The Gates of Heaven Will Never be Closed: The World of the 1538 Sanhedrin

Damascus, where the Jewish and Sabbatean communities are jockeying for position in the aftermath of the war;
Are the Sabbateans now considered/consider themselves entirely separate from Jews? Maybe something half-way like the difference between rabbinical and Karaite Judaism? Or a Jewish/Samaritan situation?
 
Are the Sabbateans now considered/consider themselves entirely separate from Jews? Maybe something half-way like the difference between rabbinical and Karaite Judaism? Or a Jewish/Samaritan situation?
IOTL they converted to Islam ITTL that probably didnt happen because tzvi himself died before he became enough of a problem for the Porte to force him to convert. Also OTL there was a Jewish Mcarthyism in Europe(okay one guy Jacob Emden) trying to prove every Rabbi he didnt like was a closet Sabbatean between the lack of Frank and the more antinomian doctrines in Sabbateanism being developed could more Sabbateans slide back into the mainstream? analogously I think the Karaites or the Rambam on Anusim are more likely. Unless the Sabbateans do something to provoke the Porte.
 
Are the Sabbateans now considered/consider themselves entirely separate from Jews? Maybe something half-way like the difference between rabbinical and Karaite Judaism? Or a Jewish/Samaritan situation?
IOTL they converted to Islam ITTL that probably didnt happen because tzvi himself died before he became enough of a problem for the Porte to force him to convert. Also OTL there was a Jewish Mcarthyism in Europe(okay one guy Jacob Emden) trying to prove every Rabbi he didnt like was a closet Sabbatean between the lack of Frank and the more antinomian doctrines in Sabbateanism being developed could more Sabbateans slide back into the mainstream? analogously I think the Karaites or the Rambam on Anusim are more likely. Unless the Sabbateans do something to provoke the Porte.
The great majority of them haven't converted to Islam ITTL - without Zevi himself converting, they have no reason to do so. After Zevi's death ITTL, most of his followers drifted back to mainstream Judaism, but some continued to believe in him as a martyred messiah. They are at once closer to and farther from Judaism than the Karaites and Samaritans - on the one hand, they retain all the trappings of 17th-century rabbinic Judaism (give or take a few unique holidays and doctrines) and recognize the Talmud and Kabbalah, but on the other hand, they have a recent messiah/prophet figure, which the Karaites and Samaritans do not. Their relationship to Judaism is probably most like the Karaite offshoot sects that recognized Jesus and Muhammad as prophets - they're Jews in most ways that matter, but they also believe in a more recent revelation, and many of them blame the rabbinate for their messiah's death.

ITTL, there are Sabbateans here and there in a lot of places, but the main communities in the late 18th century are Salonika, Smyrna, Konstantiniyye, Gaza (because of Nathan), and most important to our story thus far, Damascus. I mentioned in the first Zahir al-Umar story that in the early-mid 18th century, the wali of Damascus favored the Sabbateans as a counterbalance to the Galilee Jews, and that this caused conflict between the Jews and Sabbateans of that city. We'll see soon how that is playing out as the 19th century turns.
Lemarque? Ney? Bernadotte? or is it too early and im confusing the term French prisoner of war,
Perhaps this guy? ITTL Nappy could have picked him out, wanting to have some Jewsish officers at his side to court the locals.
None of the above accompanied Napoleon to Palestine - I'm assuming that he brought the same officers with him as IOTL. Rottembourg will certainly have a part to play, but later and in a different place.

The prisoner isn't anyone famous, just a common soldier or maybe a low-ranking officer who is one of the 450 Frenchmen captured at Mount Tabor and who is still in Tzfat in 1800 because no one has gotten around to negotiating an exchange. Most of the paroled prisoners will drift toward the local Christian community, particularly toward the Maronites and Melkites who are in communion with the Catholic Church, but "most" doesn't mean all.
 
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Man, I'm really loving it !!

The greater effects of the POD are becoming more and more apparent as time goes and, if a certain Mehmet Ali Pasha isn't butterflied away, some dramatic realignments are going to take place in Syria-Palaestina around the corner and......you know, chaos is a ladder. And Yishuv Galili COULD climb that ladder

Besides that, IMHO it seems that the Sanhedrin has taken tough lessons from all this crisis:


1. When the war looms, there's no time for too much deliberation. Stronger Executive power is needed

2. War turns everything easier: pragmatism comes first, and pragmatic decissions ALSO set a precedent

3. Everytime the Jews in Eretz Israel show lack of unity, risk of cathastrophe grows. Authority over Yishuv Yerushalmi must be reasserted

4. The renewed links with the Galut have proved to be crucial against the French, for both the Zaydani amir and the Yishuv Galili, acting as middlemen with Great Britain.

5. Modern military tactics and drilling, although not completely successful, have been showcased to the Banu Zaydan and their Jewish subjects in the battlefield, and warfare lessons will pay off in the near future.


I wonder about the impact Greek Revolution, if not butterflied, would have in a stronger, more self reliant and cohesive Yishuv in the coming decades.
 
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if a certain Mehmet Ali Pasha isn't butterflied away, some dramatic realignments are going to take place in Syria-Palaestina around the corner
Or even if he is - maybe especially if he is. An Egypt that is nominally controlled by the Porte but is a constant source of rebellion and trouble, or one where Ibrahim Bey or another strong Mamluk leader takes over instead of Muhammad Ali, will relate to the Levant quite a bit differently than OTL. And even if Muhammad Ali does come to rule Egypt (something I haven't decided yet), he's going to face a different set of military and diplomatic constraints.
2. War turns everything easier: pragmatism comes first, and pragmatic decissions ALSO set a precedent
The second part of that is key - the expansion of the law of necessity that happened at the outset of the war can potentially be applied to other, future situations.
5. Modern military tactics and drilling, although not completely successful, have been showcased to the Banu Zaydan and their Jewish subjects in the battlefield, and warfare lessons will pay off in the near future.
This is a lesson that can only go so far, given that neither the Banu Zaydan nor the Yishuv has the wealth to maintain a European-style standing army. But the war will certainly impact the training of the urban militias and the emir's personal guard, which will be the core of any army that the Zaydani state might need to raise in the near future - and note that the lessons of the war will be learned in Nablus too.
I wonder about the impact Greek Revolution, if not butterflied, would have in a stronger, more self reliant and cohesive Yishuv in the coming decades.
I'm fairly sure there will be a Greek revolution at some point - much like Egypt, Greece was in a state of fairly constant rebellion, and even after the failed 1770 revolt, a lot of the hinterland was under the de facto rule of klepht bands. They're bound to try again sooner or later, and while I doubt there would be much if any direct contact between them and the Yishuv, any weakening of the Porte benefits both.
 
Or even if he is - maybe especially if he is. An Egypt that is nominally controlled by the Porte but is a constant source of rebellion and trouble, or one where Ibrahim Bey or another strong Mamluk leader takes over instead of Muhammad Ali, will relate to the Levant quite a bit differently than OTL. And even if Muhammad Ali does come to rule Egypt (something I haven't decided yet), he's going to face a different set of military and diplomatic constraints.
Again, I'm bewildered about TTL
chain of (apparently upcoming) events.

