Ottoman imperial decrees debunk Erdogan’s claim

Turkish PM's statement contradicts firmans (imperial decrees) issued by the Ottoman authorities recognizing Jewish rights at Rachel’s Tomb.

November 8, 2010 23:38
2 minute read.
Rachel's Tomb

Firman August 10, 1830 311. (photo credit: Archive of the Sephardi and Eastern Communities in)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government has been described as “neo- Ottoman” in outlook, told the Saudi paper Al-Watan in March that the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb “were not and never will be Jewish sites, but Islamic sites.”

But Erdogan’s statement contradicts firmans (imperial decrees) issued by the Ottoman authorities in Turkey recognizing Jewish rights at Rachel’s Tomb, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has pointed out in a new research paper.

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In 1830, the Turks issued the firman that gave legal force to Rachel’s Tomb being recognized as a Jewish holy site. Additionally, notes the JCPA’s Nadav Shragai, the governor of Damascus sent a written order to the mufti of Jerusalem to fulfill the sultan’s order:

“This is our order to you: [The following matter] was submitted to us by the subject of our order, the sage representative of honored Jerusalem’s Jewry and his translator that the tomb of esteemed Rachel, the mother of our Lord Joseph... They [the Jews] are accustomed to visit it from ancient days; and no one is permitted to prevent them or oppose them [from doing] this... It turned out that at this holy site, they have been visiting since ancient times, without any person preventing them or trespassing on their property and they [have it] as was their custom. In accordance with the respected judgment, I order that our commandment be issued to you so you will treat them accordingly without addition or without subtraction, without hindrance and without opposition to them by anyone in any way whatsoever – written August 10, 1830.”

An additional firman from April 1831 was issued “To inform and demonstrate to all interested parties and the appointed officials, the right of the Jews who are residents of holy Jerusalem to visit the grave of Rachel, the mother of the Prophet Joseph, peace be upon him, without hindrance... Rendered in Istanbul at the end of the month of Shawwal in the year 1246 to the Hejira. Signed: The Sublime Porte.”

Dore Gold, the former ambassador to the UN who is president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, noted on Monday that “Erdogan did not even bother to have his people check the Ottoman records before making such an outlandish comment about Rachel’s Tomb never being a Jewish holy site.”

The Turkish premier’s comments on the issue, added Gold, constituted “another example of how leaders who view themselves as Israel’s adversaries are ready to deliberately distort history in order to advance their narrow political objectives.”

Referring to UNESCO’s recent designation of Rachel’s Tomb as a mosque, Gold said: “It is deeply troubling that UNESCO allowed itself to be manipulated by ignoring Jewish and Islamic tradition and buying into the new Palestinian claim from 1996 that Rachel’s Tomb should be named for Muhammad’s slave, Bilal ibn Ribah, who was buried in Damascus.”

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