Bedouin Watering Sheep, 1955
This picture shows Bedouins drawing water from the well next to their flock of sheep. In the foreground, a Bedouin with a torn striped shirt and a keffiyeh on his head is leaning forward and pouring water into the trough from a waterskin. A bare-chested boy with his trouser leg rolled up to the knee stares directly at the camera. In the background are two Bedouin women. One of the women is hiding her face with a black veil. Buckets, ropes, and cans are scattered around.
This is a picture from the album of the photographer Eddie Hirshbein from1955. The album is entitled Bedouin Come to the Market in Be’er Sheva. Eddie Hirshbein was born in Serbia and was a partisan who fought the Nazis in World War II. After he immigrated to the Pre-State Israel, he began a photography business. His pictures record the early years of the State of Israel.
In the 1950s the Bedouins were mostly nomadic animal herders. Bedouin society has modernised considerably today with larger numbers living in Bedouin towns and many working in jobs that are not necessarily agricultural.
Connection to Parashat Toldot
In Parashat Toldot we learn how Isaac became even wealthier than his father, Abraham. Chapter 26 verses 15-22 tell about the servants of Abimelech who hampered Isaac’s attempts to create wells for his flocks.
At the start of the following parasha, Jacob fled Beer Sheva for his uncle’s family in Haran. On arrival, he assisted the shepherds who were gathered at the well by rolling away the rock blocking the entrance to the well so that their sheep could drink.
Many of the stories in the Book of Genesis take place around wells and flocks of animals. For example, Abel was a shepherd who was killed by his brother, Cain; the shepherds of Abraham and Lot argued over Lot’s sheep intruding onto Abraham’s land; Isaac re-dug the wells that had been covered by Abimelech; and Joseph meets his brothers while they are looking after Jacob’s flocks.
Bedouins in the State of Israel, Knesset Website
Biblical sheep in Israel for the First Time in Millennia, The Times of Israel
This photograph can be used in Jewish Studies or Bible lessons to discuss the numerous examples of shepherds throughout the Torah, including Isaac, Moses, and King David. Older students could discuss why such a job was seen to instil the skills needed for leadership. A teacher teaching parashat hashavua can use this photograph when teaching about parashat toldot and other parashot dealing with shepherds.
Geography or Social Studies teachers can use this photo to discuss the various groups of people who live in Israel and their unique customs and histories, particularly the Bedouins and the problems of being a nomadic people in the twenty-first century.
Who are the subjects of this photograph?
When was it taken?
Where was the photo taken?
What clothes are worn by the subjects of the photo?
Reading Between the Lines
Why did the photographer take this photo?
What do the clothes tell us about these people?
Why is the connection between shepherding and the Bedouin?
How many people in the Torah were shepherds? What links them all?
Where are the Bedouin in Israel predominantly based today? Do they still work in agriculture?
Research the status of Bedouin in Israel today. How are they viewed in the eyes of the law?