Sunday, October 12, 2014

Aliyah L'regel Continued Long After the Destruction of the Temple

Aliyah l'regel refers to the thrice-yearly Biblically mandated pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem. As with many customs that are thought to have become obsolete with the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, this continued to be done long after (see also my post here)


After the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem, the ritual of the biblical pilgrimage festivals continued on, especially on the seventh day of the Succoth (Hoshaʿna Rabba), with processions and litanies on the Mount of Olives as the last residence of the Shekhinah. During the Crusader period, the Mount of Olives was replaced by a series of individual stations where recollection of the biblical past, mourning for the destroyed temple, and messianic eschatology (Messiah: III) were combined, sometimes in polemical debate with Christian pilgrims. Pilgrimage sites outside Jerusalem are named in the itineraries of Jewish pilgrims from Christian Europe who visited the Holy Land in the wake of the Crusaders, along with the tombs of biblical figures (Cave of Machpelah in Hebron, Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem), and the graves of rabbis, especially in Galilee. In the case of the latter, site locations were often more stable than their association with particular individuals. In the Diaspora, especially in the Muslim world, graves also became pilgrimage sites during the Middle Ages, along with synagogues that were associated with biblical figures (Moses, Elijah, Ezra) or housed Torah scrolls or biblical codices of ¶ particular antiquity. To date almost no attention has been paid to references to similar pilgrimage practices among the Ashkenazim (Mainz, Worms, Regensburg) in the Middle Ages and early modern period (Judaism: II)
The Old Testament contains references to pilgrimage traditions in a wide variety of historical and religio-historical strata. Besides some traditions represented only vestigially (e.g. 1 Sam 1:3ff.; 9:11ff.), the major pilgrimages are regulated precisely: in Israel they are associated with the three great annual (harvest) festivals (Feasts and festivals: II; III) of Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Festival of Booths (see II, 1 below). On these occasions “every male” was initially required simply to “appear” before the Lord (Exod 23:17; 34:23; Deut 16:16), which meant visiting a (local) sanctuary and offering produce of the harvest. Association with a pilgrimage to the Jerusalem temple probably emerged in the process of cultic centralization.

Gaza has a long Jewish history. It also served as a substitute to Jerusalem when the city was off limits to Jews. According to Yaari:

עדות על חשיבותה של עזה בימי הכיבוש הביזאנטי כמעין תחליף לירושלים, יש לנו ממקור קראי, ממנו לומדים שבאותם ימים היו היהודים עולים לרגל לעזה בגלל האיסור שנשאר מימי הרומאים לעלות לירושלים. (אברהם יערי, ‘זכרונות ארץ ישראל’, עמ’ 62).


The importance Gaza (to the Jews) during the Byzantine occupation (of Eretz Israel), during Medieval times, we learn from a qaraite source. An old Genizah document reveals that many Jews would ascended to Gaza during the thrice-yearly Biblically mandated festival pilgrimages (this was/is done even sans Temple, though it was/is no longer [temporarily] mandatory), as the Roman edict barring Jews from Jerusalem was still in effect.

A fascinating archeological find that sheds more light on the term 'regel':

"The discovery of these 'foot' structures opens an entirely new system of linguistic and historical perceptions," Prof. Zertal emphasizes. He explains that the meaning of the biblical Hebrew word for "foot" - "regel" – is also a "festival", "holiday", and ascending to see the face of God. As such, the source of the Hebrew term "aliya la-regel", literally translated as "ascending to the foot" (and now known in English as a pilgrimage), is attributed to the "foot" sites in the Jordan valley. "Now, following these discoveries, the meanings of the terms become clear. Identifying the 'foot' enclosures as ancient Israeli ceremonial sites leads us to a series of new possibilities to explain the beginnings of Israel, of the People of Israel's festivals and holidays," he stated.
 According to Prof. Zertal, the "foot" constructions were used for ceremonial assemblies during Iron Age I (and probably after). When the religious center was moved to Jerusalem and settled there, the command of "aliya la-regel" (pilgrimage) became associated with Jerusalem. The source of the term, however, is in the sites that have now been discovered in the Jordan valley and the Altar on Mt. Ebal. "The biblical text testifies to the antiquity of these compounds in Israel's ceremonials, and the 'foot' structures were built by an organized community that had a central leadership," Prof. Zertal stated. He stressed that there is a direct connection between the biblical ideology, which identifies ownership over the new land with the foot and hence with the shape of the constructions.   


*The common Karaite appellation/surname 'yeru' is short for 'yerushalmi' ( 'al-qudsi' is a variation of this name, e,g, Karaite historian Murad Al-Qudsi), apparently these appellations were added to one's name, after completing a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This is not dissimilar to the 'haj' ritual of Muslims (the haj is most likely derived from jewish practice).

It stemmed from the age-old Karaite desire to live in Yerushalayim as an אבל ציון in order to help bring on the גאולה . Since it became impractical and/or financially unaffordable to move one’s family there, people would always aim, if they could, to at least spend some time (anywhere from a few months to a year or more) there and the taking of the name Yerushalmi was meant to show that the returnee actually felt Yerushalayim to be his true home and his place of dwelling outside the land as just a temporary residence. Making the trip was a very expensive thing and most people could only dream of doing so. Most of those that did make the trip had to save up for many years to afford it. The situation was different for Karaites in Syrian and Egypt from which the cost of travel to Yerushalayim were much less than for those in Istanbul, the Crimea, Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, or Central Asia. Many would move back and forth between Eres Yisrael, Syria, and Egypt, depending on conditions and employment opportunities. For example, Hakham Mosheh Ben-Avraham al-Qudsi (originally ad-Dimashqi) was born in Yerushalayim. His father had moved there from Damacus and became the Hakham Rashi of Yerushalayim. Hakham Mosheh moved to Cairo and eventually became the Hakham Rashi there. Hakham Mosheh’s older brother Dawid became the Hakham Rashi after his father and, when he died in 1872, Hakham Mosheh returned to Yerushalayim to become the Hakham Rashi after him (I thank Hakham Rahmiel Qannai for this insight).

Interesting to note that some Ashkenazi rabbanites also had the surname 'yerusalimski', some later changed it to yerushalmi (e.g. the famed historian  Yosef Haim Yerushalmi);
יוסף חיים ירושלמי נולד וגדל בארצות הברית. שני הוריו היגרו מרוסיה; אמו הגיעה לארצות הברית מפינסק ביחד עם סבתו, אחיה ואחיותיה הגיעו לאמריקה לפניה. אביו נולד בגולסקוב שבאוקראינה למשפחה יהודית-ציונית ששמה ירוסלימסקי


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