Tiberias

This Town on the shores of the Kinnereth - Sea of Galilee - has been mentioned on several occasions because it is at the heart of what could be seen as the Family's part in a late Middle-Ages attempt to establish a Jewish entity in the Holy Land,
an act of deliberate political policy, by rebuilding the Town of Tiberias as a Jewish community, self-supporting and autonomous. After about one hundred years the dream finally dissipated, a Druze chieftan over-ran the land and we had to wait another few years......


The dream was that of Donna Grazia, a Portuguese conversa probably of Spanish origins, the richest woman in the world in her day, who had become an integral part of the Sultan's Court at Constantinople and who, in the 1520's-1530's, invested a great deal of money and effort in the settlement of Sages in the neighbouring hill-top city of Tzfat, - home of the Kabbalah and the Zohar, - and in several small villages thereabouts.


She herself thought to find her final resting place next to her late Husband in Jerusalem. The Tiberias "project " was geared to provide respite for persecuted Jews in Europe and particularly at that time from Southern France.


Together with her nephew and son-in-law, Don Joseph Nasi, almost as wealthy and influential as she and now living in Constantinople too, - (with his funds mainly from Europe), - they played politics on a major stage.


The overall project was backed by a land-grant of the town itself and areas round about which included 7 "Jewish " villages already thriving, and based economically on Tzfat. The grant was made by Sultan Selim the Magnificent confirmed by his son Sultan Murad, - and purportedly for all time at a rent of 1,000 ducats a year increasing ten-fold after 10 years.


"By 1561 there was already a nucleus of settled Jewish population in Tiberias, with synagogue and scholars, who looked upon Donna Grazia as their patron, but there were already rumours of a more grandiose plan associated with the name of Don Joseph Nasi, " - the rebuilding of Tiberias itself.


Tiberias, as a site, was a total wreck at that time. The ruins of the old Town had a terrible reputation as being infested by fleas and snakes, - prompting a French diplomat to report to Paris that he feared the town would soon be occupied by even more dangerous vipers " - (that's us).


And the Arabs had a saying that "The King of Fleas holds his Court at Tiberias " - so bad was it there in those good old days !


The attempt went well but was eventually wiped out at the hands of a local Druse Chieftain who by force of arms raised against the Sultan in the 18th century became the next Lord and Master of the whole area.


Don Joseph Nasi was also Portuguese-born, (1524 - 1579), a secret Jew who returned totally to the "bosom of Abraham " in 1554. The timing of this was prompted not a little by Donna Grazia's demand of him that he become circumcised as a condition for marrying her niece, Reina, (who lived until 1597). He too settled finally and very comfortably in Constantinople in 1553. His permanent secretary and general factotum sent to supervise the building works at Tiberias was one Joseph Ben Ardut.


Our now minor historically-famous relative was then living at Constantinople too and was apparently paid directly by the Sultan for his supervisory work at Tiberias, so appreciated was he himself in Court circles. He was even granted a personal Firman authorizing all his actions on the shores of that famous Sea.


He carried out the building works over the years 1563-1566 and supervised the introduction of silk production and wool industries to support the population, with wool being imported from Spain itself in addition, contributing much to the establishment of what was for a time, quite a flourishing Community.


All this can be found on many web-sites as also in Dr. Cecil Roth's fascinating book "The House of Nasi - The Duke of Naxos (1948 The Jewish Publication Society of America - page 108). The Duke was of course Joseph Nasi, - not his factotum. There are specific references there to Joseph Ibn Ardut but also to his own converso surname - Pomar (Fumar).


Regarding this, see Rabbi Moshe Tirani's Responsa brought in the chapter : "Spain Before the Expulsions " and upon whom reliance is placed by many.


The original historical source for this tale is a chronicle written by a 16th century Italian chronicler named Joseph HaCohen. It seems clear that the chronicler was not Joseph HaCohen Ben Ardut himself under a slightly different name, since the former was a well-known Doctor of medicine and historian who included this section in an overall history of our People, - and anyway lived in Genoa.


