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Mordechai Weingarten (Hebrew: מרדכי ויינגרטן‎; 1896-1964) was a Jewish community leader in Jerusalem during the British Mandate.

Mordechai Weingarten and Abdullah el Tell in Jerusalem, 28 May 1948

Mordechai Weingarten, a resident of the Old City of Jerusalem, was the mukhtar of the Jewish Quarter from 1935 to 1948.[1] His family had lived in the courtyard of the Ohr ha-Chaim Synagogue, on the way to the Armenian Quarter, for five generations.[2] His wife's family arrived in the city from Lithuania in 1740, they were the first Ashkenazi Jews to settle in the Jewish Quarter. Weingarten's own family moved to the Old City in 1813.[3]

As mukhtar of the Jewish Quarter he was responsible for the distribution of funding from the Jewish Agency, which by 1948 amounted to £5,000 per month.[4][5] He maintained an office in the New City and worked closely with the Agency and the Haganah. He provided written assurances to the British authorities that the Haganah commander in the Old City, Abraham Halperin, was a male nurse thus allowing him to take up his post in the Jewish Quarter. On several occasions the eldest of Weingarten's five daughters, Yehudit, was used to smuggle weapons into the Quarter some of which were stored in the family home.[6]

Weingarten's daughters.

As the situation deteriorated at the end of 1947, Weingarten advocated co-operation with the British authorities and opposed the Haganah's presence in the Old City. His relationship with the Jewish Agency broke down in February 1948, when the Haganah took charge of food distribution in the Jewish Quarter. Some weeks later Weingarten was apparently involved in the arrest by the British of Abraham Halperin, who was returned to the New City.[7][8]

On May 13, 1948, as the British Army left Jerusalem, a major from the Suffolk Regiment presented Weingarten with the key for the Zion Gate.[9][10] With the British soldiers' departure, Haganah forces began occupying parts of the Armenian Quarter. That night, after a long meeting with the Armenian Patriarch, Guregh II Israelian, Weingarten insisted that the Haganah withdraw, on condition that the Armenians prevented their properties being used for attacks on the Jewish Quarter.[11]

Fifteen days later, on Friday May 28, with the Jewish Quarter completely cut off, Weingarten and a Haganah representative met Abdullah el Tell, the local commander of the Arab Legion, to discuss surrender terms.[12][13][14][15][16] Under the surrender terms 'all men capable of bearing arms, were to be made prisoners of war. Weingarten 'succeeded in rescuing some fifty to sixty men'[17] and insisted on accompanying the 340 POWs to Transjordan.[18][19][20] The total number of Jews killed during the fighting for the Jewish Quarter was 39 combatants and 30 residents.[21]

On his return to 'New Jerusalem' on June 7 he was put under house arrest. Despite this, on July 9, he was chosen to meet Abdullah el Tell, now the Jordanian Military Commander of the Old City, to discuss the release of the prisoners taken in the Jewish Quarter, the burial of bodies left in the Quarter, and the rescue of any Scrolls of the Law that had survived. On August 17 he appeared before a commission investigating events in the Old City. His evidence was critical of the Haganah's actions, describing "complete confusion during the last week of fighting, with no military effort to maintain contact with the civilians."[22][23]

