The clock of the doors is identical to the candle clock of the monkey in terms of its mechanism and does not warrant a separate post. Just like the old joke about “The Elephant and the Jewish Question,” the clock of the doors has nothing to do with Jews, which are not mentioned in the “The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices” even once. The phrase “The Elephant and the Jewish Question” is usually used to describe an annoying person who tries to link any event, however universal, to the Jewish people and their problems. I hope I’m not one of them, and I don’t have any convincing reason why I went out to check what we know about the Jews of Diyarbakır and Anatolia in the 12th Century. However, what I discovered is strange and exciting, and maybe it will interest you too.
How does it work?
Al-Jazari himself wrote:
” It is like the previous model, from which nothing is omitted except the keeper and the monkey. The additions are as follows: around the perimeter of the candle holder, fourteen doors are erected, each with two leaves. When a constant hour has passed from the lighting of the wick, a ball falls from the falcon’s beak, and the door opposite the falcon opens, and a figure emerges, [made] according to the choice of the craftsman.”
During combustion, the candle will shorten, and the force exerted by the weight will push the candle mount upwards at a constant rate that depends on the rate of combustion. To the bottom of the weight is attached another wire that runs over the pulley on which the bracket sits with 14 doors. These rotate as the candle burns. When the ball falls, it pushes the figure who opens a door and represents the time that has passed. This process repeats itself every hour.
The Jews in the 12th Century
The history of the Jewish people in the 12th Century is not similar in Ashkenazi communities and Muslim Spain. In Europe, the 12th Century began with the Rhineland massacres, a series of mass murders of Jews perpetrated by mobs of the People’s Crusade in 1096. The communities on the Rhine (Speyer, Worms, and Mainz) were destroyed. In 1146, in a repeat of the events of 1096, Crusaders preparing for the Second Crusade attacked and massacred Jewish communities along the Rhine. The 12th Century more or less ended with One of the worst Jews massacres of the Middle Ages, which took place in York in 1190. An angry mob trapped the city’s entire Jewish community inside the tower of York Castle. Many members of the community chose to commit suicide rather than be murdered or forcibly baptized by the attackers.
In Spain, on the other hand, Jewish people under Muslim rule experienced tolerance and integration. Some historians refer to this period as the “Golden Age” for the Jews, as more opportunities became available to them. That lasted from the days of the Caliphate of Cordoba to the small independent Muslim principalities and kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula known as “taifas” and the process of the reconquest of Spain by the Christians. Social integration allowed Jews to advance significantly in new fields, philosophy and science. Some of them wrote poetry, primarily Hebrew poetry. They wrote about everything: poems about Zion and the people of Israel, but also poems about wine and women. I don’t think there’s a connection between the cultural flourishing in Diyarbakır and the Jewish flourishing in Muslim Spain, but it’s still intriguing. The Golden Age began in the 9th Century and ended in the 13th Century, but some of the more familiar figures were almost parallel to al-Jazari. For example, Maimonides was born in Cordoba in 1138, two years after al-Jazari, and died in Cairo in 1204, two years before him. Maimonides is a true polymath: one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of all generations, as well as a prominent philosopher of the Middle Ages, a scientist, and a physician. In his thirst for wisdom, he formed a study group and a friendship with Jabir ibn Aflah (a Muslim scholar) ‘s son, and they studied mathematics, medicine, and philosophy together. This must sound strange to those who live in Israel today and are familiar with the ultra-Orthodox opposition to secular studies. The “Kuzari” book, ” Book of Refutation and Proof on Behalf of the Despised Religion,” which I still managed to study in high school, was written by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi in this Century, and I must mention Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra, a 12-century poet, linguist, biblical commentator, and philosopher. He also worked in mathematics and astronomy. One of the lunar craters is named after him. Ibn Ezra’s most important mathematical work is in Hebrew: “The Book of the Unit,” which deals extensively with the decimal system and how it is used, thus preceding Fibonacci, the main contributor to the spread of this method in the Western world.
Did al-Jazari know the books they wrote or even heard about them? It is impossible to know, but the likelihood is extremely low.
