The Year 1840- Zionism and Messianism
The year 1840 was classified as the Messianic year by the Kabbalists throughout Europe. They had arrived at this conclusion because of the verse in the Song of Songs (2:12), "kol ha'tor nishma b'Artzeinu" ("The voice of the turtle will be heard in our Land.") The numerical value of "tor" ("turtle") is 60 or the equivalent of the year 1840 (56000 in the Hebrew calendar).
This identification of the Messianic age had extremely important historical consequences -- as I described two years ago in a column titled "Zionism before Zionism" -- for it motivated many chasidim and Perushim to immigrate to the Holy Land to be on hand when Moshiach came. In retrospect I believe that we can agree that the Messianic age did in fact begin in the year 1840, for the following providential events occurred that year:
The "superpowers" of the time decided to turn their attention to the Middle East.
Mohamed Ali became the new ruler over the Middle East -- including Syria -- and allied himself with France.
England, Austria and Russia aligned themselves with Sultan Machmud II in Constantinople. They would use his help to support Jews.
England occupied Aden in Southern Yemen to stop Egyptian advances; this saved Yemenite Jews.
England occupied Aden in Southern Yemen to stop Egyptian advances, this saved Yemenite Jews.
Queen Victoria and Prime Minister Gladstone sent a warship to Jaffa with an Anglican Bishop (Shlomo Alexander, a baptized Jew) with a number of missionaries -- mostly Jewish renegades -- to establish the first Anglican Church outside of England, in Jerusalem.
The "Damascus Affair" took place, awakening among all civilized Western Europe an interest in persecuted Jews.
Montefiore and the Rothschilds intervened at the highest level to protect Jews in Syria, Jews from many parts of the world united in a campaign to help their suffering brethren. Ultimately this unity was used to help Jews in Eretz Yisrael, Russia, Rumania and other countries.
Montefiore's repeated trips to Eretz Yisrael established the basis for all future settlements.
The greatest sign of Providence during the period was the fact that for the first time in Diaspora history, Jews with financial power, such as the Rothschilds, had appeared on the scene along with their kinsman, Montefiore.
In short the year 1840 totally changed not only the map of the world, but also the structure of the Jewish communities. All this laid the basis, by and by, for the establishment of a Jewish State. For example, England's interest in the Hold Land may at first have been of a missionary nature, but economic, political and colonial opportunities followed immediately after its first expedition there -- leading to the occupation of Palestine by the British Army in 1917, the Balfour Declaration of the same year and, eventually, the establishment of Israel.
Montefiore's efforts on behalf of the Jews in Palestine were certainly an indispensable part of the preparation for the settlement of Jews everywhere in the Holy Land.
Thus without a doubt the year 184 -- as predicted by the Kabalists -- was indeed the beginning of the Messianic age, which we are today witnessing. And the catalyst to the fundamental changes in the Jewish world came about through the so-called "Damascus Affair."
In 1840, a Catholic priest, who often was seen among Arabs, was reported missing. To divert the suspicion, which logically should have fallen on those Moslems in his frequent company, the suspicion was instead diverted to the Jews of Damascus. One Jew after the other was arrested, falsely accused of the murder of Tammaso, the Cappucine Priest, and through unspeakable tortures forced to make "confessions" that implicated more and more Jews, finally reaching the chief rabbi and the richest Jews of Damascus. They were accused of the old, fabled ritual murder -- the charge that Jews needed Christian blood in the baking of Matzot.
The French Consul in Damascus, Ratti-Menton, guided by these accusations, because at that time there were still many Frenchmen who fully believed the old Church-inspired storied of Jewish "crimes" before Pesach. In fact, while most civilized countries sided with the Jews, the Vatican declared its faith in the accusations. (This black mark on Vatican history is among the many that the Church must today atone for and retract -- but has not yet done so.
The barbaric "court procedure" of the Syrian Arabs revolted the foreign diplomats in Damascus, who reported on these atrocities to their respective capitals.
As one Jew after the other -- after the most brutal and barbaric torture -- made "confessions," the Jews of Damascus fled out of fear of further arrests. Sixty Jewish children were kidnapped by the Moslems and their mothers were threatened with the death of their children unless they would reveal the hiding places of their husbands. On top of it, the mothers rightfully feared that the children would forcibly be converted to Islam.
Searches for the missing priest in Jewish homes resulted, of course, in no finds, in fact, no body was ever found! Yet the fanatical persecution of the Jews of Damascus was continued by the barbaric Syrian officials, who even threatened their total extermination.