If you are considering to rule out Mohammed Ali Pasha becoming khedive of Egypt, and taking the whole Ottoman Syria from 1830 to 1840.....well, I must wait and see, but I honestly thought that it could be the best window for Jews to strenghten their position in Eretz Israel, bearing in mind that the Albanian relied on non-Muslim support OTL during his rule over Levantine lands.

Of course, the Egyptian departure brought retribution against the minorities once the Ottomans regained those territories, but I thought it would be somehow butterflied away ITTL.

If there's no strongman like the Albanian Pasha in the neighborhood, perhaps what you bear in mind is some post-Napoleonic power vacuum where the Banu Zaydan become the absolute masters south of Damascus up to Sinai??


I'm dying out to read upcoming updates!!!
 
If you are considering to rule out Mohammed Ali Pasha becoming khedive of Egypt, and taking the whole Ottoman Syria from 1830 to 1840.....well, I must wait and see, but I honestly thought that it could be the best window for Jews to strenghten their position in Eretz Israel, bearing in mind that the Albanian relied on non-Muslim support OTL during his rule over Levantine lands.
That doesn't necessarily follow - IOTL, Muhammad Ali's rule in the Levant was a disaster for the Yishuv, which was decimated in the uprising of 1834. ITTL, the Yishuv is stronger, but it's still in the way.

The best chance for all the small autonomous states in the Levant is to be buffers, and for that, it's best to be between larger states that are powerful but not too powerful. Imperial expansion by Muhammad Ali could give them the chance to switch sides but also the risk of being overrun. An independent but weaker Egypt under Mamluk rule could actually leave them better off, given some luck and a modicum of European patronage. For that matter, an Egypt which is Ottoman but a continual source of rebellion and drain on the Porte's resources could also give the Levantine fiefdoms more freedom of action and pre-empt or slow down Mahmud II's centralizing reforms. All the options have their own risks and rewards.

Also, keep in mind that I haven't yet decided how all this is going to end up - I have a few ideas, but those might change with the flow of events. All I'll say is that there are a number of ways for the Yishuv to prosper (which it will - I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that), and it's unlikely that any one group or state will end up in charge of the whole region.
I'm dying out to read upcoming updates!!!
Reality has been pretty real lately, but the next one should be coming in a few days.
 
It must also be considered that a major earthquaque is going to happen in 1830s with its focal point in Tzfat.......any hint about moving Sanhedrin somewhere in the upcoming years?
 
It must also be considered that a major earthquaque is going to happen in 1830s with its focal point in Tzfat.......any hint about moving Sanhedrin somewhere in the upcoming years?
There are really only two cities where they could relocate, Tiberias and Jerusalem. Tiberias is in the earthquake's way too - IOTL, both the 1759 and 1837 earthquakes caused damage as far as Tyre and Sidon on the one hand and Damascus on the other - and Jerusalem is unlikely as long as it is part of a different political entity from the majority of the Yishuv. I'm not ruling anything out, but the Sanhedrin and the Galilee civil government are likely to still be in Tzfat in the 1830s.

What I did mention earlier in the thread, though, was that the 1759 earthquakes (there were two, a month apart) gave rise to "a flurry of rabbinic legislation on building codes." At the time, the Sanhedrin, many of whom were of Portuguese ancestry, would have been aware of the techniques being used in reconstructing Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake. They would also have been aware of Pirro Ligorio's treatise on anti-seismic buildings, written after the Ferrara earthquake of 1570 - the late 16th century was the period when Joseph Nasi was recruiting Italian Jewish immigrants, some of whom were from Ferrara. So at this point ITTL, there's quite a bit of late 18th-century rabbinic precedent on stone piers, cages, and corner reinforcement, and the rebuilding after the 1759 earthquake was designed to reduce the risk of cascading collapses. These are all premodern techniques, so they won't reduce the damage to what we would expect today - the destruction will still be serious and there will be many deaths - but the devastation will be far less than IOTL.

(And for those who might consider building codes an odd subject for rabbinic jurisprudence, the law of the parapet goes all the way back to the Torah, and there is extensive Talmudic gloss on that law which applies it to building safety in general. Earthquake-resistant buildings are a natural extension of that principle now that the 1759 earthquakes have made the danger apparent.)
 
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There are really only two cities where they could relocate, Tiberias and Jerusalem. Tiberias is in the earthquake's way too - IOTL, both the 1759 and 1837 earthquakes caused damage as far as Tyre and Sidon on the one hand and Damascus on the other - and Jerusalem is unlikely as long as it is part of a different political entity from the majority of the Yishuv. I'm not ruling anything out, but the Sanhedrin and the Galilee civil government are likely to still be in Tzfat in the 1830s.

What I did mention earlier in the thread, though, was that the 1759 earthquakes (there were two, a month apart) gave rise to "a flurry of rabbinic legislation on building codes." At the time, the Sanhedrin, many of whom were of Portuguese ancestry, would have been aware of the techniques being used in reconstructing Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake. They would also have been aware of Pirro Ligorio's treatise on anti-seismic buildings, written after the Ferrara earthquake of 1570 - this was the period when Joseph Nasi was recruiting Italian Jewish immigrants, some of whom were from Ferrara. So at this point ITTL, there's quite a bit of late 18th-century rabbinic precedent on stone piers, cages, and corner reinforcement, and the rebuilding after the 1759 earthquake was designed to reduce the risk of cascading collapses. These are all premodern techniques, so they won't reduce the damage to what we would expect today - the destruction will still be serious and there will be many deaths - but the devastation will be far less than IOTL.

(And for those who might consider building codes an odd subject for rabbinic jurisprudence, the law of the parapet goes all the way back to the Torah, and there is extensive Talmudic gloss on that law which applies it to building safety in general. Earthquake-resistant buildings are a natural extension of that principle now that the 1759 earthquakes have made the danger apparent.)
Id suggest Al Khalil but the issues of Jerusalem at al Khalil are even greater. especially as al Khalil-Hebron is most likely in Mehmed ali's influence.
 
Id suggest Al Khalil but the issues of Jerusalem at al Khalil are even greater. especially as al Khalil-Hebron is most likely in Mehmed ali's influence.
Al-Khalil is one of the four holy cities, but it's peripheral both geographically and in terms of the size of the Jewish population at the time. The Hebron Jewish community is essentially an appendage of the Jerusalem community, which is in turn peripheral to the Galilee Yishuv. And as you say, al-Khalil is exposed in a number of ways, including to attack or influence from Egypt. So while the local hahamim are part of the Sanhedrin (they generally align with the Yerushalmi faction), I doubt the Sanhedrin as a whole is likely to move there.
 
