But we saw another type of Jew, or rather another variety, in this quarter. He called himself of the tribe of Benjamin, and is, I think, the most unpleasant human being I have ever encountered. Every man who supposes himself of this tribe wears a dark, corkscrew, stringy curl hanging down each side of his face, and the appearance of nasty effeminacy which this gives cannot be described. The tribe of Benjamin does not figure well in sacred history, — it was left-handed; it was pretty much exterminated by the other tribes once for an awful crime; it was held from going into the settled idolatry of the kingdom of Israel only by its contiguity to Judah, — but it was better than its descendants, if these are its descendants.
More than half of the eight thousand Jews in Jerusalem speak Spanish as their native tongue, and are the offspring of those expelled from Spain by Ferdinand. Now and then, I do not know whether it was Spanish or Arabic, we saw a good face, a noble countenance, a fine Oriental and venerable type, and occasionally, looking from a window, a Jewish beauty; but the most whom we met were debased, mis-begotten, the remnants of sin, squalor, and bad living.
We went into two of the best synagogues, — one new, with a conspicuous green dome. They are not fine; on the contrary, they are slatternly places and very ill-kept. On the benches near the windows sat squalid men and boys reading, the latter, no doubt, students of the law; all the passages, stairs, and by-rooms were dirty and disorderly, as if it were always Monday morning there, but never washing-day; rags and heaps of ancient garments were strewn about; and occasionally we nearly stumbled over a Jew, indistinguishable from a bundle of old clothes, and asleep on the floor. Even the sanctuary is full of unkempt people, and of the evidences of the squalor of the quarter. If this is a specimen of the restoration of the Jews, they had better not he restored any more.
The thing to do (if the worldliness of the expression will be pardoned) on Friday is to go and see the Jews wail, as in Constantinople it is to see the Sultan go to prayer, and in Cairo to hear the dervishes howl. The performance, being an open-air one, is sometimes prevented by rain or snow, but otherwise it has not failed for many centuries. This ancient practice is probably not what it once was, having in our modern days, by becoming a sort of fashion, lost its spontaneity; it will, however, doubtless be long kept up, as everything of this sort endures in the East, even if it should become necessary to hire people to wail.
The Friday morning of the day chosen for our visit to the wailing place was rainy, following a rainy night. The rough-paved open alleys were gutters of mud, the streets under arches (for there are shops in subterranean constructions and old vaulted passages) were damper and darker than usual; the whole city, with its narrow lanes, and thick walls, and no sewers, was clammy and uncomfortable. We loitered for a time in the dark and grave-like gold bazars, where there is but a poor display of attractions. Pilgrims from all lands were sopping about in the streets; conspicuous among them were Persians wearing high, conical furze hats, and short-legged, big-calfed Russian peasant women, — animated meal-bags.