Things changed somewhat when the Syrians arrested a local Jew, Piciotto, who actually was an Austrian citizen. This forced Austria and her diplomats in Damascus to intervene in the affair. Austria demanded that the court procedure against Piciotto be followed in a civilized manner. Piciotto had an airtight alibi, which revealed the total disrespect for truth among the Arab officials. The matter reached the Austrian ambassador in Constantinople, who described the situation as "inhuman excesses by the Arabs who anyhow were known for their brutalities and disregard for truth and justice."
On March 27, 1830, the banker, James de Rothschild, who was the Austrian consul in Paris, protested against the persecution of Jews in Damascus, especially as he feared that the "blood libel" might spread all over Palestine and its large Jewish communities there. When the French authorities turned a deaf ear to James de Rothschild -- they were more interested in building up their puppet rulers in Damascus -- Rothschild cleverly managed to leak stories of the uncivilized atrocities to the European press, interestingly, through an unlikely figure, Heinrich Heine, the famous German poet, a Jew who had converted in his youth. Of course this conversion was a sham, and his true Jewish feelings came forward not only in his poems. He agreed to Rothschild's request to carry the news of Syria's persecution of Jews to the rest of Europe. Only the Vatican refused to take the side of the suffering Jews, contending that the blood libel accusations were justified in the light of many previous similar "crimes" committed by Jews.
No wonder that a few years later the Vatican showed the same stone-hard hatred for Jews and Judaism, when the Church kidnapped the Mortara child, who was then converted to Christianity against the protest of the civilized world. On that occasion, Montefiore's intervention was met with utter contempt and disdain by the Vatican and the Pope himself.
James de Rothschild was even able to move the famous Count von Metternich, Chancellor of Austria, to order his ambassadors in Egypt and Turkey to intervene for the suffering Jews. In his letter Metternich described how utterly absurd it would be to accuse Jews of the use of blood for the Passover, as "it would be totally against the nature of Jews..."
The line up was now France and the Vatican supporting the persecutors of the Jews, taking up the cause of alleged "Christian victims of the Jews," with Austria and England aiding the persecuted Jews. In fact the French press whipped up anti-Semitic hatred. (This was half a century before they did the same against Captain Dreyfus, who was innocently accused of treason and haunted and attacked by the anti-Semitic French press.)
Meanwhile, the British public was fully informed of the outrageous persecution of innocent Syrian Jews. By now the Jewish concerns were heeded in England by Lionel Rothschild, the nephew of Montefiore. Combining his financial acumen with diplomatic skill, Lionel Rothschild was able to convince the British government that the "Affair" offered Britain a rare opportunity to penetrate into the Middle East, politically as well as religiously, for the benefit of missionaries active in Moslem countries.
Britain and Austria joined forces, and a joint Jewish delegation headed by Montefiore and the French-Jewish leader Cremieux traveled to Alexandria with the Rothschilds funding the enterprise.
Received by Mohamed Ali in Alexandria, Egypt, on August 5, the delegation demanded the total abrogation of all accusations against the Jews, their liberation from jails, and the granting of civil freedom. Although Mohamed Ali was anti-British in his policies, circumstances at this particular moment forced him to give in to the British demands to stop the persecution of Jews. At the same time Britain demanded the evacuation of Syria by Mohamed Ali's forces -- an interesting parallel to present-day Syria, which illegally occupies Lebanon.
Mohamed Ali gave in. He offered all the orders and instructions needed to free the Jews of Damascus still in prison, the return of the refugees to Damascus, and retraction of all absurd "blood libel" charges.
The petition for the liberation of Syrian Jews was signed by 13 European countries and the American diplomat in Alexandria. It was the first time that the young United States had entered the diplomatic scene in the Middle East. Much to its credit, the young republic lined up in staunch support of the Jews suffering under Arab rule. These diplomatic endeavors also resulted in the abolishing of the barbaric torture instruments that the Syrian Arabs had used until then.
The successful end of this complicated international tragedy established for the first time a diplomatic presence of Jews in the Middle East. Without military power of their own, the Jews had won their victory through financial might, religious piety and idealism and their impeccable reputation. This accomplishment heralded a new era, the Messianic era in my opinion, which led, step by step to the success of Zionism, the establishment of a Jewish State. It may have taken exactly 100 years to accomplish, but do we not say every day about Moshiach "Even if he tarries, we expect him every day"?
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