You have talked about the spread of Yishuv Galili along Wadi Ara, Acre and Jezreel Valley...... but what about Jabal Amil and the OTL lebanese territories south of Litani River? In the map you posted some days ago it looks clearly OUTSIDE the dominion of the Tzfat authorities, but the same went to the Zaydani "periphery"
 
Good work, sir!! Everything planned
That's another "those who remember me from Malê Rising" thing - sometimes Chekhov ends up with a whole damn armory.
You have talked about the spread of Yishuv Galili along Wadi Ara, Acre and Jezreel Valley...... but what about Jabal Amil and the OTL lebanese territories south of Litani River? In the map you posted some days ago it looks clearly OUTSIDE the dominion of the Tzfat authorities, but the same went to the Zaydani "periphery"
The Jabal Amil is controlled by Shi'ite clans who look to the Banu Zaydan for protection and accept their overlordship but aren't under direct rule. They and the Galilee Jews visit each other for trade, but few if any Jews live there (and most of the Jews who do live there have married into the Shi'ite clans and said the shahada, which also sometimes happens the other way).

OTOH, Jewish communities do exist in Tyre and Sidon, for the same reasons as Acre - there are opportunities to be had in port cities, and the Lebanese coast is outside the Talmudic boundaries of the Land of Israel and thus outside the Sanhedrin's jurisdiction. These communities are smaller than the one at Acre but are nearly as diverse and tend toward the more liberal and experimental (which, as we've seen, does not mean secular) end of the spectrum.
 
NEGOTIATIONS 1799-1800
NEGOTIATIONS
1799-1800

Acre, September 1799:

In the days of the siege, the kollel katan of Acre had been given over to war. In the kitchens and workrooms, women had cooked and sewn for the soldiers; Jewish militiamen came to rest and pray in the reading rooms between duty hours; the upper story was made into a hospital for wounded men. The Hebrew printing press, too, was put in service; it published the emir’s decrees, gave accounts of battle and lists of the wounded and dead, and relayed news from afar that was brought by the British ships.

It was three months now since the siege was lifted, and only one of those things remained. The hospital was no longer needed and only the regular guard remained on the walls, but the daily Hebrew broadsheet now had a name – ha-Shaliach, the Messenger – and it brought news and essays and poetry not only to the Jews of Acre but as far away as the Galilee. Though the war had receded from the kollel katan, two things were different from before: Suleiman Tasa, who had set type on the press for decades, now had the title of editor, and people came not only to learn and pray but to report news.

One of those people, Suleiman saw, was standing in the doorway.

“Good morning, Reb Erich,” he said. “You have come from Jaffa?”

“I have,” Erich Meyersohn answered in precise Biblical Hebrew. This wasn’t the first time Suleiman had noticed that, and he was sure Erich meant him to notice. Erich was the leader of the Austrian Jews who’d come to Acre during the siege, and Suleiman had no quarrel with his courage or his usefulness as a planner and diplomat, but he could be exasperating. He was a silk merchant’s son and his father had dealings with the Galilee, but those dealings hadn’t translated to respect; he shared the kollel’s thirst for science and philosophy, but he saw their Polish mystic worship as backward and their Hebrew as impure. And for a diplomat, he hid his opinions very poorly.

This isn’t the time, Suleiman told himself, and in the Hebrew of Acre – the Hebrew that was unashamed of the rabbis’ borrowings from Aramaic and the accretion of loanwords from Ladino, Italian, Yiddish and most of all Arabic – he said, “do the French still have the city?”

“Yes. They’ve proposed new terms, and ibn Marwan” – the commander of the Zaydani army besieging Jaffa – “has sent me to bring them to the emir. But they are terms the Frenchmen know he will refuse.”

Suleiman nodded; such had been the case for weeks. The emir had steadily tightened his siege of Jaffa, but he was in no hurry to storm it; he’d just turned twenty-three and was audacious enough in battle, but he’d learned a healthy respect for the French army these past months, and he didn’t relish the thought of attacking them when they were the ones behind city walls. The French had inflicted more losses than they’d taken even in defeat, and the emir didn’t want to throw his men away. So instead of a battle, there had been two months of dickering over terms of surrender, and it didn’t seem as if either party had moved much at all.

“This can’t go on much longer,” he murmured as he scanned the document Erich had brought him, and although he hadn’t meant anyone to hear, Erich made a noise of agreement. Everyone, it seemed, was running short on patience; the British wanted the siege done with so that the warships guarding the harbor could go elsewhere, the Porte wanted its city back, and the besieging army’s morale was suffering from months of inaction. And, Suleiman knew, the emir himself needed things finished; the Tuqans of Nablus were demanding that he recognize a sphere of influence in the sanjak of Jerusalem, and he would be in a far better position to bargain over the north of the sanjak if Jaffa were in his hands.

“Surely you don’t want me to print this, though,” he said. “It would only show how far the city is from surrender – or does the emir want people to see the French terms and be outraged?”

Erich shook his head. “No. That was just for you to read and know.” He handed Suleiman another scrap of paper with a sentence in rough, cursive Hebrew. “What you’re to print is this.”

Suleiman read the sentence and recognized it – he had been born in Yemen, and it was a sentence every Yemenite Jew knew. Im nin’alu daltei n'divim daltei marom lo nin'alu, even if the gates of the rich are closed, the gates on high will never be closed – the first line of Shalom Shabazi’s great poem.

“Why…” he began, but then he read the line again. The gates will never be closed. He had a vision of a British ship’s boat landing in Jaffa in the dead of night, a copy of the newspaper carried to the synagogue as other copies no doubt had been in the past, a man reading it by candlelight and seeing what he’d been told to look for, citizens taking hidden weapons out of the cellar and streaming to the gatehouse. No doubt the emir had been preparing this all the months he'd seemed to be doing nothing…

Or had he? Erich was on the emir’s staff, that was true, but could Suleiman be sure he didn’t have two masters? He realized that, for all he and Erich had sparred over philosophy and religion, there was much he didn’t know about the man. He had a family connection to the Vienna Rothschilds, who had their own investments here to protect; what interest might they have in this?

“Miriam!” he called, and one of the girls who helped with the typesetting came running. Erich gave a look of distaste – one of his other opinions about the kollel was that its women had far too much freedom – but he nodded and went to do other business.

“Find a place for this in tomorrow’s broadsheet,” Suleiman told Miriam. “But go to the emir first and ask if we should print the poem.”

“The poem? Just that?”

“Just that. If he doesn’t know, then that’s answer enough.”

She was off at a run. Suleiman had no doubt she would return with an answer – the emir’s servants knew who she was, they would know that she was on a mission of some importance, and the Zaydani rulers still had the attitude of Bedouin sheikhs toward being approached by their subjects. But much would depend on what that answer was.

In the event, Suleiman read the answer on her face before she could speak it, but he let her confirm. “Yes,” she said. “The poem must run – those are the emir’s words.”

“Let it be, then.” Of a sudden, Suleiman remembered that shaliach had more than one meaning – it meant messenger, yes, but also agent. Sometimes the one was the other. Especially in time of war.

He wondered if the Jews of Jaffa were the ones who’d conspired with the emir, or if the Hebrew newspaper was a misdirection and the person for whom the message was intended knew no Hebrew other than that line. He would find out soon enough, if the plan succeeded. The fall of Jaffa would surely be news.
_______​

Jerusalem, December 1799:

If a stranger had walked into the house of Abdullah the weaver and saw him across the table from Anshel the tailor, he would have thought they were two friends sharing a pot of coffee, and he’d have been right. But if the stranger came closer and saw the map and documents on the table and the number of cups that had been drained, he would conclude that they were discussing serious business. And that would also be right. Abdullah was not only a weaver but the mukhtar of the Mughrabi quarter, and Anshel not only a tailor but the head of the committee that oversaw Jewish pilgrims, and they were discussing the sale of a holy place.

