Beit Wittenberg in Rechov HaGai,
The Old City of Jerusalem, Summary of the Historical Review
The Purchase of the property by Reb Moshe Wittenberg
Reb Moshe Wittenberg made Aliyah in 1882, from the town of Wietebsk, in Belorussia. He was 60 years old at the time, but unlike other Jews who came to Eretz Yisrael in order to finish their life here, he came with the intention to live here, build the land and earn his living in Jerusalem.
As soon as he came to Jerusalem, he started to look for a large property in the Old City in order to purchase it. He brought from Russia the estimated sum of half a million Rubles, an enormous sum those days.
It took him two years and exhausting negotiations to find what he looked for, due to the fact that after he located the property – two adjacent homes, and started to negotiate the Christian-Arab owner, the Latin Catholic convent bypassed him and bought the homes in favor of the church. Only after investing great efforts, intensive lobbying and using connections they had to the convent’s interpreter, and while paying huge amounts of “Bakshish” – did Reb Moshe succeed in acquiring back the homes, while adding to the price 500 Ruble to the convent and at least the same to the convent’s interpreter.
Using his connections, Reb Moshe negotiated with the Latin Patriarch directly, but since the latter spoke only French, in which Reb Moshe had no knowledge – he needed an interpreter to assist him, and hired Eliezer Ben Yehuda (the Reviver of Hebrew) for that purpose. At the end, Ben Yehuda refused to be paid, stating that he saw the cooperation with religious Jews and the redemption of the homes as his reward.
The complex contained approximately 20 apartments, populated later by Chabad Hassidim who came on Aliyah. Inside the courtyard Reb Moshe established a synagogue called Ezrat Nashim, where all the residents and their Jewish neighbors prayed.
Since Reb Moshe had no children, he feared that after his death the homes, together with the rest of his properties, would be transfere into ownership of the Turkish authorities, as was the Turkish law. His relatives convinced him that instead he had to consecrate his properties. (Make a Hekdesh, in Arabic: Wakf). That could be arranged only at the Sharai (Moslem) court. Reb Moshe paid the high fees he was demanded, and arranged all the consecration registration and documents.
Reb Moshe died on Nissan 18, 1899, and was buried in the cemetery of Chabad Chassidim in Jerusalem.
The Jewish Settlement in the Compound and the abandonment Due to the Arab riots
The Jews left the complex by the beginning of the First World War, due to hardships and severe famine caused by the war. They returned at the beginning of the British mandate.
In 1920, The Arabs of Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalen started rioting when gathered for the celebrations of “Nebi Mussah”, and the Jews living in the property protected it with their bodies, not letting in the rioters who were almost breaking the doors. The “Hagana” reinforcement reached them only after the riots. Similar riots continued, by recurrent eruptions, until 1939.
In 1929 – the “Hagana” people were ready to face the coming riots and put up a permanent guarding post, manned by 6 people and commanded by Mordechai Galili. This did not work out and all the residents had to leave and together with their guards were transferred by the British Police to the Jewish Quarter.