Eyn Zeytoun was Jewish Eyn Zeytim until the 17th Century / DR.R.S.Lissak

Eyn Zeytoun was Jewish Eyn Zeytim until the 17th Century / DR.Rivka Shpak Lissak

The ancient site of Jewish Eyn Zeytim is located west of Safed, not far from the ruins of Arabic Eyn Zeytoun. Jewish occupancy in Eyn Zeytim continued unbroken from the time of the Mishna and Talmud to the 17th or 18th century. It is not clear, however, at what date it was established nor at what date was it abandoned, and why. Nowadays it is used as a barracks of the Israeli Defense Forces.

The Roman Period (70 CE – 324 CE)

Eyn Zeytim was not mentioned in the Mishna or the Talmud, nor do we have information about the existence of a Jewish settlement there during Roman times. But we do know that Rabbi Yehiel from Paris visited Eyn Zeytim in 1235 (or 1260, according to another source) and reported visiting the grave of Rabbi Yehuda Ben Rabbi Il’ay. Rabbi Yehuda Ben Rabbi Il’ay was a contemporary of Rabbi Akiva who lived during the 2nd century CE, and if he was buried in Eyn Zeytim, it is likely that there was a Jewish settlement there at his time. Rabbi Yehiel mentioned also the graves of Rabbi Hanina and Rabbi Hanina Ben Dossa. There were several Talmudic scholars named Rabbi Hanina, and so we do not know exactly which one he meant, but we do know that Rabbi Hanina Ben Dossa was buried in Arav (modern Arabbe) and not in Eyn Zeytim.

The Arabic- Muslim Period (640 – 1099)

The village Eyn Zeytim is first mentioned in an 11th century document from the Cairo Genizah (Jewish archive) listing the Jewish communities in the environs of Safed. Pilgrims used to come to the place to visit the graves of pious persons.

The Crusader Period (1099 – 1260)

Rabbi Yehiel from Paris immigrated to Israel with his students towards the end of the Crusader period and settled in Acre, where he set up a Yeshiva. He toured the Galilee and visited many Jewish settlements, among them Eyn Zeytim. He died in 1267/8. A 13th century document from the Cairo Genizah mentions Se’adya Bar David Hazan from Eyn Zeytim.

The Mameluk Period (1260 – 1516)

During the 14th century Eyn Zeytim was visited by a student of the Ramban (Rabbi Moshe Ben Nahman from Spain). Rabbi Yitzhak Ben Alphara from the town of Malka visited Eyn Zeytim in 1441. According to him, Eyn Zeytim was included in the Sabbath Bounds of Safed.

A Jewish traveler from Candia (modern Crete) visited Eyn Zeytim in 1473 and tells of the grave of Elazar Ben Horkanus. A letter found in the Ganizah, dated 1507/1509 and addressed to the head of the Safed Yeshiva, recounts information given by Yishmael Bar of Damascus on his visit to Safed (it is possible he also visited Eyn Zeytim): He told the writer of the letter about the misdeeds of Rabbi Moshe Dayan of Kfar Yassif who was living in El Zeytoun and his student, the butcher. Yishmael heard from Yossef Sarkossi (possibly corruption of Sargossi) that “the butcher is not to be trusted in his slaughtering” (i.e., is not following the religious laws to the letter). Rabbi Yossef Ben Avraham Sargossi arrived in Israel at the end of the 15th century and was one of the sages of Safed. He died at the beginning of the 16th century and was probably buried in Eyn Zeytim.
During the Mameluk period the village got its Arabic name:Eyn Zeytoun
The Ottoman Period (1516 – 1918)

Evidence on Eyn Zeytim from the 16th Century:

Moshe Bassoula of Italy visited Eyn Zeytoun in 1522 and reported 40 Jewish families (altogether some 200 persons) living there, called “Mouriscs” (a Spanio-Italian name for Jews native to Israel who had never been exiled, and had adopted the Arabic language and life style. They were also called “Mousta’arbim”, but had never converted to Islam). Bassoula found 26 Torah scrolls there, and tells of almond and olive groves.

