A fascinating description of the Jewish quarter of Hebron, including synagogue services on Succot.
Illustration: Machpelah, Hebron, by Miss L. M. Cubley, 1860.
The following excerpts are from a book by Lucy Matilda Cubley, who visited what was then called Palestine in 1853. These passages provide insight into life in land of Israel towards the end of Ottoman Empire. Many of the places she visited are referred to by Arabic names such as the Oak of Abraham, Elonei Mamre, Sarah’s Spring, and the Tomb of Jesse and Ruth. Of particular interest are her descriptions of the Jewish quarter, where she describes Hebron Jews as being polite, poor, and religious. She also describes them as much cleaner and with fewer illnesses than the Jews of Jerusalem.
The Hills and Plains of Palestine / with illustrations and descriptions by Miss L. M. Cubley, London : Day & Sons, 1860.
It was always a dream of my childhood that I might one day be enabled to visit the Holy Land…
About a mile before we came near to Hebron, the hills were covered with vineyards, looking very fresh and green.
We could see Yutta, the ancient Juttah, which was probably the residence of St. John.
The next morning I was up before sunrise, and took a walk to survey the country, and see what sort of place we were in.
The oak is of immense size, and great age ; whether actually the one under which Abraham was encamped is a disputed point. Josephus mentions it as a terebinth or oak, about six furlongs from Hebron, and says, “report goes that this tree has continued ever since the creation of the world.” To give an idea of the size, we had five tents under it besides the cooking tent, and each at such a distance from the other, that you might converse in one without being overheard in the next ; it is situated at the foot of Jebel Sibt.
The afternoon of the day after my arrival we set off with two guides to Hebron, passing Sahl Sebte and through Wadi Touffah. Outside the town is a very fine olive grove. On entering we turned to the west quarter, called Haret-es-Sheik, and came to the “Upper Pool;” there we dismounted, and went into a manufactory to see the process of making glass lamps…
We then crossed the bazaar to the wall of the castle (Kalha), above which is the wall of the mosque Haram Sharif, that encloses the cave of Machpelah ; it has a very handsome entrance. Thence we went to the top of Jebel Gebere, on the side of which stands the mosque. Here I took the sketch looking over the Mosque on the a part of the town, Lower Pool, and Jebel Kubbe Janib, on which are situated the Quarantine buildings.
After passing by the side of Wadi-el-Frangi, we reached the lower, or large pool, over which David commanded Reehab and Baanah to be hung, when they brought him the head of Ishbosheth, whom they had slain, thinking to gain David’s favour. We then went by the Turkish burying-ground to the Quarantine buildings, outside of which the Pasha was encamped with his troops. After calling on the Pasha and quarantine Doctor, the latter joined us in our ride to Ayin Jedidi, the supposed well of Abraham, and near which it is probable he lived, as it is on the hill opposite the Mosque, which, there is little doubt, is on the site of the cave of Machpela ; we read in Genesis xxiii. 17, that Machpelah was before Mamre ; so if the cave is the true Machpela, Abraham must have lived on the hill opposite. Ascending this hill, we came to some large ancient stones, which they told us were brought from Old Hebron, that was situated on the hill. At the top stands a house in ruins, called Dair-el-Arbaise (Convent of Fourty Martyrs) ; the Jews call it the House of David, and underground they show a room with the tomb of Jesse in it. From there we passed on to Jebel Romala, through the Turkish burying ground, and up Wadi Touffah to our tree.
The next morning I was up before sunrise, had a cup of coffee, mounted my donkey, and, with a companion and Arab guide, took a ride to “Abraham’s house” as it is called. We crossed over Jebel Sibdt into Wadi Sibdt, to Ayin-en-Na’a, then across Jebel-ma-Nowel to Beir-bad-Nassara, or Well of Christians, and came to a ruined Christian village, called Khirbet-en-Nassara, where we saw the ruins of the church. Several birds with beautiful plumage, of the roller and jay species, were flying about. The country around was rather barren, having but little grass and very few shrubs or trees. We passed up the valley of Halet-es-Seif, and soon afterward came to Ramet-el-Khaleel, or “Hill of the Friend,” that is of Abraham, as he was “the friend of God.” Khaleel is a very common name, and though literally only meaning “friend,” is understood as “friend of God.” It is not likely Abraham ever had a house, as he does not appear to have built one, but pitched his tent in Mamre, and continued to dwell in it. The building at Ramat-el-Khaleel is certainly very ancient; many of the stones are 15 and 16 feet long, and from 4 to 6 feet deep and broad ; I measured the building as well as I could, and think it is about 130 to 140 feet in length, and 90 to 100 feet in breadth ; it is situated at the foot of a hill, and is a very remarkable structure, being only four or five courses high, and in good preservation ; there are no stones lying about to lead any one to suppose it was ever any higher ; the ground inside is covered with soil, and small stones mixed with tesseries. There is a very large well in one corner quite perfect. I observed, on a subsequent visit, that the stone is formed of petrified shells, and when struck, gives out a metallic sound ; it is exceedingly hard, but I succeeded in breaking off a small piece. The wonder is how these huge blocks were conveyed to the spot, for there is no such stone in or near Hebron ; but I have been told the rocks at the cave of Adullam are of the same kind. If the stones were brought thence it must have been with immense labour. The building probably dates as far back as the time of David.