External linksEdit


  1. ^ Zion Gate: The Big Key
  2. ^ Where heaven touches earth: Jewish life in Jerusalem, Dovid Rossoff
  3. ^ Kurzman, Don (1970) Genesis 1948. The First Arab-Israeli War. An Nal Book, New York. Library of Congress number 77-96925. p.44
  4. ^ Larry Collins/Dominique Lapierre, 'O Jerusalem!' History Book Club, 1972. p.185.
  5. ^ A ratio of about P£2.50 per person which compares with municipal spending of P£3.90 in Tel Aviv, P£1.31 in Petah Tikvah, P£1.14 in Jaffa, P£0.57 in Nablus, P£0.32 in Bethlehem, P£0.31 in Ramle. Figures from 1941-42. Benny Morris, "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949", 1987, ISBN 0-521-33028-9. p.18.
  6. ^ Kurzman. pp.43-44,239-240
  7. ^ Dov Joseph, 'The Faithful City - The Siege of Jerusalem, 1948.' Simon and Schuster, New York. 1960. Library of Congress: 60 10976. p.60: 'Our only alternative was to allow Weingarten to control the distribution of food and other essential supplies, which would have given him control over the morale of the population.' p.64: Avraham Halperin's arrest.
  8. ^ Collins/Lapierre pp.185-186. On Avraham Halperin's arrest.
  9. ^ Joseph, p.69: 'and a sten gun and ammuntion'. Collins/Lapierre, p.10: 'a bar of rusted iron about a foot long.'
  10. ^ This story was repeated by President George W. Bush in his address to the Knesset on the 60-year anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel.[1] 'a short iron bar'
  11. ^ John Roy Carlson, "Cairo to Damascus". Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 1952. 3rd printing. Library of Congress number 51-11068. pp.317-319. Page 318: "the two...were personal friends."
  12. ^ Joseph, p.172: concerned for his safety his daughter, Yehudit, insisted on being a member of the delegation.
  13. ^ J.R. Carlson in his eye-witness account describes Weingarten as "medium height, with bespectacled blue eyes, serious face, professorial beard and a Western felt hat" and Yehudit as "A nurse ... a thin slip of a girl who appeared exhausted and worn, dressed in a bloodstained white smock." (p.330). Yehudit is visible behind el Tell's left shoulder in the picture above.
  14. ^ Collins/Lapierre, p.423: phone contact made with a priest at Terra Sancta. Insists on surrender to the Arab Legion. p.497: Hagana shoot Rabbi Reuven.
  15. ^ Chaim Herzog, 'The Arab-Israeli Wars'. ISBN 0-85368-367-0. (1982). p.62. 'the commander of the Quarter gave in to the pressure and pleading of the Rabbis, and allowed them to negotiate with the Arab Legion for surrender.'
  16. ^ Yitzak Rabin, 'The Rabin Memoires'. ISBN 0-316-73002-5. (1979). 'On May 28 I went up to Mount Zion, where I witnessed a shattering scene. A delegation was emerging from the Jewish Quarter bearing white flags. I was horrified to learn that it consisted of rabbis and other residents on their way to hear the legion's (sic) terms for capitulation.' Carlson, p.328, names the delegation as Rabbi Ben Zion Ireq (72) and Israel Zief Mintzberg (86).
  17. ^ Joseph, p.174: including his son-in-law
  18. ^ Joseph, p.175: 'begged to remain with prisoners.' 'feared to go to new Jerusalem.'
  19. ^ The Scotsman June 1st 1948:'After the Jewish surrender over 1000 non-combatant residents were evacuated to Katamon, south-west of Jerusalem, 150 Jews were handed over to the Red Cross, and 350 prisoners taken to Transjordan.'
  20. ^ Collins. p.498: 'The residents huddling in the cellars of Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakai Synagogue had learned of the surrender delegation. Shrieking shouts of joy and thanksgiving, they rushed past their Haganah guards into the street. Within minutes, Arabs and Jews who had been killing each other hours before were embracing in the street, old friends greeted each other with tears of relief, the Legionnaires moved out of their posts and began to mingle with the men of the Hagannah, Jewish shopkeepers opened their stores. Bitterly, Russnak noted that some of them who had given his men a glass of water begrudgingly were offering cakes and coffee to the Arabs.'
  21. ^ Quoting memorial in Jewish Quarter. 2012.
  22. ^ Joseph, p.178.
  23. ^ Collins/Lapierre, p.564: 'until his death, lived his life in accordance with the rigid principles of Jewish mourning, a personal sign of grief for the loss of the quarter he had presided for so many years.' Joseph is not so charitable: p.179: 'You can see Wiengarten today walking about Jerusalem etc.' Also: 'nothing handicapped us as much as the character of the Jewish population there (the Old City).' He also quotes returning prisoners as describing Weingarten as "pretentious, power-greedy and in suspiciously close contact with the British."