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History of the Jews in Iraq

History of the Jews in Iraq

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The history of the Jews in Iraq is documented from the time of the Babylonian captivity
Babylonian captivity
The Babylonian captivity was the period in Jewish history during which the Jews of the ancient Kingdom of Judah were captives in Babylon—conventionally 587–538 BCE....

 c. 586 BCE. Iraqi Jews constitute one of the world's oldest and most historically significant Jewish communities.

The Jewish community of Babylon included Ezra
Ezra
Ezra , also called Ezra the Scribe and Ezra the Priest in the Book of Ezra. According to the Hebrew Bible he returned from the Babylonian exile and reintroduced the Torah in Jerusalem...

 the scribe, whose return to Judea
Judea
Judea or Judæa was the name of the mountainous southern part of the historic Land of Israel from the 8th century BCE to the 2nd century CE, when Roman Judea was renamed Syria Palaestina following the Jewish Bar Kokhba revolt.-Etymology:The...

 was associated with significant changes in Jewish ritual observance. The Talmud was compiled in Babylonia
Babylonia
Babylonia was an ancient cultural region in central-southern Mesopotamia , with Babylon as its capital. Babylonia emerged as a major power when Hammurabi Babylonia was an ancient cultural region in central-southern Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), with Babylon as its capital. Babylonia emerged as...

, identified with modern Iraq.

From the Babylonian period to the rise of the Islamic caliphate, the Jewish community of Babylon throve as the center of Jewish learning. The Mongol invasion and Islamic discrimination in the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 led to its decline. Under the Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

, the Jews of Iraq fared better. The community established modern schools in the second-half of the 19th century.

In the 20th century, Iraqi Jews played an important role in the early days of the Iraq's independence, but the Iraqi Jewish community, numbered at around 120,000 in 1948, almost entirely left the country due to persecution following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war
1948 Arab-Israeli War
The 1948 Arab–Israeli War, known to Israelis as the War of Independence or War of Liberation The war commenced after the termination of the British Mandate for Palestine and the creation of an independent Israel at midnight on 14 May 1948 when, following a period of civil war, Arab armies invaded...

. Most of them fled to the newly founded state of Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

, and today, fewer than 100 Jews remain.

Early Biblical history


In the Bible, Babylon and the country of Babylonia are not always clearly distinguished, in most cases the same word being used for both. In some passages the land of Babylonia is called Shinar
Shinar
Shinar was a geographical locale of uncertain boundaries in Mesopotamia. The name may be a corruption of Shene nahar , Shene or , or Sumer .It has been suggested that Shinar must have been confined to the northern part of Mesopotamia Shinar (Hebrew Šin`ar, Septuagint Σεννααρ Sennaar) was a...

, while in the post-exilic literature it is called Chaldea
Chaldea
Chaldea or Chaldaea , from Greek , Chaldaia; Akkadian ; Hebrew כשדים, Kaśdim; Aramaic: ܟܐܠܕܘ, Kaldo) was a marshy land located in modern-day southern Iraq which came to briefly rule Babylon...

. In the Book of Genesis, Babylonia is described as the land in which are located Babel
Babylon
Babylon was an Akkadian city-state of ancient Mesopotamia, the remains of which are found in present-day Al Hillah, Babil Province, Iraq, about 85 kilometers south of Baghdad...

, Erech
Erech
Erech according to the Book of Genesis, was an ancient city in the land of Shinar, the second city built by king Nimrod....

, Accad, and Calneh (Gen. x. 10), which are declared to have formed the beginning of Nimrod's kingdom. Here, the Tower of Babel
Tower of Babel
The Tower of Babel , according to the Book of Genesis, was an enormous tower built in the plain of Shinar .According to the biblical account, a united humanity of the generations following the Great Flood, speaking a single language and migrating from the east, came to the land of Shinar, where...

 was located (Gen. xi. 1-9); and it was also the seat of Amraphel
Amraphel
In the Tanakh or Old Testament, Amraphel was a king of Shinar in Genesis xiv.1 and 9, who invaded the west along with Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, and others, and defeated Sodom and the other Cities of the Plain in the Battle of the Vale of Siddim.Beginning with E...

's dominion (Gen. xiv. 1, 9).