We went on to Beit Idgdi, a very large and curious well ; steps lead down to it, and the earth overhead is supported by pillars ; at the far end is an opening to an inner chamber, whence the water seems to flow. Leaving Beir Idgdi, we went through a valley to Ayin Nimre (the corruption of Mamre), by Jebel-abd-Crea, and Wadi Natta, Ayin Sara (fountain of Sarah), up Wadi Sara, and by Wadi Touffah to our tents to breakfast.
On another day we walked to Khirbet-el-Ackoura, a ruined Christian village ; the hosues are underground, to which the descent is by steps ; the houses are hewn out of the rocks and caves, some having but one room, whilst others have two rooms. The Christians in Palestine seemed to have remained longer about Hebron than anywhere else. There are numbers of ruined villages, which the fellaheen took pleasure in showing us…
The next day, being very fine, we mounted for an excursion to Beni Naim, where we intended to spend the day ; we passed through Hebron, and ascended the mountain opposite, called Jebel Djohar : the country became barren, nothing but rocks, with here and there a low bushy oak, cistus, or wild thyme ; we went up hill, along valleys, and at last, in about an hour and a half, came in sight of vineyards, and soon afterwards saw Beni Naim. All the people came out to look at us ; dismounting from our steeds, we went round the villages : from the brow of the hill there is a magnificent view of the Dead Sea ; it was here, according to tradition, that Abraham, beholding Sodom, interceded with the Lord for it.
One day I went into the Jewish quarter at Hebron called Haret-el-Kazzazine, as I wished to see if the condition of the Jews there was any better than in Jerusalem ; Bedder, a fellah who was with me, took my donkey and put it up at a khan. I then went on some business I had undertaken, to the house of a respectable Jew ; that is, it was one of the rooms in a large house, in which a number of people lived, each family having a room ; I inquired particularly, and they told me that not more than one family lived in a room, throughout all the Jewish quarter, either Sephardim or Ashkenaz. In one room I entered lived a man, his wife, and two children. The woman was teaching some children to sew, they were her pupils : I examined their work, it was in the Jewish style, with rather large stiches, and one young woman was making a dress. The room was very clean ; the children had tidy clothes, but their hair was not neatly dressed.
