Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

17 Cheshvan 5761 - November 15, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Nachalat Shiva: Pioneering Yishuv Eretz Yisroel

by Z. Goldberg

Part II

The first part told of the background to the settling of Nachalat Shiva, the second group of houses built outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem about 130 years ago. It described the first building of Mishkenot Shaananim. The seven who banded together to build the area were described, and the purchasing of the land and the agreement between the partners were also discussed. This part talks about the actual move into the area and the difficulties it entailed, showing the mesiras nefesh that the early pioneers had for yishuv Eretz Yisroel.

The big day finally arrived. On the fourth of Iyar, 1869 (5629), a lottery was drawn to see on whose land the first two houses were to be built. Rav Yoel Moshe Solomon and Rav Mechel Cohen were the winners. Rav Yoel Moshe Solomon opted out however. His wife was due to give birth and he wasn't sure he would be free to invest his time and energy into the building. Instead, he passed his right over to Rav Yosef Rivlin who was ready to commence building at once.

On the 18th of Iyar, on Lag B'omer, Rav Rivlin lay the foundation- stone of his building. Many people came out from the Old City to observe the ceremony. A number of days later, Rav Mechel Cohen followed suit and laid the foundation-stone for his building.

Just two months later, on the 9th of Tammuz, the buildings were already completed. On the 27th of Av, the houses were ready to move into, and Rav Yosef Rivlin made a celebration to commemorate the occasion.

As far as Rav Yosef Rivlin was concerned, moving out alone to this lonely spot was the fulfillment of a childhood dream. He saw it as the dawn of a new era for Yerushalayim. His close family, however, were to say the least, not quite enamored of the idea.

For years they had tried to talk him out of his plan, but to no avail. Now the dreaded day had come.

The wives of the other members of the group were not complacent either. Together, they appealed to the Rabbonim to persuade their husbands to abandon their reckless intentions. Some even demanded to receive a divorce.

They were worried that chas vesholom their husbands might be taken away by wild animals or marauding thieves. In that case they could become agunos and be forbidden to remarry for the rest of their lives.

For the meantime, Rav Rivlin, alone, moved out to Nachalat Shiva. Nissim Shammesh, a friend of Rav Yosef Rivlin, occasionally spent the night with him to keep him company. He recalled how, every morning, R' Rivlin's relatives would stand at the entrance of the Old City and wait apprehensively for his appearance, lest he not return.

On one occasion, a member of the Nachalat Shiva group who spent the night with him, did so well-concealed under the bed, such was his fear.

His brother, Rav Zalman Chaim Rivlin, once begged him not to return to Nachalat Shiva on a particular day since the Muslims were celebrating a festival. Rav Yosef, though, was adamant that the consistency of the settlement should not be broken.

When his relatives saw that their pleas for him to return to the Old City were falling on deaf ears, they decided to take action. Choosing an opportunity when Rav Yosef was out of Yerushalayim, they hired a number of Arab peasants to remove the doors and windows of his house and generally create some chaos. Their intention was to give the impression that some brazen thieves had paid a visit in his absence. Rav Yosef, though, was undeterred.

In order to popularize the idea of living in Nachalat Shiva he built a cafe on the roof of his house. When weary travelers passed by on their way back from Jaffa to the Old City, they could refresh themselves before continuing on their way. This served to accustom people to visiting the neighborhood. Whenever guests arrived in the evening he would try to detain them long enough for the gates of the Old City to be locked. This way they would be compelled to spend the night with him.

Of the other six members of the group, two never moved into Nachalat Shiva at all. The others divided their time between the Old City and Nachalat Shiva, spending some nights in Nachalat Shiva and the others in their old home. Rav Yosef Rivlin, however, spent every night of the week in Nachalat Shiva, coming home to the Old City only on Friday nights to spend Shabbos with his family.

This went on for almost three years -- until 1872 (5632). By then, Nachalat Shiva had become more built up and therefore safer and Mrs. Rivlin finally joined her husband in the new neighborhood.

Rav Yosef Rivlin did take certain safety precautions. Around his house he erected a high stone wall. He also fitted an alarm and a lantern on the roof, in case he needed to call for help. The cafe may also have served as a security device. Its purpose may have been twofold: to attract Jewish travelers and also to create the impression that the new neighborhood was nothing more than an inn. This way the Arabs wouldn't be provoked. With time, the cafe became a popular resting place and was generally referred to as "Rav Yoisha's dacha".


Rav Yosef Rivlin's courageous stand slowly began paying dividends and by Iyar 1872, three years after he had moved in, there was an awakening of interest in the Nachalat Shiva project amongst the general populace.