In the historical books Babylonia is frequently referred to (there are no fewer than thirty-one allusions in the Books of Kings
Books of Kings
The Book of Kings presents a narrative history of ancient Israel and Judah from the death of David to the release of his successor Jehoiachin from imprisonment in Babylon, a period of some 400 years...

), though the lack of a clear distinction between the city and the country is sometimes puzzling. Allusions to it are confined to the points of contact between the Israelites and the various Babylonian kings, especially Merodach-baladan (Berodach-baladan of II Kings xx. 12; compare Isa. xxxix. 1) and Nebuchadrezzar. In Chron., Ez., and Neh. the interest is transferred to Cyrus (see, for example, Ez. v. 13), though the retrospect still deals with the conquests of Nebuchadnezzar
Nebuchadnezzar
Nebuchadnezzar was the name of several kings of Babylonia.* Nebuchadnezzar I, who ruled the Babylonian Empire in the 12th century BC* Nebuchadnezzar II , the Babylonian ruler mentioned in the biblical Book of Daniel...

, and Artaxerxes
Artaxerxes
Artaxerxes may refer to:The throne name of several Achaemenid rulers of the 1st Persian Empire:* Artaxerxes I of Persia, Artaxerxes I Longimanus, r. 465–424 BC, son and successor of Xerxes I...

 is mentioned once (Neh. xiii. 6).

In the poetical literature of Israel, Babylonia plays an insignificant part (see Ps. lxxxvii. 4, and especially Psalm 137
Psalm 137
Psalm 137 is one of the best known of the Biblical psalms. Its opening lines, "By the rivers of Babylon..." have been set to music on several occasions....

), but it fills a very large place in the Prophets. The Book of Isaiah resounds with the "burden of Babylon" (xiii. 1), though at that time it still seemed a "far country" (xxxix. 3). In the number and importance of its references to Babylonian life and history, the Book of Jeremiah
Book of Jeremiah
The Book of Jeremiah is the second of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, following the book of Isaiah and preceding Ezekiel and the Book of the Twelve....

 stands preeminent in the Hebrew literature. With numerous important allusions to events in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah
Jeremiah
Jeremiah Hebrew:יִרְמְיָה , Modern Hebrew:Yirməyāhū, IPA: jirməˈjaːhu, Tiberian:Yirmĭyahu, Greek:Ἰερεμίας), meaning "Yahweh exalts", or called the "Weeping prophet" was one of the main prophets of the Hebrew Bible...

 has become a valuable source in reconstructing Babylonian history within recent times. The inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar are almost exclusively devoted to building operations; and but for the Book of Jeremiah, little would be known of his campaign against Jerusalem.

Late Biblical history and the Babylonian exile


Three times during the 6th century BCE, the Jews of the ancient Kingdom of Judah
Kingdom of Judah
The Kingdom of Judah was a Jewish state established in the Southern Levant during the Iron Age. It is often referred to as the "Southern Kingdom" to distinguish it from the northern Kingdom of Israel....

 were exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. These three separate occasions are mentioned (Jeremiah
Book of Jeremiah
The Book of Jeremiah is the second of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, following the book of Isaiah and preceding Ezekiel and the Book of the Twelve....

 52:28-30). The first was in the time of Jehoiachin in 597 BCE, when, in retaliation for a refusal to pay tribute, the temple of Jerusalem was partially despoiled and a number of the leading citizens removed
Babylonian captivity
The Babylonian captivity was the period in Jewish history during which the Jews of the ancient Kingdom of Judah were captives in Babylon—conventionally 587–538 BCE....

  (Daniel
Book of Daniel
The Book of Daniel is a book in the Hebrew Bible. The book tells of how Daniel, and his Judean companions, were inducted into Babylon during Jewish exile, and how their positions elevated in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. The court tales span events that occur during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar,...

 5:1-5). After eleven years, in the reign of Zedekiah
Zedekiah
Zedekiah or Tzidkiyahu was the last king of Judah before the destruction of the kingdom by Babylon. He was installed as king of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon, after a siege of Jerusalem to succeed his nephew, Jeconiah, who was overthrown as king after a reign of only three months and...