The chronicle is called "The Vale of Tears " and the name given there for our hero is: R. Joseph Ardut, - Adret - Ibn Ardut, - slightly differently in different places throughout the text. What a terrible habit !! But this thereby becomes a reasonable authority to conclude as in other places and at other times that all these names were one and the same since at least here they all indeed relate to the same person - that was then the accepted system.


See also -
Article by Y. Berslavski in Hebrew published in Zion / ציון copy; 1939 Historical Society of Israel/החברה ההיסטורית הישראלית Vol. חמישית, חוברת א׳, תשר״י ת "ש Pages 45 - 72 in which reference is made to Tiberias at the period "prior to the coming of R' Yossef Ben Ardut, and pointing out, as we have already mentioned, that there was already a Jewish Settlement in Tiberias and thereabouts.


According to another book published in those same days by a cousin of Don Joseph Nasi, our ancestor's duties at Tiberias were performed by one "Joseph Ben Aderet "- (a third version of the name), the job description and details given of his salary as paid by the Sultan are identical.


Notice the positioning of the "r (resh) " in the names here, the use of the Hebrew name, - already then laying down trouble for us.


But as by all accounts it is the same man, the same historical character, why are the different versions of the name still insisted upon by writers of history ? Could it just be that they simply err in spelling or understanding, - (as most of us know only too well) ? Or was "Aderet ", for example, the deliberate choice of a name in pure Hebrew in preference to the one brought from what was by then wholly-Christianised Iberia ?


Even worse,- in the records and on the web-site of the Tiberias Municipality today, the name appears in Hebrew as Joseph Ibn Ardayet, (יוסף איבן ארדייט) where at least the "r (resh) " is in the right place !! One can only guess that this version came from local Arabic dialect or was possibly transliterated from the Firman itself. And if at the time the three different names of Ardut, Adret and Aderet were already firmly established in Constantinople, should we be surprised at finding a fourth one at Tiberias ?


I would suggest that in those days, 450 years ago, and way outside the Metropolis, the heart of the Ottoman Empire, they would have preferred to rely on and to transliterate from the local Arabic dialect. Whatever, - but thus does confusion reign !


This fourth name, with its frankly peculiar Hebrew spelling (transliterated by your collator), and as adopted today by the Municipality, has so far been found in only one authority and a very weak one at that : a very simple chronological appendix to one single Article published by Yizahar Hirshfeld on Tiberias in Ancient Times, - the Greek and Roman periods up to Byzantium. And it is brought by him without any authority or reference.


How the real-time Hebrew authorities from the 16th century were overlooked by that modern author when preparing his appendix is not for me to say. But you can choose for yourselves how much weight to give to this unusual version of the name. Approaches to Tiberias Museum have produced nothing, - the idea that they might be holding the original Firman was met with peals of laughter and cries of "If only it were so !! ".


And just to make it worse, Joseph appears today in some of Israel's school-books as Ibn Arditi, possibly due to an ignorant simplification of Ardayet, simple ignorance or just careless research, but nonetheless adding only doubt and confusion. This fifth usage has so far been found only in one Article on the Tiberias project written in Hebrew for Israel's Ministry of Education by a student - and with the greatest of respect, that cannot compare to the real-time authorities, - again ignored.


The name Arditi is very well known in modern Israel but Ardut hardly heard of. It needs to be clarified whether there was any historical basis at all for the use of Arditi in this connection ; the author of that Article was approached but did not respond.
It can nonetheless be properly suggested here that its use is simply the product of carelessness for if at all, surely Tiberias's own local form of Ardayet should have been used and not the Arditi name ? And again, the Hebrew 16th century real-time sources have clearly been ignored altogether.


One cannot entirely ignore the possibility that our Hero himself thought that the more Italian version of his surname, - (which Arditi might well have seemed to have been), - would help him working in Tiberias and the Galilee amongst the small Christian community there for example, since in those days any distinction between our two Families may not have been that apparent.