The map on the table was of the quarter, and on it, hatched in red ink, were the Wailing Wall, the plaza that fronted it, and two of the streets that gave access to that plaza. The document next to it was a contract giving the Sanhedrin ownership of the Wall and the plaza and an easement of passage over the streets between three hours after sunrise and an hour after sunset. The other documents laid out the Sanhedrin’s responsibility for maintaining the streets, the hiring of guards and cleaners, the creation of a board to arbitrate disputes.

In one way, the documents simply formalized agreements that had grown up over the past century. In another way, they changed everything. Or they would change everything, if the two men could agree on a final term: the price.

“What you are offering, my friend,” said Abdullah, “will repair our mosque, and there will be something left over to distribute to the families. But the families would like more, I think. And it would be good if we could dig out the sewers too, and lay pipes for clean water. It would be better for all of us if there were less fever.”

“And how much will it cost to do that?” Anshel asked.

Abdullah named a figure.

“Three thousand piasters?” said Anshel, outrage plain in his voice; he knew how this game was played. “Do you want the Sultan’s crown too? The Romans stole our treasures eighteen hundred years ago; maybe you should ask payment of them.”

“Go to Rome yourself and get them back,” Abdullah answered. “And when you return, the law may have changed again, and then where will the Sanhedrin be?”

He does have me there, Anshel thought; he would never admit it out loud, but the Sanhedrin was working on borrowed time. The Ottoman governors who’d ruled Jerusalem before Napoleon came would never have allowed such a sale; it was only French rule, and the Palatinate’s recognition of the Jerusalem branch of the Sanhedrin as a body corporate that could own property, that made the transaction possible. And who knew how much longer the French would be here?

From all Anshel knew, Napoleon’s position was increasingly untenable; he’d fought to a draw the Ottoman army that had landed at Alexandria, but now he was facing a British army too, and the longer he delayed returning to France, the greater the risk that Abbé Sieyès would consolidate power. Napoleon could no longer hold Egypt, and without Egypt, he couldn’t hold Jerusalem. From the reports Anshel had heard, Napoleon was negotiating harder over Jerusalem than Egypt – Jerusalem was loyal to him and being its protector had become a point of honor – but no one could say what terms he would be able to exact, or what the law would be once he was gone.

But maybe he could turn that to his advantage. “That’s exactly why we could never risk three thousand piasters,” he said. “What if the pasha next year says the contract is void? It’s bad enough risking one thousand…”

“The contract won’t be void. If it’s void, then we have to return the price, and the pasha won’t make paupers of us. You’ll have to pay him and the mutassalim, but the sale will stand.”

Anshel wasn’t so certain of that, but the logic was compelling, and no doubt the pasha would have favors to ask the Mughrabis too. “The Sanhedrin still doesn’t have that kind of money,” he temporized. “Twelve hundred, maybe…”

Abdullah laughed. “We’ve known each other more than thirty years, so surely you know I wasn’t born yesterday. Do you think I don’t know how many Jews there are in this Palatinate and what taxes Rabbi Molcho levies on them? And I can guess how much he spends on charity and the upkeep of the synagogues, and to his credit, how little he spends on himself. He can spare three thousand, or at least twenty-five hundred.”

“If you do know that, then you know that even fifteen hundred would beggar our coffers…”

“Listen, my friend. The reason Molcho is tight with his purse-strings is that he wants to buy all the holy places, not just this one. He knows the Waqf, and he wants the Sanhedrin to do the same thing, and if he has the holy places in his hands, that will help him drive a bargain with the rabbis in Safad, no? But this is the most important one, and he will need to pay the price for it. For the sake of our friendship, I can sell it to you for twenty-two hundred, but not a para less.”

Anshel took a sip of bitter coffee and held the cup to his mouth while he thought. He had his quarrels with Rav Molcho – the man might almost be a Karaite for austerity, he ruled the Yerushalmi Jews with a strictness not matched for centuries, his mind was narrower than the opening of Gehinnom, and his zeal for self-mortification recalled the early days of the Sanhedrin – but no one could deny that he had gained Napoleon’s favor and that the rabbinate’s new corporate status was one of that favor’s fruits. And taking ownership of the holy places, removing them from the vicissitudes of changing agreements and changing politics, was a worthy goal.

Worthy of twenty-two hundred piasters? Maybe not. “Eighteen hundred…”

“Two thousand.”

That was the very limit of Anshel’s remit, but it wasn’t beyond that limit, and he knew this sale was now or never. “We will pay two thousand,” he said. He hoped that would indeed be enough for the Mughrabi quarter to have clean water. It was certainly more than enough for the Wailing Wall.
_______​

Damascus, February 1800:

“Ahmed Pasha,” said Haim Farhi to his brother Rafael, “is very unhappy.”

Rafael nodded and wondered why Haim thought it necessary to say so. Everyone knew Ahmed Pasha was unhappy. The officials knew, the barbers in the souk knew, even the stray cats knew. No doubt the crows that perched on the orange tree in the Farhis’ garden were talking about Ahmed Pasha’s anger in their own strange speech.

Until recently, Ahmed Pasha had been quite happy. Napoleon had been defeated with not a para spent from his coffers and not a man of his army lost; the Nabulsi and the Zaydanis had done all the dying, and now Damascus’s marketplace would supply them in peace. And when Ahmed Pasha was happy, everyone was happy. Jacob Saltiel, the Sabbatean vizier who’d advised him to stay out of the fighting, was happy; the merchants were happy; the bankers – the Farhis among them – were certainly happy.

Even the Jews had been, if not happy, at least content. They had dreaded what war might bring, dreaded having to choose sides between a pasha who opposed Napoleon and the Yerushalmi rabbis who had threatened excommunication against any Jew who did likewise. The Sanhedrin in Tzfat had annulled that decree, of course, but the Damascene rabbis agreed more with the Yerushalmi faction than the Tzfati faction, and had declared that the annulment was of dubious legality. The Jewish community, for the most part, had been grateful not to have to choose – grateful enough, in fact, that the wali’s decision not to fight had been met with a collective sigh of relief even though it increased the power of the Sabbateans.

But suddenly, the wali’s happiness was at an end.

Ahmed Pasha had wanted his eldest son to be named amir al-hajj – commander of the main Hajj caravan that would leave Damascus at the end of Shawwal – as a sign of the Sultan’s favor and a stepping-stone to higher offices. His agents had importuned the highest officials in Konstantiniyye and spent thousands of piasters in bribes – piasters that the Farhis had lent him – to ensure that the appointment was made. But yesterday, the news had come that this year’s amir al-hajj would instead be Faisal Tuqan, the son of the zaim of Nablus. The Sultan preferred those who had fought Napoleon over those who had not. And even worse, the wali’s son was also named Faisal, and the people in the market had begun singing a mocking verse: Faisal the brave will lead the faithful, Faisal the coward is disgraceful…

Ahmed Pasha was very unhappy indeed.