 -- who had been enthroned by Nebuchadnezzar, a fresh revolt of the Judaeans took place, perhaps encouraged by the close proximity of the Egyptian army. The city was razed to the ground, and a further deportation ensued. Finally, five years later, Jeremiah records a third captivity. After the overthrow of Babylonia by the Persians, Cyrus
Cyrus the Great
Cyrus II of Persia , commonly known as Cyrus the Great, also known as Cyrus the Elder, was the founder of the Achaemenid Empire. Under his rule, the empire embraced all the previous civilized states of the ancient Near East, expanded vastly and eventually conquered most of Southwest Asia and much...

 gave the Jews permission to return to their native land (537 BCE), and more than forty thousand are said to have availed themselves of the privilege. (See Jehoiakim
Jehoiakim
Jehoiakim .On Josiah's death, Jehoiakim's younger brother Jehoahaz was proclaimed king, but after three months pharaoh Necho II deposed him and replaced him with the eldest son, Eliakim, who adopted the name Jehoiakim and became king at the age of twenty-five...

; Ezra
Ezra
Ezra , also called Ezra the Scribe and Ezra the Priest in the Book of Ezra. According to the Hebrew Bible he returned from the Babylonian exile and reintroduced the Torah in Jerusalem...

; Nehemiah
Nehemiah
Nehemiah ]]," Standard Hebrew Nəḥemya, Tiberian Hebrew Nəḥemyāh) is the central figure of the Book of Nehemiah, which describes his work rebuilding Jerusalem and purifying the Jewish community. He was the son of Hachaliah, Nehemiah ]]," Standard Hebrew Nəḥemya, Tiberian Hebrew Nəḥemyāh) is the...

.)

The earliest accounts of the Jews exiled to Babylonia are furnished only by scanty biblical details; certain sources seek to supply this deficiency from the realms of legend and tradition. Thus, the so-called "Small Chronicle" (Seder Olam Zutta
Seder Olam Zutta
Seder Olam Zutta is an anonymous chronicle from 804 CE, called "Zuṭa" to distinguish it from the older Seder 'Olam Rabbah. This work is based upon, and to a certain extent completes and continues, the older chronicle...

) endeavors to preserve historic continuity by providing a genealogy of the exilarch
Exilarch
Exilarch refers to the leaders of the Diaspora Jewish community in Babylon following the deportation of King Jeconiah and his court into Babylonian exile after the first fall of Jerusalem in 597 BCE and augmented after the further deportations following the destruction...

s ("Reshe Galuta") back to King Jeconiah
Jeconiah
Jeconiah "; ; ), also known as Coniah and as Jehoiachin , was a king of Judah who was dethroned by the King of Babylon in the 6th Century BCE and was taken into captivity. Most of what is known about Jeconiah is found in the Hebrew Bible. After many excavations in Iraq, records of Jeconiah's...

; indeed, Jeconiah himself is made an exilarch. The "Small Chronicle's" statement, that Zerubbabel returned to Judea in the Greek period, can of course not be regarded as historical. Certainly, the descendants of the Davidic house occupied an exalted position among their brethren in Babylonia, as they did at that period in Palestine. During the Maccabean revolt, these Judean descendants of the royal house had emigrated to Babylonia.

Greek period (300s BCE to 160 BCE)


With Alexander the Great's campaign, accurate information concerning the Jews in the East reached the western world. Alexander's army contained numerous Jews who refused, from religious scruples, to take part in the reconstruction of the destroyed Belus
Belus (Egyptian)
Belus was in Greek mythology a king of Egypt and father of Aegyptus and Danaus and brother to Agenor. The wife of Belus has been named as Achiroe, or Side ....

 temple in Babylon. The accession of Seleucus Nicator, 312 B.C., to whose extensive empire Babylonia belonged, was accepted by the Jews and Syrians for many centuries as the commencement of a new era for reckoning time, called "minyan sheṭarot," æra contractuum, or era of contracts, which was also officially adopted by the Parthians. This so-called Seleucid era
Seleucid era
The Seleucid era was a system of numbering years in use by the Seleucid Empire and other countries among the ancient Hellenistic civilizations. The era dates from the return of Seleucus I Nicator to Babylon in 311 BC after his exile in Ptolemaic Egypt, considered by Seleucus and his court to mark...

