The following letter of introduction from Salonika Jewry (regarding a recent Jewish guest from Russia) to Jewish communities with whom the man would be likely to stay on the rest his journey to Eretz Israel, dates from that century, around the time of the Norman Conquest of England:
”We send greetings to you and feel it is our duty to inform you about the request of Mr N. N. He is a Jew from Russia, and stayed with us here in Salonika, where he met his relative ... who returned recently from the holy city of Jerusalem, may it be restored by the Lord for ever. When he was told about the splendour of Palestine, Mr N. N. too became very desirous of going there and prostrating himself on the sacred spot. He asked us to give him these few lines in order to use them as a means of introduction.//Please help him to reach his goal by the proper route, with the support of reliable men, from town to town, from island to island. For he knows neither Hebrew nor Greek nor Arabic but only Russian, the language of his homeland.
At all times the house of Israel, our brethren ... excelled in the strength of righteousness and the power of charity, and you know their reward.In the late twelfth century, as a result of persecution, an aliyah from North Africa took place. When Benjamin of Tudela reached Eretz Israel for a sojourn around 1170 he found about 1000 Jewish families there. The Spanish Hebrew poet and translator Judah Al-Harizi, who visited in 1218, wrote that in 1190, after repelling the Crusaders, Saladin invited the Jews to settle in the Land. Persecution of Jews in medieval Europe contributed to Jewish immigration. In 1210-11 “300 French and English rabbis” settled in their ancestral homeland, where they reportedly established synagogues and acedemies. Jehiel ben Joseph of Paris, who established a yeshivah in Acre, was one of a number of arrivals from England and France around 1260. It is said that the arrival of Nachmanides in 1267 prompted a steady stream of settlers in Jerusalem, leading to his title Avi ha-Yishuv (“Father of the Community”).
Aliyah ceased during the late thirteenth century owing to fierce fighting between Crusaders and Muslims. Rabbi Estori ha-Parchi, the first Jew to write a geographical account of Eretz Israel, arrived there in 1322. A disciple of Nachmanides noted, early in the fourteenth century, that “At present many have arisen willingly to emigrate to Eretz Israel”. Among the Spanish Jews who made aliyah about that time was the kabbalist Rabbi Shem Tov ben Abraham Gaon, who wrote his Keter Shem Tov in the land of his forefathers.
“On Tuesday morning ... we left Hebron, which is a day’s journey distant from Jerusalem, and came on as far as Rachel’s Tomb, where there is a round, vaulted building in the open road. We got down from our asses and prayed at the grave, each one according to his ability. On the right hand of the traveller to Jerusalem lies the hill on which Bethlehem stands ...
From Bethlehem to Jerusalem is a journey of about three miles. The whole way is full of vineyards and orchards. The vineyards are like those in Romagna, the vines being low, but thick. About three-quarters of a mile from Jerusalem, at a place where the mountain is ascended by steps, we beheld the famous city of our delight, and here we rent our garments, as was our duty. A little farther on, the sanctuary, the desolate house of our splendour, became visible, and at the sight of it we again rent our garments.“Following the Turkish conquest of Eretz Israel in 1516, Jews from Germany and from Mediterranean lands – including refugees from the Iberian peninsula – as well as from the Orient – arrived. The last nagid of Egypt, Rabbi Isaac Sholel ha-Kohen, made aliyah in 1517. The Jews from Spain, many of whom, like the kabbalist Abraham Eliezer ha-Levi, settled in Jerusalem, made a particular impact on the community with their characteristic mores. Most, including such notables as Joseph Caro and Moses Cordovero, settled in Safed, which also experienced a significant immigration wave from Italy. This letter, dated 14 March 1535, was written from the holy city of Safed by an Italian Jew, David dei Rossi, to his family back home.
