Peqiin,Galilee,Jewish Presence in the village from the Second Temple to Modern Day/ DR.Rivka Shpak Lissak

Margalit Zeynatti is the last remnant of the original inhabitants of the Jewish village of Peqiin; During the British Mandate period there were still 52 Jews in the village.

The village Peqiin is situated in the upper Galilee. It was mentioned by its ancient name, Tekoa, in the Talmud. In the book Hazohar (the book of Kabbalah), it was called Peqiin, and the Arabs translated it into Al-Buquiya.The meaning of the name is: a valley between mountains.

About 5,000 people live in Peqiin, 70% of them are Druze, 28% are Christians, 2% are Muslims and one Jewess. The village has a Hallawa (a holy place for Druze), a Greek-Catholic church, a Greek- Orthodox church and an ancient synagogue. Two famous rabbis, Yeoshua Ben Hannania and Yossi of Peqiin are buried in the village.

The village Peqiin was the site of severe violent events during October 2007, following which 7 Jewish families left the village after settling in it in recent years. These families had joined 2 Jews who had been living in Peqiin for many years. Following the riots, all Jewish families left the village, and the last Jew to live in the village is Mrs. Margalit Zeynatti, who looks after the ancient synagogue in Peqiin.

The Second Temple Period (538 BCE – 70 CE)

Peqiin was established during the Second Temple Period. Josephus Plavius mentioned the village in his book "The Jewish Wars". The synagogue is a testament to the ancient Jewish village of Peqiin, which began during the Second Temple period. The ancient synagogue in Peqiin was built after the Temple was destroyed .After the destruction of the Second Temple, families of Temple priests fled to the Galilee, and several refugees from Jerusalem, including Rabbi Yossef, settled in Peki’in.

Jewish sources (Rabbinical literature, Talmudic Midrash Rabba) tell how Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai and his son Rabbi Eliezer hid in a cave near Peqiin during the Bar Kokhba revolt (132 – 135 CE). They are said to have lived in the cave for 13 years, but other sources question this.

The Arabic-Muslim (640 – 1099), the Crusaders Period (1099- 1260) and the Mameluke Period (1260 – 1516)

There is almost no information about Peqiin during the Arabic- Muslim occupation. There are two versions on the period of the Arab- Muslim settlement in the village. According to one version they arrived shortly before the end of the 11th century, but according to another version they came only in the 18th century. Since many Arabs fled the country following the massacres by the Crusaders who took over the country in 1099, it is more likely that the Muslims settled in Peqiin in the 18th century by invitation of the Ottmans.
The population of Peqiin was all Jewish until the 14th century, when, following the crusades, Christians began to settle in the village. The village is mentioned by the name Bokehel in a record from 1220, as being part of the jurisdiction of the king's fortress of Mahiylia. There are also two versions about the period of the settlement of the Druze in the village. According to the Druze themselves they came in the 14th century, but according to a member of a Jewish ancient inhabitant, Ilan Thoma, they came shortly before the end of the 18th century.

The Ottoman Period (1516 – 1918 )

The Jewish traveler Moshe Bassulla arrived in Israel in 1522, and visited Peqiin which was then called “Buquiya” in Arabic. In his book, Bassulla mentions Jewish farmers from Peqiin. Jews fared badly under Ottoman rule. They were heavily taxed by the rulers, and those who could not pay were either thrown into jail, with slim chances of survival, or lost their land. Their fear of the Ottoman rule drove many Jewish landholders to give up their land. Some sold their plots, while others listed their land as owned by their Druze neighbors.

According to the 16th century Ottoman Tax Payer list, there were between 33 and 45 Jewish families in Peqiin during that time. Simchah Ben Yehoshua, who visited Peqiin in 1756, tells of 50 Jewish families. Hassidic Jews who left Tiberias and Saffed, settled in Peqiin in 1781. In 1824 there were about 20 Jewish families in the village, engaged in farming. Jews from Ashkenaz (corresponding roughly to today’s Germany and Alsace) settled in Peqiin in 1837, but left shortly after, following the great earth quake and epidemic that devastated the area. The ancient synagogue which was built of wood and clay, was badly hit during the great earth quake and the two earth quakes that followed. Its roof collapsed and the building itself was severely damaged. At the end of the 19th century, there were 17 Jewish families in Peqiin, numbering between 85 and 102 people (based on an estimate of 5 or 6 persons per family).

Peqiin was not the only Jewish village in the area during the 17th and 18th centuries, and before. There were other Jewish villages neighboring it, but those were gradually abandoned as a result of the heavy taxes imposed by the Ottomans.

The construction of a new synagogue was completed in 1873. This synagogue was built on the ruins of the ancient synagogue, which was itself built on the remains of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Hannania’s school. According to a local tradition, stones from the Temple were brought to the ancient synagogue, carved with images of the Menorah, citrus, and palm frond, as well a Temple gate.
According to Illan Thoma, a descendent of the Thoma-Cohen family (a family which has survived since the Second Temple period).The construction of the new synagogue was initiated and funded by Rephael Halevy, a wealthy Jew from Beirut, as attested by an inscription on the synagogue’s doorpost. The Stones were put on their side in the new building, but were covered with plaster to prevent their pilfering.

