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'Umar Allows Jews to Return to Jerusalem

The Judeo-Arabic text quoted here tells how 'Umar (Omr) b. al-Khattab, the second caliph (634-44), allowed 70 Jewish families from Tiberias to settle in Jerusalem. It describes a period of cooperation during which Arab rulers turned to Jews in search of information about the history of their sacred sites.


So every Muslim who came was in town or valley, and there came with them a group of Jews. Then he ['Umar] ordered them to sweep the holy place [the Temple site] and to cleanse it. 'Umar himself oversaw them at all times, and each time something was uncovered, he would ask the Jewish elders about the Rock, which was the Foundation Stone. Finally, one of their scholars indicated the precise boundaries of the place, as a result of which, it was uncovered. He commanded that walls be built around the holy site and that a dome be constructed over the Foundation Stone, and that it should be gilded.

After this, the Jews sent word to all the rest of the Jews in Palestine to inform them of the agreement that 'Umar had made with them. The letter was sent back to them asking what would be the number of people who would be allowed to move to Jerusalem. So they came into 'Umar's presence and asked him, "How many people from the Jewish community will the Commander of the Faithful order to move to this city?" "What will your enemies [the Christians] say?" "Speak to them, and after that, I shall have the final word that will put an end to the dispute between you."

Then the Christian Patriarch and his entourage appeared, and 'Umar said to them, "I have made an agreement with the Jews concerning all. . . . Let there come here that number which you yourselves indicate." The Patriarch responded, "Let the number of those who come with their families and their children be fifty households." The Jews replied to this, "We shall not be less than two hundred households." They kept haggling over this until 'Umar commanded that there be seventy households -- to which they agreed.

Then 'Umar said, "Where would you wish to live in the city?" "In the southern part," they replied. And that it is now the Market of the Jews. The aim of their request was to be near the Temple Mount and its gates, and likewise to be near the water of Silwan for ritual bathing. The Commander of the Faithful granted this to them.

Then seventy families moved from Tiberias and the area around it with their wives and children. They filled up the quarter with buildings the remains of which lasted for many generations.


 

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