The end of the Crimean war in 1856 left the warring sides in a state of limbo. Russia was defeated, and heavy losses weakened Great Britain and France, and particularly Turkey. The Ottoman empire was fraying on all its fronts. One of the causes of the war was, ostensibly, religious practice in Jerusalem, then under Ottoman rule: Russia insisted on promoting the interests of Eastern Orthodox residents; France sought to protect Catholic residents. Protestant England was on the sidelines until economic considerations came into play.
The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the introduction of steamships meant increased cargo and pilgrims in the eastern Mediterranean. The Canal facilitated commerce for Britain and its colonies in the far east. The larger number of visitors to Palestine led European countries, including Germany, to press Turkey to permit the opening of consulates, churches, hospitals, and other facilities for their citizens.
A remarkable historic site, the Tomb of the Kings, was obtained by France in 1868. The burial chamber did not hold the bodies of Judean kings, but the elaborate sarcophagi found there suggested they once contained the remains of wealthy Jerusalem dignitaries. Despite the objections of Jerusalem’s Jewish community, the sarcophagi and remains were smuggled to the French Louvre, where they are now displayed.
The Jews of Jerusalem Welcomed the German Emperor
In 1898, German Emperor Wilhelm and his wife Augusta Victoria visited the Holy Land. The historic visit was covered extensively by the world’s press.
The Jews of Jerusalem built a large pavilion on Jaffa Road in their honor. Waiting for the Emperor beneath were two chief rabbis, Torah scrolls, and ceremonial treasures from the synagogues of Jerusalem.
The high-resolution photographs provide the ability to enlarge and examine details. The Jews bedecked the arch with Jewish ornamental treasures. They were dressed in their best finery (the day was Shabbat). The wall was covered by tapestries that typically covered Torah arks. The embroidery dedications on the tapestries are legible and reveal which synagogues donated their curtains. Sitting below were Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yaakov Shaul Elissar and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shmuel Salant.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews turned out, but not their rabbi, Chaim Yosef Sonnenfeld, who believed the German nation was the embodiment of Israel’s Biblical arch-enemy Amalek. He refused to recite a blessing upon seeing an Amalekite king.
At last, the emperor’s procession ended at the Old City’s Jaffa Gate, where a new entrance was excavated to allow the emperor’s carriage to enter. Outside the gate, a tremendous celebration occurred, but something was missing.
After enlarging the photo of the German emperor’s arrival, we can see that one stall – the one closest to Jaffa Gate – was closed. Why?
The booth in the prime location was a Jewish hat store, indicated by the sign and the customers outside. Of course, it would be closed on Shabbat, even if the emperor himself was just meters away.