“But why are you mentioning this?” asked Rafael. “Simply to gloat?”

“Oh, I’m not gloating. I might be tempted, if this were only about Saltiel” – the Sabbatean vizier had fled the city that morning, a step ahead of the wali’s wrath – “but there are eight thousand of our piasters Ahmed Pasha wasted in Konstantiniyye that he’ll find some reason not to repay us. And having avoided one war, we may now face another.”

“A war? Over the Hajj caravan?”

“Don’t you see?” asked Haim. “The gathering place for the pilgrims is here, in Damascus. Faisal Tuqan will have to come take up his duties here.”

“And… oh.”

For a long moment, there was silence in the Farhis’ courtyard, and both brothers inhaled their tobacco pipes. That was to dispel a completely different misery. The fever was bad this winter, and it spared neither high nor low – Joseph Zemach, the nagid of the Galilee, was rumored to be dying of it even as they spoke. Tobacco was said to be a sure protection against it, and though the rabbis were skeptical, the brothers took no chances – and besides, smoking was conducive to thought.

“Would Ahmed Pasha really send assassins against an amir al-hajj?” said Rafael, picking up the thread of the conversation. “It’s not only the Porte that would be outraged – the people would be as well.”

“An outright assassin, no,” Haim answered slowly. “But bandits? The Tuqan son could only bring a small guard here with him, and if they were to be set on by bandits in the Hauran, who would be to blame?”

“Are you guessing, or do you know?”

“I don’t know. But from what my men are hearing, it’s more than just a guess.”

“Surely Faisal Tuqan has thought of that as well – surely, at least, his father has?”

“Maybe. But they don’t know how unhappy Ahmed Pasha is. Such an attack would cross all the lines – they may not believe the wali would be capable of it.”

“And if not? Then what can we do?”

“Send the Tuqans a letter, to start with – we have ways of getting it to Nablus in secret. And I’ll also send someone to pay a visit to the chorbaji at the Qunaitra garrison. He owes us three hundred piasters – I’m sure he’d be happy for that debt to be forgiven, and I’m also sure he’d find honor in taking his men out to protect the amir al-hajj from harm…”

Rafael put his pipe down and looked at Haim evenly. “Maybe we can protect him then. But still… why? What gain to us if Faisal Tuqan is amir al-hajj? And what if Ahmad Pasha finds out we are to blame for him living?”

“There is a risk, yes,” Haim said, and Rafael was astonished at his coolness; the risk he was talking about was death, and that death would not be a pleasant one. “But having the Tuqans in our debt is worth any number of piasters. And when it all comes down, Ahmed Pasha won’t be wali much longer. And where there is a new wali, there can be a new vizier…”
_______​

Tzfat, April 1800:

When Sergeant Lucien Boyer had been captured at Mount Tabor, he’d expected to be kept prisoner, and on the march back to Tzfat, his captors had done nothing to give him any other notion. But when they arrived at last, there was no prison large enough to hold all the captives. So the mutassalim, acting for the nagid of Galilee, paroled him on his oath not to leave Tzfat or bear arms against the Banu Zaydan until he was exchanged or his release was negotiated.

He'd expected, at first, that the exchange would take place after Napoleon took Acre. But Napoleon hadn’t taken Acre, and after that, it seemed, everyone forgot him. The talks in Egypt dragged on for weeks, then months, and the prisoners of Mount Tabor remained.

Before long, Lucien had resigned himself to a long stay. He found his way to the Maronite church, as most of his fellow prisoners did. He picked up some Arabic and Hebrew, as they did. He found work as a laborer on a construction crew, as many of them also did. And, again as they did, he refused the offer of high wages to drill the city militia; that was something he would never do as long as he might be training them against France. And that, he’d thought, would be his life until the war ended.

But in August, a rabbi of the Sanhedrin had come to him.

“Is it true you were a fisherman in France?” the rabbi said.

“Yes,” Lucien had answered. He wasn’t surprised that the rabbi knew; he had spoken of his life to his fellow laborers.

“There was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee who was killed at Mount Tabor. He had no children, and he left a widow… she can’t work the boat by herself. You would be doing a good deed if you help her – the mutassalim will change your parole so you can live in her village…”

Lucien had wondered many times since then whether that rabbi had been even more unworldly than an Ursuline novice, or whether he’d known exactly what he was doing.

The widow’s name was Salma, and she wasn’t at all what Lucien had expected of a Jew – like many of those who worked the Galilee fishing fleets, her ancestors were from deep in the Sudan. And she wasn’t what he’d expected of a fisherman’s widow either. She didn’t wait on shore; she went out in the boat herself, as she’d done even before her husband died. They were together from before dawn until after dusk, and they spoke of everything.

Within a month, Lucien dined every evening at Salma’s table. Within two…

Suffice it to say that within three, he’d gone to visit another rabbi.

“Are you sure you want to become a Jew?” the rabbi had said. “It’s a long path and a hard one, and you will be joining a nation that no one loves.”

Lucien might have quibbled – whatever the Jews of the Galilee might be, they didn’t seem unloved. But he remembered the sermons of his childhood and was silent.

“It takes a year to become a Jew. There are many things you must learn, many things you must do. Are you ready for that?”

A year. Lucien had wondered for a moment whether he would still be in the Galilee in a year. But it seemed he would. Napoleon had left Egypt – Abbé Sieyès had revoked his command, it was kill or be killed, and unfinished business had to give way – and a negotiated peace was farther away than ever. And if he married Salma, it would hardly matter anyway.

“Yes,” he said, and since then, five months of that year had passed. The fever had come and gone. Joseph Zemach, the nagid, had died childless, leaving his nineteen-year-old sister Dalia as the sole heir to the Galilee. Lucien and Salma lived. The fishing was good. The lessons were good. And it was spring, and it was time to rejoice.

“Come,” Salma said to him. “We’re almost in the city.” They were on foot now, after most of the morning in a donkey-cart, and the south gate of Tzfat was just ahead. The sun was at zenith above the city, and the celebration inside was already beginning.

It was the day after Passover – a word Lucien might once have associated only with the Last Supper but which meant far more to him now. Eight days before, the village had made the Seder together; they had spoken of freedom, they who were descended from slaves, and with him a prisoner and so close to Egypt, the prayers had seared his mind like molten iron. Eight days, those prayers had echoed. And now, in the city, it was Mimouna.

There were wandering musicians playing Moroccan songs on the oud and the flute. There were tables in the streets and the market-squares, laid with food and sweets and coins in groups of five. There was bread – not the bread of affliction, but the leavened bread that could be eaten again now that Passover had finished, mufleta and jachnun drenched in honey. There were patriarchs in djellabas dipping sprigs of mint in milk and sprinkling all who passed. There were hamsa signs everywhere, laid on the tables and worn on necklaces. There were games in the plazas, there were singers, there was dancing which the Sanhedrin didn’t dare forbid.