During that year Rav Yosef managed to collect money from a number of sources -- from the existing residents of Nachalat Shiva, from Sir Moses Montefiore and from various kollelim -- to fund the building of another 45 housing units, bringing the total to over 50. The buildings were erected one next to the other to form a long continuous facade in three directions. This at least offered some protection from the wild animals. The houses were completed by the end of the summer of 1872.

The howling cries of wolves and jackals cut though the night, as they freely roamed the vast expanses surrounding Nachalat Shiva. Wolves had been known to enter, on occasion, and make off with some hapless domestic fowl. Though the wailing of the wild animals was fearsome, it was the prospect of quieter intrusions by thieves that most frightened the Nachalat Shiva residents.


It was on the 8th of Adar, 1875, in the dead of night, that Rav Yoel Moshe Solomon was awakened to the sound of heart- rending screams. Jumping out of bed he ran in the direction of the cries. He soon found himself in the home of Rav Moshe Leib Tepper, a cheder rebbe, who was lying in bed full of blood.

Losing no time, Rav Yoel Moshe Solomon and three others lifted the bed and carried him outside, making haste towards the Bikur Cholim hospital in the Old City. They arrived at Jaffa gate which was always locked at night. They knocked but there was no reply from the Turkish guards on the other side. The guards simply ignored their frantic calls for help.

Knowing that "money opens doors", Rav Yoel Moshe Solomon approached the gate and shouted out loud, hinting broadly to a particularly heavy bundle of money he was carrying on him. A minute later the door swung open and the dangerously wounded man was rushed to the hospital, but it was, unfortunately, already too late.

A newspaper of the time, Hachavatzelet, reported the incident and pointed an accusing finger at the Turkish authorities. It proved in its article that the thugs responsible for the murder were none other than Turkish policemen who were ostensibly the protectors of the community, but in practice didn't balk from plundering and killing.

A request was issued to the governor that henceforth the gate to the Old City remain unlocked at night for the sake of Nachalat Shiva's residents. His angry reaction to this was that he couldn't be responsible for the safety of those insane enough to move out of the Old City as a matter of choice.

There was a small door set into Jaffa gate that could be opened independently. When the governor heard that Rav Yosef Rivlin held a copy of the key in case of emergency, he ordered it confiscated and canceled his license for it. The key was, however, duly returned to R' Rivlin as soon as a suitable contribution to the governor's expense account had been dispatched.

The services of a Turkish officer were consequently employed to keep an eye on the houses. Another guard was employed to make sure that the building material would not be stolen. The area of Nachalat Shiva that hadn't yet been built up was still being used for planting wheat for shemurah matzo. The guard's duties included protecting this field.

Unfortunately, this was not the end to the violence. Rav Yosef Rivlin was yet to suffer two very painful sacrifices for his idealism.

Once when he wasn't home and his wife was out in the courtyard fixing the gate, she was suddenly attacked. Grabbing the dagger from the hand of the Arab, she fought him bravely until he sank to the ground, lifeless. Shocked by her ordeal, she succumbed to a heart attack and died, childless.

Five years later Rav Yosef Rivlin married again. After fifteen years of marriage his wife finally gave birth to a girl. She was only a young child when she was witness to an organized attack on the settlement. The experience so alarmed her that she sickened, getting steadily weaker until eventually she passed away.

Getting Established

If we were to trace back to the turning point for Nachalat Shiva, it would undoubtedly be the change of attitude towards it in 1872 and the subsequent building of 45 new housing units. A year earlier in 1871 Rav Yosef Rivlin had built a number of houses on his land and sold them. This, too, had contributed to Nachalat Shiva's acceptance. It now attracted various religious institutions including the Eitz Chaim Talmud Torah which opened its doors there.

The 45 houses built in 1872 were almost completed by the end of the summer. The rain-season was approaching and the workers were in a hurry to finish plastering the roofs in order to waterproof them. It was a race against time. If the houses were not finished within a short time, rainwater would seep in and ruin them.

Rav Zalman Rivlin, who was the principal of Eitz Chaim, received a request to allow a number of his students to assist in the urgent work. Even though he wanted to help, he was doubtful whether he was allowed to. Doesn't the gemora say that one doesn't neglect the teaching of cheder children even for the sake of building the Beis Hamikdash? The question was brought before HaRav Shmuel Salant, who ruled that it was permissible because of the special circumstances at the time.

Whilst the founders of Nachalat Shiva were all from the community of the Prushim, or Ashkenazim, the influx of 45 new families, many of whom were Sephardi, added a new dimension. Nachalat Shiva became a model of peaceful co- existence between the two groups.