For indeed his Patron, Don Joseph Nasi, had spent many years in Italy and had made much money there and Joseph Ben Ardut might well have been with him and adapted to Italian culture. But alas, - no mention has been found as to when he joined his master as Secretary.


As to the town-building project itself, - the first and most important construction was of the wall along the three land-sides to the Town. This was done along the route set by Ben Ardut, partly on the foundations of the Crusader wall. The wall as it stands today is known as the "Turkish Wall " since it was itself rebuilt in the 18th century after a severe earthquake in 1759 and restored again after another quake in 1837.


Jews reached the renewed Tiberias from France and Italy - (please note, in connection with the name), - countries where the Church was being particularly unpleasant to them, in part due to Don Joseph Nasi's own declared War against their rulers for this reason and that, - religion and trade. Nasi, as the Duke of Naxos, had control of the islands of the Eastern Mediterranean, including Cyprus, and was playing serious politics throughout the whole region.


Ben Ardut carried out the program of introducing Mulberry trees so as to develop the silk industry as also sheep to produce the wool. The declared intention of Donna Grazia and Don Joseph Nasi was to openly compete with and actively damage the Venetian clothing trade based as it was upon those two commodities. The Lady was herself a very snappy dresser by all historical account and presumably had a good practical knowledge of the Venetian trade and knew how best to harm it.


Historians comment that the longer established Jews of Tiberias's surrounding area, the seven villages, were occupied with fishing and agriculture, - as well as in the study of Holy Writ.


During the early stages of the building works, the local Sherif called for a strike by local workers, for although they had no difficulty living happily with the Sages and students of the Torah, they were not prepared for the political act of Jewish settlement proper. Sound familiar to anyone ?


Ben Ardut promptly applied to the Pasha at Damascus for his intervention, relying on the Sultan's Firman of course. The Sherif and one other were hanged and the workers went back to work.


One project which was not fully developed at that time, mainly due to Donna Grazia's untimely death at Constantinople in 1569, was the full exploitation of the Health Springs, for which Tiberias was already famous from Roman times and as it is even more so today.


As a side-note to History, it is recorded that James Malcolm, who assisted in the drafting and organization of the issue of the Balfour Declaration during the First World War, (1917 - the political basis for the modern Jewish Settlement in the Holy Land), wrote to Lord Peel who headed the Peel Commission later charged with finding a way out for the British Government from the political mess that the Balfour Declaration had got them into, - pointing out to him that Britain was not the first Nation to encourage the Return of the Jews to the Holy Land but that the Turks had predated them by several hundred years. - i.e., during the Middle Ages.


No less interesting to note however, (
Albert Hyamson : British Projects for the Restoration of Jews in Palestine), that Moses Montefiore, in 1838, raised a project based on the Town of Tzfat, very similar to that executed by our Family member in Tiberias and its surroundings but which, for internal political reasons within the Ottoman Government, he was unable to progress. On a return visit in 1855, two small agricultural settlements were established by him, one of them close to Tzfat, the other to Tiberias, but both failed quickly and were abandoned.


It would be fascinating to learn whether James Malcolm recorded the results of his own historical research on this. The answers would probably be deep in the UK National Archives and the Imperial War Museum papers.


Nothing has yet been learnt of Joseph Ben Ardut's eventual fate, - he seems rather to have flitted across the page but, - there is a sequel which I have at last been able to follow up. A few years after the Tiberias project, a man now known only under an acknowledged alias of "Reuven " whom Don Yossef Nasi had taken from his "very lowly estate " and given every opportunity as well as his trust, appointing him to high office, a man who acted as his aide, - subsequently defrauded and betrayed his Master and was banished by the Rabbis to linger on at Rhodes, (not such a terrible fate, you might think).


But from a book by Nathan Koren, [Jewish Physicians - a Biological Index, Israel Universities Press 1973], one learns of a certain "David of Toledo ", known as Johannes Hispanus, who had indeed intrigued against Don Yossef Nasi, been banished by the Rabbinical Court and expelled by Sultan Selim II, - so it would seem that the villian, the ingrate, was not our man at all.

The Lord be praised !!
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