Returning to Palestine
Returning to Palestine

It can be fascinating to read an editorial from an old issue of Christian Standard and consider biblical history that preceded it and world history that has occurred since. Such is the case with this piece from 140 years ago.

One important note: We don’t believe the editor’s reference to the Jewish people as “the hated race” was intended as a personal slur. Instead, we think he meant to describe the anti-Semitic opinion held by many in the world at that time in history. Sadly, some of these feelings and rhetoric remain today.

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Some Jewish people at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem in 1894. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Jews in Jerusalem

An editorial;
Aug. 24, 1889; p. 8

One of the facts of the times is the remarkable increase of the Jewish population of Jerusalem. Centuries ago, Judea was swept as clean of the hated race as was possible; and for centuries past no pains have been spared to keep it clean of them. The number of Jews residing in the land of their fathers was next to nothing; while a rigid rule as to the length of temporary sojourn kept it from increasing. Thus, not long ago the maximum period of residence was three weeks. But the Turkish government, yielding to the modern spirit and to the pressure of the European powers, has relaxed its iron grasp until, whatever the formal rule may be, Jews now go and come, and reside in Palestine, including the Holy City, like other people.

Responding to causes that have not as yet been very fully explained, Jews have improved their new opportunity until the increase of their number in Jerusalem and other parts of the country is attracting universal attention. The very intelligent correspondent of Cleveland Leader tells us, in a late letter written on the ground, that fifty years ago there were in Jerusalem only thirty-two families, and only 3,000 Jews in all Palestine, while to-day there are nearly 50,000 in the country, and three-fourths of the population of Jerusalem is made up of them. They are engaged in business, and control a large part of the trade of the Holy City.

What are the causes of this influx of population to a land that is by no means inviting, has not been made very clear. The correspondent just mentioned says the persecution of the Jews by the Austrian and Russian Governments is one cause. Many Polish Jews resort thither. “Some of them,” he says, “feel that the day when the prophecy of the Bible, that they shall again inhabit this land, shall be fulfilled, is at hand,” and he mentions, in particular, a tribe claiming descent from Gad, dwellers in Yemen, Arabia, for 25,000 years, that “claims to have received a revelation that they must leave their desert country and come back to Palestine. They are bringing with them many valuable old manuscripts which prove their origin, and not a few of them are engaged in agriculture near Jerusalem.”

It would not be surprising if this strange movement—especially if it should be accompanied by a development of fanaticism—were attended by unlooked for results. It seems certain that some light will be thrown on the state of the Jewish mind as to a national reestablishment in the land of their fathers. Formerly, this was an article of religion; but rationalism has sadly weakened the ancestral faith of the Jews, particularly the better educated and more progressive. It is hard to say just what the Jewish mind on this point is. But the new developments are certain to attract increasing attention, unless they come to a sudden end. Christians will be sure to resort to the prophecies to see just what they do say concerning a return of Israel to Canaan.

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Some quick research of the Jewish population in Palestine over time support the figures reported here: “nearly 50,000” in 1889. The Jewish Virtual Library website (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org) indicates 84,000 Jews living in Palestine in 1922; 174,610 in 1931; 449,000 in 1939 (as World War II was starting); and 716,700 in 1948 (when modern Israel came into existence as the homeland for the Jewish people).

During World War II, of course, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime in Germany killed around 6 million European Jews, about one-third of their total world population.

The Jewish population has increased steadily to almost 6.7 million today, which represents about 74 percent of Israel’s population (9.02 million), and about 45 percent of the worldwide Jewish population (14.5 million).

—Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard

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