At first there were no shuls in Nachalat Shiva and everyone, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, prayed together at the home of Rav Yosef Rivlin. However by the following year (1873) two new shuls had been built: Nachalas Yaakov for the Ashkenazi community and Sha'arei Zion for the Sephardi one.

Sha'arei Zion also served as a Sephardi Yeshiva. It was popularly referred to as Yeshivas Echad, echod being the numerical value of its thirteen founders. The money for building Nachalas Yaakov was partly donated by a wealthy lady by the name of Gittel. She specified that the contribution was in honor of her father Rav Yaakov Mordechai. The shul therefore received the name Nachalas Yaakov. Rav Yosef Rivlin, who managed the shul, was also its chazan and gave the shiurim.

That same year, in 1873, a home was built in Nachalat Shiva for the specific purpose of hachnosas orchim. Also, one more shul was built. Rav Moshe Pizi, a devout Chabadnik, emigrated to Eretz Yisrael and settled in Nachalat Shiva. He established there a special minyan for Chabad. This Rav Moshe was later to become Rav Yosef Rivlin's father-in-law when the latter took Rav Moshe's daughter as his second wife.

In 1888 (5648) Rav Yitzchok Rafael Yitzchaki founded Ohel Yitzchok, a beautifully constructed Sephardi shul which he named after himself. All the different shuls were well cared for over the years and are well preserved to this day.

Most of the houses of the time are also still extant, although Rav Yosef Rivlin's home was pulled down in the 1930s.

The houses were either one-story, or two-story with outside stairs leading to the second floor. The space underneath was exploited as storage room. Next to most of the houses was a paved courtyard with a cistern in the middle. The rainwater ran off the roofs onto the courtyard and into the cistern. The water that collected there was used mainly for cleaning purposes. Drinking water was brought in from the Gichon well in the Old City.

Over many years the houses deteriorated. Already in the 1930s the British intended to demolish them. In the 1960s the Israelis prepared a plan to build a shopping center in its place. However, no organization would take upon itself the difficult task of buying up all the different parcels of lands from the various owners. The plan stayed on the drawing- board for many years but never went any further. Eventually the idea of conserving historic sites took hold and it was decided that this neighborhood should be restored rather than demolished. During all the years that it was slated for destruction, building was forbidden. This had the paradoxical effect of preserving the neighborhood.

However, no attempt was made to maintain the religious and residential atmosphere of the place. The shuls in Nachalat Shiva are now a small spiritual oasis in an area in which the prevailing, dominant atmosphere is secular.

Nachalat Shiva began to flourish in the 1890s. A steam run mill was built which worked profitably, until the advent of the motorized mill which made it obsolete. During that period Botei Feingold was opened. The forerunner of the modern shopping mall, it contained 22 shops.

Nachalat Shiva also had a famous kindergarten that opened in 1911 (5677) and operated during the First World War. Hunger and its resulting sickness left little energy for the professional nursery teachers to teach their 150 young charges. In 1920 (5680) the nursery moved out of Nachalat Shiva.

In 1917, the Turks left Eretz Yisrael and the British Mandate began. By that time, almost nine hundred people lived in Nachalat Shiva. Three years later a group of Bucharian families settled there. The relationship between them and the Ashkenazi community was so good that residents remember seeing Bucharian women conversing with their neighbors in Yiddish.

The Bigger Purpose

However, though Nachalat Shiva was by all counts a resounding success, it never became, nor was it ever intended to be, an end unto itself. Its founders dreamed of completely changing the face of Yerushalayim and the rest of Eretz Yisrael with new Jewish settlements. Their hope was that Nachalat Shiva would jump-start the process of widespread building. Indeed it fulfilled its role admirably.

To that end, Rav Yosef Rivlin actually left Nachalat Shiva in 1874, five years after he had moved in, and made his home in Meah Shearim, which he also helped found. After that, he moved again to found the Even Yisrael neighborhood. Following his success there, he lived sporadically in a further five areas.

In all, he was the founder of twelve different neighborhoods, earning the name Rav Yoisha der shtetl macher -- Rav Yosef, the builder of towns. In the early days of Nachalat Shiva, the local wits would point out that whilst Titus had overcome the walls of Yerushalayim to bring his people in, Rav Yoisha had done the opposite: he had surmounted the wall to bring the people out.

Further Activities

Rav Yosef Rivlin was also active in helping his community in other ways. He was known never to turn away anyone who solicited his assistance. Fluent in Yiddish, Spanish and Arabic, he was able to conduct his dealings with the Turkish authorities in their native tongue. He was also a writer who sent descriptions of life in Yerushalayim to many newspapers, both local and foreign ones under the name Adir which was an acronym for Eileh Divrei Yosef Rivlin.