Archaeologists who examined the building between 1926 and 1931 concluded that these were not stones from the Second Temple, but two ancient stone slabs that remained from the ancient synagogue. According to their report, one of the slabs is carved with a relief of the Ark, and the other with a Menorah, a palm frond, a ram’s horn (Shofar) and coalpan.

In addition to the synagogue, there are two Jewish cemeteries near the Eastern entrance to Peqiin. Remains of the ancient ritual Baths are found under the building of the Jewish School which was established in 1926. The water for the Baths came from the village spring.

During World War I, most of the Jewish men from Peqiin fled to the mountains following the Ottoman Government’s decree to draft them into labor for the Turkish army.

The British Mandate Period (1918- 1948)

According to the book "The Galile" the Jews of Peqiin in the 1920s' were
Dressed like Arabs, and adopted the Arabic life style. A 1922 list of the Jewish population of Peqiin, filed in the Zionist Archive, lists 13 families from the village. Many of these families were related by marriage. Families listed include: Avraham Nekivelli, Shlomo Nekivelli, Makhlouf Dahan, Yossef Tomma, Yossef Thoma-Cohen (Illan Thoma-Cohen’s grandfather), Shlomo Oody ,Yitzhak Oody [AVADI?], Avraham Oody, the widow Rachel Oody, Shaul Zeynatti (Margalit Zeynatti’s grandfather), Yossef Zeynatti, Eliyahu Mizrahi, and Moshe Mizrahi. The Tomma family’s history is told in Yehuda Ariel’s book, “From Akre to Rosh Hanikra”.

Illan Thoma says, that historically the various ethnic- religious groups in the village enjoyed good relations, and that the Jews were treated with respect for being the oldest occupants of the village.

Things changed in 1929, when the Arab riots against the Jews erupted. Arab gangs reached the village, intending to massacre its Jewish occupants. The Druze village leader, the Mukhtar Abdalla Hayer, prevented them from entering the village. He patrolled the village at night to protect the Jews. The Arab residents of Peqiin did not join the gangs, who came from neighboring villages. Some of them, however, were related to members of these gangs, and so there was considerable tension in the village.

According to the census held by the British in 1931, the population of Peqiin was made up of 412 Druze, 264 Christians, 71 Muslims, and 52 Jews. Illan Thoma claims that there were more Jews in the village, who were not counted as they were absent due to work in the fields.

When the Arab Revolt erupted in 1936, the Jews of Peqiin decided that the village was no longer safe, and many of them sent their children to stay with relatives in Haifa, Tiberias, and Migdal. In 1938 the situation worsened, several families left immediately, and by May that year the last 6 Jewish families left Peqiin. They spent two weeks in Nahariya, and in July 1938 the Jewish National Committee moved them to Haifa. Two months later they moved to Hadera.

It is important to mention that throughout the Arab Revolt (1936 – 1939), the village Jews returned to Peqiin several times a year for short periods to tend their lands. On one of these occasions, when members of the Thoma family arrived in the village to work on their land, their Druze neighbor, Nouryah Bakriyeh warned them that gangs are on their way to the village and offered her home as shelter. When the gangs arrived, they pillaged the synagogue and Jewish homes, and destroyed whatever they could not carry.

They then tried to force their entry into Nouryah’s home after a Druze neighbor informed them she was sheltering Jews. Nouryah opened the door after hiding the Thoma family members and so the gangsters did not find them. While the house was being searched, Illan Thoma’s mother, who was a little girl at the time, began to whimper. To silence her, her grandmother covered her face with her hand until the girl fainted. The gangsters left, and no Jewish families tried to work in Peqiin until the end of the Arab Revolt.

When the Revolt ended, those families that wanted to return required financial support to rebuild their ruined homes and make ends meet. With the support of the National Committee, 5 families returned: 3 families of the Zeynatti clan and 2 families of the Nekivelli clan. According to a 1940 list of the National Committee, 15 families are listed as originating from Peqiin.


Shortly before the Independence war (1948) four of the families left Peqiin. Two weeks later the Zeynatti family left as well. All five families returned after the Galilee was liberated. During the 1950’s, promoted by Israel’s second president, Yitzhak Ben Zvi, the synagogue was renovated.

The village New Peqiin was established in 1955, but only two families from ancient Peqiin joined it.Yehuda Ariel, grandson of Yossef Avraham Thoma HaCohen, tells that his grandfather, who was the last community leader of the Jews of Peqiin, welcomed President Yitzhak Ben Zvi at the opening ceremony of the new village.

Another grandson of Yossef Avraham Tomma HaCohen, Ilan, left Peqiin recently. Today, 76 year old Margalit Zeynatti, is the last of the Jewish residents of Peqiin.

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