Salma took Lucien by the hand – even that, the Sanhedrin pretended not to notice – and they hurried through the market to where her Moroccan cousins were dancing in a circle. She seized a hamsa pastry from a table along the way and put it in Lucien’s mouth. It would avert the evil eye, she told him, it would bring blessings. Everything would bring blessings today. The five fingers of the hamsa, the five coins and five plates arranged at every table… the five months since he’d begun learning to be a Jew.

A song was beginning as they joined the dance – not a Moroccan song this time but a Yemeni one, im nin’alu daltei n'divim daltei marom lo nin'alu. Lucien knew enough Hebrew by now to understand it. The gates on high, the gates of heaven, would never be closed.

From here, today, it seemed that he could see them.
 
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NEGOTIATIONS
1799-1800

Acre, September 1799:

In the days of the siege, the kollel katan of Acre had been given over to war. In the kitchens and workrooms, women had cooked and sewn for the soldiers; Jewish militiamen came to rest and pray in the reading rooms between duty hours; the upper story was made into a hospital for wounded men. The Hebrew printing press, too, was put in service; it published the emir’s decrees, gave accounts of battle and lists of the wounded and dead, and relayed news from afar that was brought by the British ships.

It was three months now since the siege was lifted, and only one of those things remained. The hospital was no longer needed and only the regular guard remained on the walls, but the daily Hebrew broadsheet now had a name – ha-Shaliach, the Messenger – and it brought news and essays and poetry not only to the Jews of Acre but as far away as the Galilee. Though the war had receded from the kollel katan, two things were different from before: Suleiman Tasa, who had set type on the press for decades, now had the title of editor, and people came not only to learn and pray but to report news.

One of those people, Suleiman saw, was standing in the doorway.

“Good morning, Reb Erich,” he said. “You have come from Jaffa?”

“I have,” Erich Meyersohn answered in precise Biblical Hebrew. This wasn’t the first time Suleiman had noticed that, and he was sure Erich meant him to notice. Erich was the leader of the Austrian Jews who’d come to Acre during the siege, and Suleiman had no quarrel with his courage or his usefulness as a planner and diplomat, but he could be exasperating. He was a silk merchant’s son and his father had dealings with the Galilee, but those dealings hadn’t translated to respect; he shared the kollel’s thirst for science and philosophy, but he saw their Polish mystic worship as backward and their Hebrew as impure. And for a diplomat, he hid his opinions very poorly.

This isn’t the time, Suleiman told himself, and in the Hebrew of Acre – the Hebrew that was unashamed of the rabbis’ borrowings from Aramaic and the accretion of loanwords from Ladino, Italian, Yiddish and most of all Arabic – he said, “do the French still have the city?”

“Yes. They’ve proposed new terms, and ibn Marwan” – the commander of the Zaydani army besieging Jaffa – “has sent me to bring them to the emir. But they are terms the Frenchmen know he will refuse.”

Suleiman nodded; such had been the case for weeks. The emir had steadily tightened his siege of Jaffa, but he was in no hurry to storm it; he’d just turned twenty-three and was audacious enough in battle, but he’d learned a healthy respect for the French army these past months, and he didn’t relish the thought of attacking them when they were the ones behind city walls. The French had inflicted more losses than they’d taken even in defeat, and the emir didn’t want to throw his men away. So instead of a battle, there had been two months of dickering over terms of surrender, and it didn’t seem as if either party had moved much at all.

“This can’t go on much longer,” he murmured as he scanned the document Erich had brought him, and although he hadn’t meant anyone to hear, Erich made a noise of agreement. Everyone, it seemed, was running short on patience; the British wanted the siege done with so that the warships guarding the harbor could go elsewhere, the Porte wanted its city back, and the besieging army’s morale was suffering from months of inaction. And, Suleiman knew, the emir himself needed things finished; the Tuqans of Nablus were demanding that he recognize a sphere of influence in the sanjak of Jerusalem, and he would be in a far better position to bargain over the north of the sanjak if Jaffa were in his hands.

“Surely you don’t want me to print this, though,” he said. “It would only show how far the city is from surrender – or does the emir want people to see the French terms and be outraged?”

Erich shook his head. “No. That was just for you to read and know.” He handed Suleiman another scrap of paper with a sentence in rough, cursive Hebrew. “What you’re to print is this.”

Suleiman read the sentence and recognized it – he had been born in Yemen, and it was a sentence every Yemenite Jew knew. Im nin’alu daltei n'divim daltei marom lo nin'alu, even if the gates of the rich are closed, the gates on high will never be closed – the first line of Shalom Shabazi’s great poem.

“Why…” he began, but then he read the line again. The gates will never be closed. He had a vision of a British ship’s boat landing in Jaffa in the dead of night, a copy of the newspaper carried to the synagogue as other copies no doubt had been in the past, a man reading it by candlelight and seeing what he’d been told to look for, citizens taking hidden weapons out of the cellar and streaming to the gatehouse. No doubt the emir had been preparing this all the months he'd seemed to be doing nothing…

Or had he? Erich was on the emir’s staff, that was true, but could Suleiman be sure he didn’t have two masters? He realized that, for all he and Erich had sparred over philosophy and religion, there was much he didn’t know about the man. He had a family connection to the Vienna Rothschilds, who had their own investments here to protect; what interest might they have in this?

“Miriam!” he called, and one of the girls who helped with the typesetting came running. Erich gave a look of distaste – one of his other opinions about the kollel was that its women had far too much freedom – but he nodded and went to do other business.

“Find a place for this in tomorrow’s broadsheet,” Suleiman told Miriam. “But go to the emir first and ask if we should print the poem.”

“The poem? Just that?”

“Just that. If he doesn’t know, then that’s answer enough.”

She was off at a run. Suleiman had no doubt she would return with an answer – the emir’s servants knew who she was, they would know that she was on a mission of some importance, and the Zaydani rulers still had the attitude of Bedouin sheikhs toward being approached by their subjects. But much would depend on what that answer was.

In the event, Suleiman read the answer on her face before she could speak it, but he let her confirm. “Yes,” she said. “The poem must run – those are the emir’s words.”

“Let it be, then.” Of a sudden, Suleiman remembered that shaliach had more than one meaning – it meant messenger, yes, but also agent. Sometimes the one was the other. Especially in time of war.

He wondered if the Jews of Jaffa were the ones who’d conspired with the emir, or if the Hebrew newspaper was a misdirection and the person for whom the message was intended knew no Hebrew other than that line. He would find out soon enough, if the plan succeeded. The fall of Jaffa would surely be news.

The power of the Press prevails! reminds me of your story of Provence with the Ramban and Napier's peccavi
_______​

Jerusalem, December 1799:

If a stranger had walked into the house of Abdullah the weaver and saw him across the table from Anshel the tailor, he would have thought they were two friends sharing a pot of coffee, and he’d have been right. But if the stranger came closer and saw the map and documents on the table and the number of cups that had been drained, he would conclude that they were discussing serious business. And that would also be right. Abdullah was not only a weaver but the mukhtar of the Mughrabi quarter, and Anshel not only a tailor but the head of the committee that oversaw Jewish pilgrims, and they were discussing the sale of a holy place.