The other six founders of Nachalat Shiva didn't rest on their laurels either and remained active. Rav Yoel Moshe Solomon co- founded Petach Tikva a few years after moving to Nachalat Shiva. Rav Yehoshua Yellin never moved into Nachalat Shiva, for he was already busy setting up agricultural settlements in Motza.

Nachalat Shiva had served as the catalyst for all the intensive building that was to follow. No wonder, that it was generally referred to as Eim Hashchunos.


Amidst the clatter and clamor of heavy machinery preparing the ground for yet another modern, multistory apartment block, it is difficult to imagine the mesiras nefesh of one lone man standing at the edge of a wheat field in the middle of the open terrain. The metallic tinkle of the primitive tools as they prepare bricks from the large rocks hardly carries in the vast expanses around him.

The meager proportions of the beginning of a building can just be discerned. So unprepossessing as to go almost unnoticed.

The midday sun is bright overhead. The protective walls of the Old City shimmer beckoningly from the distance. The man turns to gaze at them for a moment. Then, as if with a start, he turns back to his workers. He mops his brow, stoops to survey the progress, perhaps lend a hand. He notices with satisfaction that the building is coming along.

Out there in that desolate spot, another brick gets cemented into place. Could this be the beginning of Yerushalayim's large scale development? Or maybe it is merely an ill- conceived mistake? The man has really no way of knowing. He contemplates the difficult task ahead.

In his mind's eye, he sees the suffering of his fellow Jews, but he also sees hope. He sees new neighborhoods that will increase the yishuv of Eretz Yisrael. He sees new environments that are physically healthy and spiritually robust. An Eretz Yisrael whose inhabitants are ready and waiting for Moshiach's imminent arrival. He offers a silent prayer to Hashem that he may be privileged to be His true messenger to accomplish this daunting task, that is part of the prophetic promise of returning Yisroel to its boundaries.

Can there be any doubt, that the real building-blocks of Eretz Yisrael's renewal can be traced back to this one man's nobility and purity of heart, and the likewise idealism of his six colleagues?

Beis Yisroel

After Rav Yosef Rivlin had successfully developed Nachalat Shiva into a thriving community, he turned his attention to building Meah Shearim. By that time, living outside the Old City was considered relatively safe, and without much difficulty a hundred families were found who wished to move there.

Forty families had already moved in, when disaster struck. Residents of Meah Shearim, mainly women and children, began dying from malaria and other tropical diseases. Many families rushed back to the safety of the Old City.

A little below Meah Shearim was an empty, swampy patch of land, an area known today as the Beis Yisrael neighborhood, home to the famous Mir yeshiva.

At that time though, Beis Yisrael had not been earmarked as a future Jewish neighborhood. All that changed though, when it was discovered that on that land, in the midst of the marsh, was a small pool of stagnant, greenish water which was swarming with disease-carrying mosquitoes. It therefore became imperative to purchase the land to eradicate the menace that lurked there.

Exactly how to go about clearing the marsh became a topic of intense discussion among the various leaders of Meah Shearim. Nobody, however, came up with a viable plan.

One day, Rav Yosef Rivlin announced with conviction that he had thought of a solution and at once he began to expound on it in detail.

The plan became know as "the pipe, the rope and the dog," for those were the three components necessary for its success.

Any project for draining the marsh had to contend with a number of difficulties. First, approaching within a 50 meter radius of it was already extremely hazardous. Second, the pool was surrounded by higher land, and the water could not so easily be channeled away.

Only on its eastern side was the land low, though a small hill prevented the water from escaping on that side. In order to drain the marsh they would have to dig a channel on that side, which meant approaching to within a few meters of the pool. Even though the whole job would take only a few hours, this was certainly the most dangerous part of the plan. "Here, we will have to rely on a miracle," declared Rav Yosef Rivlin.

Along with a few friends and a number of workers with the necessary tools, they worked feverishly, with Rav Yosef Rivlin leading the team. During the few hours that the job took, all worked with tremendous enthusiasm. All the while they recited out loud and in unison and with deep emotion, relevant chapters of Tehillim.

When the channel was completed they beat a hasty retreat. The first part of the plan had run smoothly without a single one of them suffering any ill consequences. However, the job wasn't over yet. It was still necessary to flush out the last of the water along with the mosquito larvae that it contained.