 survived in the Orient long after it had been abolished in the West (see Sherira's "Letter," ed. Neubauer, p. 28). Nicator's foundation of a city, Seleucia, on the Tigris is mentioned by the Rabbis (Midr. The. ix. 8); both the "Large" and the "Small Chronicle" contain references to him. The important victory which the Jews are said to have gained over the Galatians in Babylonia (II Macc. viii. 20) must have happened under Seleucus Callinicus or under Antiochus III. The last-named settled a large number of Babylonian Jews as colonists in his western dominions, with the view of checking certain revolutionary tendencies disturbing those lands. Mithridates
Mithridates I of Parthia
Mithridates or Mithradates I was the "Great King" of Parthia from ca. 171 BC - 138 BC, succeeding his brother Phraates I. His father was King Phriapatius of Parthia, who died ca. 176 BC). Mithridates I made Parthia into a major political power by expanding the empire to the east, south, and west...

 (174-136) subjugated, about the year 160, the province of Babylonia, and thus the Jews for four centuries came under Parthian domination.

Parthian period


Jewish sources contain no mention of Parthia
Parthia
Parthia is a region of north-eastern Iran, best known for having been the political and cultural base of the Arsacid dynasty, rulers of the Parthian Empire....

n influence; the very name "Parthian" does not occur, unless indeed "Parthian" is meant by "Persian," which occurs now and then. The Armenia
Armenia
Armenia , officially the Republic of Armenia , is a landlocked mountainous country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia...

n prince Sanatroces, of the royal house of the Arsacides, is mentioned in the "Small Chronicle" as one of the successors (diadochoi) of Alexander. Among other Asiatic princes, the Roman rescript in favor of the Jews reached Arsaces as well (I Macc. xv. 22); it is not, however, specified which Arsaces. Not long after this, the Partho-Babylonian country was trodden by the army of a Jewish prince; the Syrian king, Antiochus Sidetes, marched, in company with Hyrcanus I., against the Parthians; and when the allied armies defeated the Parthians (129 B.C.) at the Great Zab
Great Zab
The Great Zab , , , ) is an approximately long river flowing through Turkey and Iraq. It rises in Turkey near Lake Van and joins the Tigris in Iraq south of Mosul. The drainage basin of the Great Zab covers approximately , and during its course, the rivers collects the water from a large number...

 (Lycus), the king ordered a halt of two days on account of the Jewish Sabbath and Feast of Weeks. In 40 B.C. the Jewish puppet-king, Hyrcanus II., fell into the hands of the Parthians, who, according to their custom, cut off his ears in order to render him unfit for rulership. The Jews of Babylonia, it seems, had the intention of founding a high-priesthood for the exiled Hyrcanus, which they would have made quite independent of Palestine. But the reverse was to come about: the Palestinians received a Babylonian, Ananel by name, as their high priest which indicates the importance enjoyed by the Jews of Babylonia. Still in religious matters the Babylonians, as indeed the whole diaspora, were in many regards dependent upon Palestine. They went on pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the festivals.

How free a hand the Parthians permitted the Jews is perhaps best illustrated by the rise of the little Jewish robber-state in Nehardea (see Anilai and Asinai
Anilai and Asinai
Anilai and Asinai were two Babylonian-Jewish robber chieftains of the Parthian Empire whose exploits were reported by Josephus.They were apprenticed by their widowed mother to a weaver. Having been punished for laziness by their master, they ran away and became freebooters in the marshlands of the...

). Still more remarkable is the conversion of the king of Adiabene
Adiabene
Adiabene was an ancient Assyrian independent kingdom in Mesopotamia, with its capital at Arbela...

 to Judaism. These instances show not only the tolerance, but the weakness of the Parthian kings. The Babylonian Jews wanted to fight in common cause with their Palestinian brethren against Vespasian; but it was not until the Romans waged war under Trajan
Trajan
Trajan , was Roman Emperor from 98 to 117 AD. Born into a non-patrician family in the province of Hispania Baetica, in Spain Trajan rose to prominence during the reign of emperor Domitian. Serving as a legatus legionis in Hispania Tarraconensis, in Spain, in 89 Trajan supported the emperor against...

 against Parthia
Parthia
Parthia is a region of north-eastern Iran, best known for having been the political and cultural base of the Arsacid dynasty, rulers of the Parthian Empire....

 that they made their hatred felt; so that it was in a great measure owing to the revolt of the Babylonian Jews that the Romans did not become masters of Babylonia too. Philo speaks of the large number of Jews resident in that country, a population which was no doubt considerably swelled by new immigrants after the destruction of Jerusalem. Accustomed in Jerusalem from early times to look to the east for help, and aware, as the Roman procurator Petronius was, that the Jews of Babylon could render effectual assistance, Babylonia became with the fall of Jerusalem the very bulwark of Judaism. The collapse of the Bar Kochba revolt no doubt added to the number of Jewish refugees in Babylon.