The map on the table was of the quarter, and on it, hatched in red ink, were the Wailing Wall, the plaza that fronted it, and two of the streets that gave access to that plaza. The document next to it was a contract giving the Sanhedrin ownership of the Wall and the plaza and an easement of passage over the streets between three hours after sunrise and an hour after sunset. The other documents laid out the Sanhedrin’s responsibility for maintaining the streets, the hiring of guards and cleaners, the creation of a board to arbitrate disputes.

In one way, the documents simply formalized agreements that had grown up over the past century. In another way, they changed everything. Or they would change everything, if the two men could agree on a final term: the price.

“What you are offering, my friend,” said Abdullah, “will repair our mosque, and there will be something left over to distribute to the families. But the families would like more, I think. And it would be good if we could dig out the sewers too, and lay pipes for clean water. It would be better for all of us if there were less fever.”

“And how much will it cost to do that?” Anshel asked.

Abdullah named a figure.

“Three thousand piasters?” said Anshel, outrage plain in his voice; he knew how this game was played. “Do you want the Sultan’s crown too? The Romans stole our treasures eighteen hundred years ago; maybe you should ask payment of them.”

“Go to Rome yourself and get them back,” Abdullah answered. “And when you return, the law may have changed again, and then where will the Sanhedrin be?”

He does have me there, Anshel thought; he would never admit it out loud, but the Sanhedrin was working on borrowed time. The Ottoman governors who’d ruled Jerusalem before Napoleon came would never have allowed such a sale; it was only French rule, and the Palatinate’s recognition of the Jerusalem branch of the Sanhedrin as a body corporate that could own property, that made the transaction possible. And who knew how much longer the French would be here?

From all Anshel knew, Napoleon’s position was increasingly untenable; he’d fought to a draw the Ottoman army that had landed at Alexandria, but now he was facing a British army too, and the longer he delayed returning to France, the greater the risk that Abbé Sieyès would consolidate power. Napoleon could no longer hold Egypt, and without Egypt, he couldn’t hold Jerusalem. From the reports Anshel had heard, Napoleon was negotiating harder over Jerusalem than Egypt – Jerusalem was loyal to him and being its protector had become a point of honor – but no one could say what terms he would be able to exact, or what the law would be once he was gone.

But maybe he could turn that to his advantage. “That’s exactly why we could never risk three thousand piasters,” he said. “What if the pasha next year says the contract is void? It’s bad enough risking one thousand…”

“The contract won’t be void. If it’s void, then we have to return the price, and the pasha won’t make paupers of us. You’ll have to pay him and the mutassalim, but the sale will stand.”

Anshel wasn’t so certain of that, but the logic was compelling, and no doubt the pasha would have favors to ask the Mughrabis too. “The Sanhedrin still doesn’t have that kind of money,” he temporized. “Twelve hundred, maybe…”

Abdullah laughed. “We’ve known each other more than thirty years, so surely you know I wasn’t born yesterday. Do you think I don’t know how many Jews there are in this Palatinate and what taxes Rabbi Molcho levies on them? And I can guess how much he spends on charity and the upkeep of the synagogues, and to his credit, how little he spends on himself. He can spare three thousand, or at least twenty-five hundred.”

“If you do know that, then you know that even fifteen hundred would beggar our coffers…”

“Listen, my friend. The reason Molcho is tight with his purse-strings is that he wants to buy all the holy places, not just this one. He knows the Waqf, and he wants the Sanhedrin to do the same thing, and if he has the holy places in his hands, that will help him drive a bargain with the rabbis in Safad, no? But this is the most important one, and he will need to pay the price for it. For the sake of our friendship, I can sell it to you for twenty-two hundred, but not a para less.”

Anshel took a sip of bitter coffee and held the cup to his mouth while he thought. He had his quarrels with Rav Molcho – the man ruled the Yerushalmi Jews with a strictness not matched for centuries, his mind was narrower than the opening of Gehinnom, and his zeal for self-mortification recalled the early days of the Sanhedrin – but no one could deny that he had gained Napoleon’s favor and that the rabbinate’s new corporate status was one of that favor’s fruits. And taking ownership of the holy places, removing them from the vicissitudes of changing agreements and changing politics, was a worthy goal.

Worthy of twenty-two hundred piasters? Maybe not. “Eighteen hundred…”

“Two thousand.”

That was the very limit of Anshel’s remit, but it wasn’t beyond that limit, and he knew this sale was now or never. “We will pay two thousand,” he said. He hoped that would indeed be enough for the Mughrabi quarter to have clean water. It was certainly more than enough for the Wailing Wall.
_______​
Haggling over the holy sites is not going to end well.
Ahmed Pasha had wanted his eldest son to be named amir al-hajj – commander of the main Hajj caravan that would leave Damascus at the end of Shawwal – as a sign of the Sultan’s favor and a stepping-stone to higher offices. His agents had importuned the highest officials in Konstantiniyye and spent thousands of piasters in bribes – piasters that the Farhis had lent him – to ensure that the appointment was made. But yesterday, the news had come that this year’s amir al-hajj would instead be Faisal Tuqan, the son of the zaim of Nablus. The Sultan preferred those who had fought Napoleon over those who had not. And even worse, the wali’s son was also named Faisal, and the people in the market had begun singing a mocking verse: Faisal the brave will lead the faithful, Faisal the coward is disgraceful…

Ahmed Pasha was very unhappy indeed.

“But why are you mentioning this?” asked Rafael. “Simply to gloat?”

“Oh, I’m not gloating. I might be tempted, if this were only about Saltiel” – the Sabbatean vizier had fled the city that morning, a step ahead of the wali’s wrath – “but there are eight thousand of our piasters Ahmed Pasha wasted in Konstantiniyye that he’ll find some reason not to repay us. And having avoided one war, we may now face another.”

“A war? Over the Hajj caravan?”

“Don’t you see?” asked Haim. “The gathering place for the pilgrims is here, in Damascus. Faisal Tuqan will have to come take up his duties here.”

“And… oh.”

For a long moment, there was silence in the Farhis’ courtyard, and both brothers inhaled their tobacco pipes. That was to dispel a completely different misery. The fever was bad this winter, and it spared neither high nor low – Joseph Zemach, the nagid of the Galilee, was rumored to be dying of it even as they spoke. Tobacco was said to be a sure protection against it, and though the rabbis were skeptical, the brothers took no chances – and besides, smoking was conducive to thought.

“Would Ahmed Pasha really send assassins against an amir al-hajj?” said Rafael, picking up the thread of the conversation. “It’s not only the Porte that would be outraged – the people would be as well.”

“An outright assassin, no,” Haim answered slowly. “But bandits? The Tuqan son could only bring a small guard here with him, and if they were to be set on by bandits in the Hauran, who would be to blame?”

“Are you guessing, or do you know?”

“I don’t know. But from what my men are hearing, it’s more than just a guess.”

“Surely Faisal Tuqan has thought of that as well – surely, at least, his father has?”

“Maybe. But they don’t know how unhappy Ahmed Pasha is. Such an attack would cross all the lines – they may not believe the wali would be capable of it.”