Another evidence that the Jewish village was still in existence in the 16th century includes a document dealing with the problems of the orphaned children of a deceased Eyn Zeytim resident named Reuben, whose house burned down and whose neighbours were preventing his children from rebuilding.

Rabbi Yissakhar Ben Mordekai Ibn Soussan immigrated to Israel from Morocco during the 16th century and served as head of the Mougrabbi (Moroccan-born Jews) community in Safed. In a book he wrote he described Pourim customs of the Jews of Biria and Eyn Zeytoun, adding that similar customs were observed by the Mousta’arbim.

The Ottoman tax list of 1555/6 lists 52 Jewish households and one blind man in Eyn Zeytim.

The 1557 “Book of Divorce” mentions Eyn Zeytim as one of the locations where Rabbi Moshe Cordobaro and his students assisted with divorce cases.

Rabbi Hayim Vittal wrote about his Hanukah visit to Eyn Zeytim in his “Visions Book” (Sefer Hahazonot), written in 1576/7.

Eyn Zeytim was home to a famous Yeshiva, according to a book written in 1575 by Moshe Ben Makhir, a resident of Eyn Zeytim, titled “Seder Hayom” (“The Agenda”).

In 1598, Rabbi Shlomo Mor David, one of Eyn Zeytim’s scholars who was also Ben Makhir’s son in law, went to Italy on behalf of the Yeshiva on a tour to raise funds for publishing the book and for the Yeshiva itself. The books of the Jewish community in the North Italian town of Cassal Monferato record donating 10 ducats a year for 3 years to the Yeshiva and for the book publication. The book was printed twice, in 1599 and 1605, by Mor David during his stay in Italy. Mor David may also be the author of an illuminated and annotated scroll, dated 1598, describing the holy places in the Land of Israel. Another evidence of Mor David’s Italian tour comes from Italian Jews who met him and donated Italian money for the Yeshiva, after hearing of its hardships.

Eyn Zeytim is also mentioned in Questions-and-Answers by Rabbi Tzahalon, published in 1593.

Evidence from the 17th Century:

In his book “Shear Yishuv”, Yitzhak Ben Zvi (the second president of the state of Israel) determined that Jewish occupancy in Eyn Zeytim ended in the 17th century. He based this on the testimony of Rabbi Shlomo Meinstril who toured the Galilee in 1607 and wrote that only ruined synagogues remain of Kfar Biri, Eyn Zeytim, and Meyron.

Rabbi Naftali Bakhrakh wrote in his book “The King’s Valley”, published in Amsterdam in 1648, that every Saturday several classes would walk to Eyn Zeytoun to pray in the old synagogue. It is not clear whether Jews were still living there then.

Evidence from the 18th and 19th Centuries on Eyn Zeytim

1768 – Eyn Zeytim mentioned in a list of holy places, as the site of several graves of Tzadikim (pious people) and a synagogue that was still standing.

1769 – Rabbi Moshe Yerushalmi immigrated to Israel and settled in Safed. He reported that the synagogue in Eyn Zeytoun housed one Torah scroll and was shut.

1822 – Rabbi David D’Beit Hillel visited the site and reported that the people of Safed were drawing water from the Eyn Zeytim spring.

1834 – During the revolt of the Druze peasants against Ibrahim Pasha, several Jews from Safed fled to Eyn Zeytim and hid from the Druze in the closed synagogue.

1844 – The author of “Love of Jerusalem” (“Hibbat Yerushalayim”) wrote that there were no Jews in Eyn Zeytoun, and that Gentiles who found the Torah scroll in the synagogue delivered it to Safed.

1876 – A testimony given by a Jewish person tells that there was formerly a Jewish settlement in Eyn Zeytim, and that the village was famous for its gardens, orchards, and olive groves.

