Gaza (Heb. עַזָּה, Azzah) is a city on the southern coastal plain of Erez Israel. From earliest times it served as the base of Egyptian operations in Canaan. Unlike the neighboring sites of Tell el-'Ajjul and Tell Ali Muntar, Gaza itself did not have much strategic and economic importance during the third and second millennia B.C.E. An important Middle Bronze II settlement, however, has been discovered at al-Moghraqa in the area of Wadi Gaza.
Gaza was apparently held by Thutmose III (c. 1469 B.C.E.) and in his inscriptions it has the title of "that-which-the-ruler-seized" signifying its role as the chief Egyptian base in Canaan. In the reliefs of Seti I (c. 1300 B.C.E.) it is called "the [town of] Canaan." It is also mentioned in the Tell el-Amarna and Taanach tablets as an Egyptian administrative center.
According to biblical tradition the original inhabitants
In a great battle fought near Gaza in 635, the Arabs vanquished the Byzantines; the city itself fell soon afterward. It remained the seat of the governor of the Negev, as is known from the Nessana Papyri. The Jewish and Samaritan communities flourished under Arab rule; in the eighth century, R. Moses, one of the masoretes, lived there.
In the 11th century R. Ephraim of Gaza was head of the community of Fostat (old Cairo). King Baldwin I of Jerusalem occupied the city which was known in Crusader times as Gadres; from the time of Baldwin III (1152) it was a Templar stronghold. In 1170, it fell to Saladin. Under Mamluk rule Gaza was the capital of a district (mamlaka) embracing the whole coastal plain up to Atlit.
After the destruction of Gaza by the Crusaders the Jewish community ceased to exist. Nothing more was heard of it until the 14th century. Meshullam of Volterra found 60 Jewish householders there and four Samaritans in 1481. All the wine of Gaza was produced by the Jews (A.M. Luncz, in Yerushalayim, 1918).
Obadiah of Bertinoro records that when he was there in 1488, Gaza’s rabbi was a certain Moses of Prague who had come from Jerusalem (Zwei Briefe, ed. by A. Neubauer (1863), 19). Gaza flourished under Ottoman rule; the Jewish community was very numerous in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The Karaite Samuel b. David found a Rabbanite synagogue there in 1641 (Ginzei Yisrael be-St. Petersburg, ed. by J. Gurland (1865), 11). In the 16th century there were a bet din and a yeshivah in Gaza, and some of its rabbis wrote scholarly works. Farm-owners were obliged to observe the laws of terumah (“priestly tithe”), ma’aserot (“tithes”), and the sabbatical year. At the end of the 16th century the Najara family supplied some of its rabbis; Israel Najara, son of the Damascus rabbi Moses Najara, author of the “Zemirot Yisrael,” was chief rabbi of Gaza and president of the bet din in the mid-17th century.
In 1665, when Shabbetai Zevi’s visited Gaza, the city became a center of his messianic movement, and one of his principal disciples was Nathan of Gaza. The city was occupied by Napoleon for a short time in 1799.
In the 19th century, the city declined. The Jews concentrated there were mainly barley merchants; they bartered with the Bedouins for barley which they exported to the beer breweries in Europe. It was a Turkish stronghold in World War I; two British attacks made on Gaza in 1916–17 failed, and it was finally taken by a flanking movement of Allenby. Under Mandatory rule Gaza developed slowly; the last Jews left the town because of the anti-Jewish Arab riots in 1929.
M.A. Meyer, History of the City of Gaza from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (1907); G. Downey, Gaza in the Early Sixth Century (1963); Kena'ani, in: BJPES, 5 (1937), 33–41; Benayahu, ibid., 20 (1955), 21–30; Avi-Yonah, ibid., 30 (1966), 221–3; M. Ish-Shalom, Masei Noẓerim le-Ereẓ Yisrael (1965), index; Ben Zvi, Ereẓ Yisrael, index; J. Braslavski (Braslavi), Le-Ḥeker Arẓenu – Avar u-Seridim (1954), index; idem, Me-Reẓu'at Azzah ad Yam Suf (1957); S. Klein, Toledot ha-Yishuv ha-Yehudi be-Ereẓ Yisrael (1935), index; S. Assaf and L.A. Mayer (eds.), Sefer ha-Yishuv, 2 vols. (1939–44). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Garstang, "The Walls of Gaza," in: PEFQS (1920), 156–57; C.A.M. Glucker, The City of Gaza in the Roman and Byzantine Periods (1987); J. Clarke et al., "The Gaza Research Project: 1998 Field Season," in: Journal of Palestinian Archaeology, 2 (2001), 4–11; L. Steel et al., "Gaza Research Project. Report on the 1999 and 2000 Seasons at al-Moghraqa," in: Levant, 36 (2004), 37–88; "Ghazza," in: EIS2, 2, 1056–57 (incl. bibl.).
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.