“What shall I tell you about this country, as so many people before me have reported its character and greatness in writing and orally? .... He who saw Safed ten years ago, and observes it now, has the impression of a miracle. For more Jews are arriving here continually, and the tailoring trade grows daily. I have been told that more than 15,000 suits have been manufactured in Safed during this year, besides fancy suits. Every man and every woman who works woollen fabric owns an abundant living.
.... There is nothing new in all the Galilee. There is no particular news in Jerusalem (may it be rebuilt and established speedily and in our days, Amen), except that they have brought water from a well which is on the road to Hebron into the fortress which has been built on Mount Zion. Powder and cannon have also been brought there to strengthen it. I have not been to Jerusalem so far, myself, because of my misfortunes. For on the 5th of Adar [10 February], I entered Safed, and a month later my son Elijah’s servant came, and there occurred that which occurred [his son en voyage had been captured by pirates, and was being held for ransom]. Our sister was in Jerusalem and Hebron for more than two months. You will hear from her own lips about whatever her eyes have seen. She brings with hera list of all the tzaddikim buried in the Holy Land. It has been handwritten for her by the scribes in Jerusalem.
....The exile here is not like in [Italy]. The Turks hold respectable Jews in esteem. Here and in Alexandria, Jews are the chief officers and administrators of the customs, and of the king’s revenues. No injuries are perpetrated against them in all the empire. Only this year, in consequence of the extraordinary expenditure caused by the war against Shah Tasmasp al-Sufi, were the Jews required to make advances of loans to the princes. Part of the money came from the taxes on the Jewsih quarters and part came from town revenues which the Jews tax-farm. Scholars, however, did not have to pay a penny except for the poll tax.
All articles of commerce are available in these regions. Fibers, spun and unspun, are exported from Safed in great quantities, also gallnuts, scammony, oil, honey and silk in smaller quantities. From the adjoining regions come crimson silk, Cordovan carpets, and all kinds of spices, including pepper, cloves, ginger, and cane-spices. Many people including Jews buy these goods as merchandise.
My daughter-in-law and my grandson Moses are here with me, and tomorrow we shall walk around Safed – God willing. My wife Sarah, since she has come to Safed, has recovered with G-d’s help. For the water and the air are unusually good. For this reason illnesses are few here, and therefore the art of medicine does not flourish here, and physicians do not earn much of a livelihood. Sick people eat cucumbers, both of the large and small variety, squash, and many kinds of fruit.
Now I bless you as long as I live... Remember me to all our friends and acquaintances. And may the Lord grant that we see each other in the joy of Judea and Jerusalem together with all of Israel our brethren in our lifetime, speedily, and in our days. Amen.”Safed’s population, 10,000 around 1550, was estimated by the Yemenite traveller Zechariah al-Dahiri as 14,000 in 1567, and Safed’s importance as a centre of Kabbalah ensured its further growth owing to immigration. In 1577 it became the first city in the Ottoman Empire to have a printing press, thanks to Rabbi Eliezer ben Elijah Ashkenazi and his son, Isaac of Prague; the press produced its first Hebrew book the following year.
"the Mahomedans suddenly assailed the [Jerusalem] Synagogue on Sabbath, the 8th of Marcheshvan, 5481 (about 1st of November, 1721), set it on fire, and burnt up whatever was combustible, together with all the books and the rolls of the law, of which there were forty in the buildings, which latter also would surely have fallen likewise a prey to the fearful conflagration, had they not been constructed out of large and heavy stones. They also seized the officers and the most respectable members of the congregation, and threw them into prison; they then took possession of all the buildings, driving the Ashkenazim away out of them. These unfortunate people, driven to despair, fled precipitately, in all directions, some to Hebron, some to Zafed, and others beyond the limits of Palestine. Thenceforth no Ashkenazi durst to show himself in Jerusalem. The Mahomedans, the creditors of the congregation, took possession of everything: they made use of the outer court of the Synagogue as a dung and rubbish heap, so that there arose here by degrees a natural dung and rubbish hill. All the cellars and other subterranean structures, likewise, were filled up completely with dung and rubbish. "