Jews in Diyarbakır
In 1518, the Ottoman government conducted a census. There were 28 Jewish families and three single men in Diyarbakır. These are the first definitive data we have. After that, a continuous Jewish presence peaked in 1905, but apparently, the presence of Jews in Anatolia predates the Muslim conquest. According to traditions held by the Jews of Kurdistan, the Jews arrived in Kurdistan as early as the Salomon’s Temple period and are descendants of the Ten Tribes. As written in the book of Kings:
” In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away unto Assyria, and placed them in Halah, and in Habor, on the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.”
Although we do not have a complete geographical identification, the name “Habur” has been preserved to this day as one of the Tigris tributaries located near the city of Zaxo (Arabic: زاخو), about 300 km from Diyarbakir. Later exiles to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon from the Kingdom of Judah, joined them. So it is very likely that there were Jews in Diyarbakir in al-Jazari’s day.
The Strange Story of David Alroy
Alroy was born a year before al-Jazari in Amadiya, Kurdistan. At first, I was confused because the historical name of Diyarbakır is Amida, but these are two different cities. Amadiya is located in northern Iraq, about 400 km southeast of Diyarbakir. David Alroy studied rabbinical literature with Hasdai, the exilarch, the leader of the Jewish community in Persian Mesopotamia, and Ali Gaon, the head of the Sanhedrin, an assembly of elders appointed to sit as a tribunal in Baghdad. There is a claim that he was also well-versed in all the Books of Magic and sorcerers. I’m not sure what books are included, but it’s a bit like Chekhov’s gun, which appears in the first act, firing in the third. I have already mentioned Benjamin of Tudela, and not for the better. He wrote:
” David Alroy took upon him to rebel against the King of Persia [in 1163] ; for which purpose he gathered together all the Jews on the Mountains of Haphton, and from other Nations, to go to lay Siege to Jerusalem A great Part therefore of the Jews had Faith in; him, calling, him their Messiah. As soon as the King of Persia heard of this Matter, he commanded him to be brought before him. The King asked him: “Are thou the King of the Jews?” He answered and said, “I am,” The King then called to his Guards, and commanded him immediately to be apprehended, and led away to prison in the City of Dabastan. Three Days after this, as the King was sitting together with his Princes and Chief Minitiers, deliberating about the Jew Rebellion, behold David, having made his Escape from prison and approached and stood before him. The King looked at him and enquired, “Who brought thee hither?” He answered: “My own wisdom, and my own Subtilty because I fear neither thee nor any of thy Servants.” At which the King cried out: “Seize him!” But his servants said: “We see him not, but only hear the sound of his voice.”
Alroy then crosses the river on his handkerchief, and the King’s servants are unable to catch him in their boats. The King threatened to kill all the Jews in his kingdom. The frightened Jewish community threatened Alroy with a total exclusion from the Jewish community (“HEREM”). “In the end, David Alroy was killed in his bed while sleeping.
The story has legendary elements (seeing and not being seen, walking on water) absent in the description of Alroy’s contemporary, Al-Samawʾal ibn Yaḥyā al-Maghribi, who converted to Islam. To me, comparing the stories is less important than the passage describing the Baghdad Jews’ yearning for redemption:
“In this letter [a letter that two men forged in the name of David Alroy], they announce to the Jews of Baghdad the coming of the redemption they have been waiting for generations, in which they determine the night when they will all fly to Jerusalem, the holy city. Although the Jews of Baghdad were proud of their wisdom and strength of mind, they nevertheless tended to believe in this thing. Their wives brought all their possessions and jewelry to these two men so that they could divide all the property as they saw fit. In this way, the Jews wasted all their possessions. They wore green clothes and gathered that night on the rooftops of the houses, eagerly awaiting the moment when they would fly on the angels’ wings straight to Jerusalem. The women raised their voices in tears because they feared that they themselves would fly first before their children or the babies they were breastfeeding, and then these babies would suffer hunger.”
It is pretty clear that the Crusades and the instability in Palestine and nearby countries resonated strongly with some Eastern Jews, who saw them as precursors of redemption. The fantastic picture of the preparations for the flight and the heartbreak of the morning after also appear in other sources. Was all this commotion the talk of the day in Diyarbakir? This time not in distant Cordoba but in neighboring Amadiya,? We don’t know; even if it did, it must have been a minor event in al-Jazari’s world.