The next stage called for a pipe, a rope and a dog. The idea was to clear away the polluted water from the safe distance of over 50 meters. To that end, a pipe of more than 50 meter length was acquired. Next came the rope which was even longer -- over 100 meters long.

No dog could drag a long, heavy pipe all the way to the center of the pool. But it certainly was able to drag a rope, even one a hundred meters long. The plan therefore was to leave the pipe at a 50 meter distance west of the pool and then to attach one end of the rope to the pipe and the other end to the dog. A number of men waited for the dog to make his 100 meter crossing from the west to east just past the 50 meter boundary. The dog walked the distance, all the while trailing the rope behind him. The men waited on the eastern side and then detached the rope from the dog. They hauled on it together, dragging the pipe the fifty meters to the middle of the pool.

Now, even with one end of this long pipe in the pool, its other end was still a safe distance of over 50 meters from the mosquitoes. Through this pipe, thousands of flasks of water were then poured into the pool, flushing its waters into the channel that had been dug until the marsh was completely cured.

A month and a half later the area completely dried up and with it, the mosquito problem.

Previously, no bird had flown over the poisonous area of the marsh. When they were seen to walk and fly over it with impunity, it provided sure evidence that the project had indeed been a success.

A few years later Beis Yisrael was built on the land below Meah Shearim. As for the pool, it no longer contains water. Its floor and walls have been cemented and sealed. It now serves as a wine cellar for a local wine producer.

Sir Moses Montefiore

Although Sir Moses Montefiore's multifaceted activism on behalf of his Jewish brethren spanned many continents, he is best remembered for his contribution to life in Eretz Yisrael.

Under his guidance and care the communities in Eretz Yisrael began to emerge from the shackles of poverty and despair. To his satisfaction, the momentum which he had so diligently nurtured into being began eventually to take on a force all of its own.

His first visit was in the year 1822 (5582). At the culmination of this visit he entered in his diary, "it is the dawn of a new era in my life." In truth it was very much the beginning of a new era for Jerusalem too, for with the support and guidance of Montefiore, Jerusalem begun to emerge from its inertness into the beautiful city we know today.

At the time that Montefiore planned his first journey to Eretz Yisrael, war raged between Turkey and Greece. Sir Moses Montefiore traveled to the port of Alexandria in Egypt. From there, he went by land to the city of Yafo in Eretz Yisrael. For added safety he and his entourage made the last stretch of the journey disguised as Muslims.

In Jerusalem, he met with the local inhabitants. They numbered 50 Sephardi families, forty Ashkenazi ones, and two hundred widows.

Jerusalem captured his heart from the start. He met with the local rabbonim in order to be briefed as to the needs of the community. In his diary he noted that there was no more beautiful city in the world than Jerusalem, nor was there any city whose climate was better than Jerusalem's.

Occupied as he was, with the concerns of his brethren in England, his next visit took place only some twelve years later.

He met with the community in Tsefat and commented in his diary, that the faces of all its inhabitants were stamped with the marks of poverty. He also noted that all the men desired to work in agriculture and tried to help them do so.

Montefiore's long-term ambition was to develop the land to such an extent that Jews who may otherwise have chosen to emigrate to America or Australia would instead prefer to move to Eretz Yisrael where Montefiore noted, "they will be able to adhere to the mitzvos of our Torah in a far superior manner than in Europe."

On this second visit of his, he didn't see much of Jerusalem. As a result of a cholera outbreak in the Old City, entrance was barred to outsiders. Instead he and his companions made camp on the Mount of Olives. Before he returned to England, he did manage to make one token visit to the Old City.

Eight years later, he made his third trip to Eretz Yisroel. On this visit, he donated enormous sums of money to charity organizations. He also continued to explore a number of possibilities that would allow the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael to find a livelihood. This project had widespread support amongst the community's leaders and rabbonim.

A letter he received from the leaders of the Tsefat community urged him to help them find a livelihood.

Montefiore sent an entire textile factory across from England. The textile factory was a failure, however, as it wasn't able to compete with the cheap European products. After a number of years it was forced to close.

Jerusalem's first printing-house, which was set up by Montefiore, seems to have enjoyed relative longevity, though.

In 1839 Montefiore arrived in order to decide how best to invest Judah Touro's inheritance. Eventually, he decided to purchase the land on which Mishkenot Shaananim stands today, with the intention of building a hospital.

Another important contribution of Montefiore's was the Jewish hospital he set up in order to sever the previous dependence of the community on the missionary hospital. He was also instrumental in setting up a number of agricultural colonies.

His seventh and last visit to Eretz Yisrael was in 1885, when he was 90 years old. He passed away at the ripe old age of 101.


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