They were very kind and answered all my questions. The woman was a Spanish Jewess. After sitting with her for a short time, she invited me to go and see her mother : I was glad of this, as I wished to see as many families as I could, and so be better able to judge of their condition. On my way there I looked into several other rooms, all of which I found very clean ; one was a good-sized room, with carpets and cushions all round : it was occupied by a man and his wife with their children ; they seemed very superior to the Jews of Jerusalem ; all to whom I spoke were very polite, and asked me to sit down, but as I had not much time, I followed my conductress to the house of her mother ; there I rested, cushions were placed round the raised part of the room. My hostess was making cakes, and was a very pleasant, intelligent woman. I soon found out she knew some of my Jewish friends in Jerusalem. so we had a long chat, and I gave her the latest news about them. The room was very airy, and overlooked the pasha’s camp and quarantine. There were a good many book on the self ; I asked her husband what they were. He let me look at some of them ; they were mostly parts of the Talmud, and the five books of Moses in Hebrew and Spanish…
I was asked to go again on Thursday to their Succoth, or Feast of Tabernacles, which I promised to do. They asked me if I would like to see the synagogue, and having time, I told them I should. A Jew took me first to that belonging to the Sephardim ; it is small, and has a kind of large pulpit raised in the centre, and all round are benches : some children were being taught to read ; on the right hand were two cupboards in which were kept the Rolls of the law, of which I was promised a sight if I went again on Thursday. Before the cupboards were curtains ; one was a present from India ; it was of silk, with the Ten Commandments works in gold, in Hebrew characters, and above were two hands holding a crown. He then took me to the Ashkenaz synagogue ; in the centre of this was a reading-desk, and benches were placed all round ; but it was inferior to the Sephardim. Thence I went to the Library, which contained well-filled bookcases, and at the far end was a dewan, on which several Jews were seated, reading and writing. One, the chief Rabbi, begged me to take a place ; he said they had some English books, and asked to be informed what they were. I found Johnson’s Dictionary, a grammar, geography, encyclopedia, and several other books, but no Bible or Testament. They also showed me one or two Latin, Spanish, and Italian books, which I was unable to read, understanding only the Judaeo-Spanish…
…My guide then showed me several other rooms that were closed. He said they were libraries also. The houses and streets were all much cleaner than in Jerusalem, and there did not appear to be so much sickness and distress. All the Jews were very pressing in their invitations that I should go on Thursday ; just as I was leaving, I heard some one call, “Senora Cubley, Senora Cubley!” When I looked round, there was Naomi, a Jewess whom I had known in Jerusalem ; she came up to me, looking very well and comfortable.
I had mistaken the time when the Jews told me the feast would commence ; they said one o’clock, and I thought it was one in the middle of the day ; but when the cavass came from town he told me the ceremony was over ; it was one o’clock Turkish time, that is, seven in the morning by our time ; but I would go, as I promised to do so. I found they had waited an hour for me, and finding I did not come, could wait no longer, but they asked me to go again on the Saturday following (their Sabbath). The women were all dressed in their best ; some had on Damascus silks, with beautiful gold ornaments on their heads, and ear-rings and bracelets — indeed, it was a great contrast with the poverty of the Jewesses in Jerusalem.
…There is only one entrance to the Jewish quarter (Haret-el-Kazzazine), where all of this faith live, except two families. I was told there was not much illness amongst them, but I saw several children with weak eyes.
Outside the different houses were tabernacles ; the occupants all made me welcome and gave me sweetmeats. Naomi came again, and I conversed with her about all her friends in Jerusalem ; told her who were married and who were dead. Another Jewess was delighted to see me, because I knew her daughter in Jerusalem. On Saturday I went with my friend to see the Sabbath service. We were first conducted to the synagogue, all the Jews were assembled there ; the women stood outside and peeped through the windows. The men wore over their heads veils of white silk with black stripes. The chief Rabbi was seated with some others in the raised reading-desk ; the remainder of the congregation all stood ; they were repeating the service aloud after him, continually moving their bodies backwards and forwards. The service was in Hebrew ; they repeated it so fast that it sounded like the rushing of water. I could now and then catch such words as “Moses our Master,” — “Aaron our Priest,” — and “Hosannah.”
As soon as we entered we were provided with seats on a bench, in order that we might see all that passed. After a short time a cupboard was opened, in which were kept the Rolls of the Law. The five books of Moses were beautifully written on parchment, illuminated and enclosed in a round case, covered with silver; it opened down the centre on hinges, and at the top of each half was a silver urn ; to one urn was fastened a pink and silver scarf, to the other a white and silver one. The Chief Rabbi gave the roll to a man to carry, after first kissing it ; another man followed bearing a smaller roll, also enclosed in a silver case similar to the first ; and a little boy carried a third. These last two rolls were the Prophets. The writings came from Bagdad ; the cases were presents from Europe.
Before the bearers walked a man carrying a sceptre, which seemed to be gold, with a hand at the top ; as they walked
round the synagogue all the people touched the rolls, and then kissed their hands, but some kissed the rolls. The rolls were then carried into the reading-desk, and the men went by turns to read. In the middle of the service a marriage was solemnized…
…the reading was continued for some time longer ; the rolls were again carried round the synagogue, and placed in the cupboard. This finished the service, which lasted for about two hours. We then went to the Ashkenaz synagogue, where there was not much going on.
The woman came to us in great alarm, fearing that, as the Pasha was going to leave Hebron soon, Abd-er-Rachman would come back ; we tried to reassure them, and told them if he did they would soon see the Pasha again.
* Full text – Hathi Trust Digital Library,
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