“And if not? Then what can we do?”

“Send the Tuqans a letter, to start with – we have ways of getting it to Nablus in secret. And I’ll also send someone to pay a visit to the chorbaji at the Qunaitra garrison. He owes us three hundred piasters – I’m sure he’d be happy for that debt to be forgiven, and I’m also sure he’d find honor in taking his men out to protect the amir al-hajj from harm…”

Rafael put his pipe down and looked at Haim evenly. “Maybe we can protect him then. But still… why? What gain to us if Faisal Tuqan is amir al-hajj? And what if Ahmad Pasha finds out we are to blame for him living?”

“There is a risk, yes,” Haim said, and Rafael was astonished at his coolness; the risk he was talking about was death, and that death would not be a pleasant one. “But having the Tuqans in our debt is worth any number of piasters. And when it all comes down, Ahmed Pasha won’t be wali much longer. And where there is a new wali, there can be a new vizier…”
_______​
trouble in Damascus? IIRC something similar happened with the Banu Zaydan IOTL and Dune.
 
NEGOTIATIONS
1799-1800

Acre, September 1799:

In the days of the siege, the kollel katan of Acre had been given over to war. In the kitchens and workrooms, women had cooked and sewn for the soldiers; Jewish militiamen came to rest and pray in the reading rooms between duty hours; the upper story was made into a hospital for wounded men. The Hebrew printing press, too, was put in service; it published the emir’s decrees, gave accounts of battle and lists of the wounded and dead, and relayed news from afar that was brought by the British ships.

It was three months now since the siege was lifted, and only one of those things remained. The hospital was no longer needed and only the regular guard remained on the walls, but the daily Hebrew broadsheet now had a name – ha-Shaliach, the Messenger – and it brought news and essays and poetry not only to the Jews of Acre but as far away as the Galilee. Though the war had receded from the kollel katan, two things were different from before: Suleiman Tasa, who had set type on the press for decades, now had the title of editor, and people came not only to learn and pray but to report news.

One of those people, Suleiman saw, was standing in the doorway.

“Good morning, Reb Erich,” he said. “You have come from Jaffa?”

“I have,” Erich Meyersohn answered in precise Biblical Hebrew. This wasn’t the first time Suleiman had noticed that, and he was sure Erich meant him to notice. Erich was the leader of the Austrian Jews who’d come to Acre during the siege, and Suleiman had no quarrel with his courage or his usefulness as a planner and diplomat, but he could be exasperating. He was a silk merchant’s son and his father had dealings with the Galilee, but those dealings hadn’t translated to respect; he shared the kollel’s thirst for science and philosophy, but he saw their Polish mystic worship as backward and their Hebrew as impure. And for a diplomat, he hid his opinions very poorly.

This isn’t the time, Suleiman told himself, and in the Hebrew of Acre – the Hebrew that was unashamed of the rabbis’ borrowings from Aramaic and the accretion of loanwords from Ladino, Italian, Yiddish and most of all Arabic – he said, “do the French still have the city?”

“Yes. They’ve proposed new terms, and ibn Marwan” – the commander of the Zaydani army besieging Jaffa – “has sent me to bring them to the emir. But they are terms the Frenchmen know he will refuse.”

Suleiman nodded; such had been the case for weeks. The emir had steadily tightened his siege of Jaffa, but he was in no hurry to storm it; he’d just turned twenty-three and was audacious enough in battle, but he’d learned a healthy respect for the French army these past months, and he didn’t relish the thought of attacking them when they were the ones behind city walls. The French had inflicted more losses than they’d taken even in defeat, and the emir didn’t want to throw his men away. So instead of a battle, there had been two months of dickering over terms of surrender, and it didn’t seem as if either party had moved much at all.

“This can’t go on much longer,” he murmured as he scanned the document Erich had brought him, and although he hadn’t meant anyone to hear, Erich made a noise of agreement. Everyone, it seemed, was running short on patience; the British wanted the siege done with so that the warships guarding the harbor could go elsewhere, the Porte wanted its city back, and the besieging army’s morale was suffering from months of inaction. And, Suleiman knew, the emir himself needed things finished; the Tuqans of Nablus were demanding that he recognize a sphere of influence in the sanjak of Jerusalem, and he would be in a far better position to bargain over the north of the sanjak if Jaffa were in his hands.

“Surely you don’t want me to print this, though,” he said. “It would only show how far the city is from surrender – or does the emir want people to see the French terms and be outraged?”

Erich shook his head. “No. That was just for you to read and know.” He handed Suleiman another scrap of paper with a sentence in rough, cursive Hebrew. “What you’re to print is this.”

Suleiman read the sentence and recognized it – he had been born in Yemen, and it was a sentence every Yemenite Jew knew. Im nin’alu daltei n'divim daltei marom lo nin'alu, even if the gates of the rich are closed, the gates on high will never be closed – the first line of Shalom Shabazi’s great poem.

“Why…” he began, but then he read the line again. The gates will never be closed. He had a vision of a British ship’s boat landing in Jaffa in the dead of night, a copy of the newspaper carried to the synagogue as other copies no doubt had been in the past, a man reading it by candlelight and seeing what he’d been told to look for, citizens taking hidden weapons out of the cellar and streaming to the gatehouse. No doubt the emir had been preparing this all the months he'd seemed to be doing nothing…

Or had he? Erich was on the emir’s staff, that was true, but could Suleiman be sure he didn’t have two masters? He realized that, for all he and Erich had sparred over philosophy and religion, there was much he didn’t know about the man. He had a family connection to the Vienna Rothschilds, who had their own investments here to protect; what interest might they have in this?

“Miriam!” he called, and one of the girls who helped with the typesetting came running. Erich gave a look of distaste – one of his other opinions about the kollel was that its women had far too much freedom – but he nodded and went to do other business.

“Find a place for this in tomorrow’s broadsheet,” Suleiman told Miriam. “But go to the emir first and ask if we should print the poem.”

“The poem? Just that?”

“Just that. If he doesn’t know, then that’s answer enough.”

She was off at a run. Suleiman had no doubt she would return with an answer – the emir’s servants knew who she was, they would know that she was on a mission of some importance, and the Zaydani rulers still had the attitude of Bedouin sheikhs toward being approached by their subjects. But much would depend on what that answer was.

In the event, Suleiman read the answer on her face before she could speak it, but he let her confirm. “Yes,” she said. “The poem must run – those are the emir’s words.”

“Let it be, then.” Of a sudden, Suleiman remembered that shaliach had more than one meaning – it meant messenger, yes, but also agent. Sometimes the one was the other. Especially in time of war.

He wondered if the Jews of Jaffa were the ones who’d conspired with the emir, or if the Hebrew newspaper was a misdirection and the person for whom the message was intended knew no Hebrew other than that line. He would find out soon enough, if the plan succeeded. The fall of Jaffa would surely be news.
_______​
The Jews of a city literally back-stabbing a European army at the behest of some secret Cabal, and through Jewish religious songs, will probably not bode well for European Jews, And French Jews in particular. Hopefully the loyal Yerushalmis would paint a more sympathetic picture.
 
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