In 1891, the “Association of the Thousand” from Minsk (Jews from Poland), assisted by representatives of the Baron Edmund de Rothschild, bought land in ancient Eyn Zeytim. Ten Jewish families settled in the place with the intention of establishing a Moshava for 1000 families. They planted orchards but its applications to the Ottoman government for a license to construct buildings were met with obstacles. Although the Havatzelet newspaper reported in 1894 that the Association had still not obtained its license, by 1895 four buildings were built, two of stone and two of wood. The settlers suffered from their isolation because of the great distance from the main road and other Jewish communities, but they lasted till World War I, when they were removed off their land by the Ottoman government.

The British Mandate Period (1918 – 1948)

After World War I the Moshava was rebuilt by some of the original settlers with a few new ones. They were forced to run away during the porgroms of 1929, against Jews. The Arabs destroyed the Moshava. The settlers returned in 1930 or 1931, and the British Mandate Census of 1931 lists 12 settlers and 4 houses. Eyn Zeytim was abandoned again during the bloody clashes of 1936(the Arabic revolt). The place was deserted until 1946.
The Kibbutz of Eyn Zeytim was established in 1946 by “Maginim” core group of the Palmah (the military arm of the precursor of the IDF) together with Hungarian immigrants of the Dror Habonnim stream of the United Kibbutzim movement.

The Palestinian Nakba web site does not mention the date the Arabic village of Eyn Zeytoun was established. According to the British Mandate Census, in 1931 there were 567 people living in 127 homes in the Arabic Eyn Zeytoun village.


During Israel’s War of Independence the Kibbutz suffered attacks and was bombarded by the neighboring Arab villages and Kaukji’s army. Due to the dangerous situation, the Yiftah brigade was based in the kibbutz and all the kibbutz’s children and some of their mothers were evacuated. The men and women who remained took part in defending the kibbutz alongside the Yiftah Brigade.
Members of Kaukji’s army were based in the Arabic village of Eyn Zeytoun, and the villagers participated in the fighting on Safed. The village was conquered by the Palmah on 1 May 1948 in preparation for the conquest of Safed. Its inhabitants fled and the village was destroyed.

The kibbutz was badly damaged and its members could not overcome the crisis as many members left. Although new people were sent to strengthen it, the kibbutz did not recover and was abandoned in 1952. Jewish immigrants settled in the village in 1955 but it too did not survive.

A Youth Corps farm was set up in its place and today Eyn Zeitim serves as an IDF military camp.

A caravan park operates north of Eyn Zeytim, and a monument has been set up outside Eyn Zeytim to commemorate fallen soldiers of the Armoured Brigade that was stationed in the Eyn Zeytim camp on the eve of the Six Days War.

According to Palestinian sources (the Nakba web site and the Haifa-Arabic- Research Center) a massacre took place when the Zionist forces conquered Eyn Zeytoun and 70 chained war prisoners were killed.

3 Israeli soldiers, who participated in the conquest of the village tell their story:
Abraham Yacobson: the villagers fled because of the bombing of the village.

Avinoam Hadash: a day after the village was conquered a group of Eyn Zeytoun villagers were captured and held as hostages because Arabs attacked the neighboring Jewish village of Ramoth Naftali. Latter, the Palmah unit was ordered to kill the war prisoners. They refused and took them to a military base. 10 of the prisoners were killed by the Jewish unit that defended Sefad as a revenge after the Arabs tortured and killed a Jewish war prisoner. Hadash did not know what happened to the rest of the group.

Netiva Ben Yeuda wrote in her book on the war that finely, the war prisoners were killed and their bodies were thrown into a wadi. She testified that they were chained.

During the war of independence both sides did not take prisoners. The Arabs killed the soldiers and civilians they captured and the Israeli army expelled them out of the country. But, there were a few cases when Jewish soldiers killed Arab war prisoners, as revenge for torturing and killing their friends. These cases were the exception and what happened to the Eyn Zeytoun prisoners was one of them.

The Jewish number of the victims of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict from 1919 until 2009 is more than 22,000. According to the human rights organization Betzelem, about 7,000 Palestinians were killed by the IDF, most of them terrorists, and 1,300 were killed during the Gaza war.

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