

Ha-Tsevi, June 6, 1911.

Ha-Tsevi, November 3, 1893.

Ha-Tsevi, February 10, 1893.

Ha-Tsevi, January 10, 1896.

Ha-Tsevi, December 11, 1914.

Abigail Jacobson, “The Sephardi Community in Pre-World War I Jerusalem: Debates in the Hebrew Press,” Jerusalem Quarterly, no. 14 (2001).

Jonathan Marc Gribetz, Defining Neighbors: Religion, Race, and the Early Zionist–Arab Encounter (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 235. See also Jonathan Marc Gribetz’s chapter, “Arab-Zionist Conversations in Late Ottoman Jerusalem: Saʿid al-Husayni, Ruhi al-Khalidi and Eliezer Ben-Yehuda,” in this volume.

The word kolel (pl. kolelim or kolels) stems from the Hebrew root ‘kl”l’ meaning a collective. It was initially applied to a communal body; to the small groups of Jews who moved together from specific European towns and countries to Palestine. Funds that arrived were thus divided according to congregation or kolel. For more details, see Adam Ferziger, The Emergence of the Community Kollel: A New Model for Addressing Assimilation (Beersheba: Rappaport Center for Assimilation Research and Strengthening Jewish Vitality, Bar Ilan University, 2006), 15–16.

Alexander Schölch, review of Jerusalem in the 19th Century: The Old City, by Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, Middle East Journal 40, no. 2 (1986).

Justin McCarthy, review of Jerusalem in the 19th Century: The Old City, by Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, The American Historical Review 91, no. 2 (1986).

Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, Jerusalem in the 19th Century: Emergence of the New City (Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi; New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986), 113.

An appendix of Havatselet was edited by Ben-Yehuda.

Ben-Arieh, Emergence of the New City, 75.

Ibid., 120–21.

Ibid., 145.

Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, Jerusalem in the 19th Century: The Old City (Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi; New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984), 124–25.

Ibid., 125.

Ben-Arieh, Emergence of the New City, 349–55.

Ruth Kark and Shimon Landman, “The Establishment of Muslim Neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Outside the Old City, During the Late Ottoman Period,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly, no. 112 (1980).

Ben-Arieh, Emergence of the New City, 356.

Ibid., 357–58.

Ibid., 359.



Ibid., 360.

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, Ha-Halom ve-Shivro [The dream and its interpretation], http:// For an analysis of Ben-Yehuda’s civic sense during his arrival in 1881, see Vincent Lemire, Jerusalem 1900: The Holy City in the Age of Possibilities, trans. Lys Ann Weiss and Catherine Tihanyi (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 165–67.

Ben-Arieh, Emergence of the New City, 75.

Menachem Klein, Lives in Common: Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron, trans. Haim Watzman (London: Hurst, 2014), 4.

Menachem Klein, “The Brief Moment in History when a Common Israeli–Palestinian Identity Existed,” interviewed by Nir Hasson, Haaretz, April 2, 2016,

Ordinary Jerusalem 1840-1940

Opening New Archives, Revisiting a Global City


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