In the continuous Roman–Persian Wars, the Jews had every reason to hate the Romans, the destroyers of their sanctuary, and to side with the Parthians, their protectors. Possibly it was recognition of services thus rendered by the Jews of Babylonia, and by the Davidic house especially, that induced the Parthian kings to elevate the princes of the Exile, who till then had been little more than mere collectors of revenue, to the dignity of real princes, called Resh Galuta. Thus, then, the numerous Jewish subjects were provided with a central authority which assured an undisturbed development of their own internal affairs.

Babylonia as the center of Judaism (219 CE to c.1050 CE)



After the fall of Jerusalem, Babylon would become the focus of Judaism for more than a thousand years. The rabbi Abba Arika
Abba Arika
Abba Arika was a Jewish Talmudist who lived in Babylonia, known as an amora of the 3rd century who established at Sura the systematic study of the rabbinic traditions, which, using the Mishnah as text, led to the compilation of the Talmud...

, afterward called simply Rab, was a key figure in maintaining Judaism after the destruction of Jerusalem
Siege of Jerusalem (70)
The Siege of Jerusalem in the year 70 AD was the decisive event of the First Jewish-Roman War. The Roman army, led by the future Emperor Titus, with Tiberius Julius Alexander as his second-in-command, besieged and conquered the city of Jerusalem, which had been occupied by its Jewish defenders in...

. Rab left Palestine to return to his Babylonian home, the year of which has been accurately recorded (530 of the Seleucidan, or 219 of the common era), marks the beginning of a new movement in Babylonian Judaism—namely, the initiation of the dominant rôle which the Babylonian Academies played for several centuries. Leaving an existing Babylonian academy at Nehardea
Nehardea
Nehardea or Nehardeah was a city of Babylonia, situated at or near the junction of the Euphrates with the Nahr Malka , one of the earliest centers of Babylonian Judaism. As the seat of the exilarch it traced its origin back to King Jehoiachin...

 to his friend Samuel, Rab founded the Sura Academy
Sura Academy
Sura Academy was a Jewish Yeshiva Academy in Babylon, one of the two major Jewish academies, along with the Pumbedita Yeshiva Academy, from the beginning of the era of the Amora sages and up till the end of the era of the Geonim. The Yeshiva Academy was founded by the Amora Abba Arika , a disciple...

, where he held property. Thus, there existed in Babylonia two contemporary academies, so far removed from each other, however, as not to interfere with each other's operations. Since Rab and Samuel were acknowledged peers in position and learning, their academies likewise were accounted of equal rank and influence. Thus both Babylonian rabbinical schools opened their lectures brilliantly, and the ensuing discussions in their classes furnished the earliest stratum of the scholarly material deposited in the Babylonian Talmud. The coexistence for many decades of these two colleges of equal rank even after the school at Nehardea
Nehardea
Nehardea or Nehardeah was a city of Babylonia, situated at or near the junction of the Euphrates with the Nahr Malka , one of the earliest centers of Babylonian Judaism. As the seat of the exilarch it traced its origin back to King Jehoiachin...

 was moved to Pumbedita
Pumbedita
Pumbedita was the name of a city in ancient Babylonia close to the modern-day city of Fallujah....

 (now Fallujah
Fallujah
Fallujah is a city in the Iraqi province of Al Anbar, located roughly west of Baghdad on the Euphrates. Fallujah dates from Babylonian times and was host to important Jewish academies for many centuries....

) produced the remarkable phenomenon of a dual leadership of the Babylonian Academies which, with some slight interruptions, became a permanent institution and a weighty factor in the development of Babylonian Judaism.

The key work of these academies was the compilation of the Babylonian Talmud, started by Rav Ashi and Ravina
Ravina II
Ravina II was a Jewish Talmudist and rabbi, accounted as an Amora sage of the 8th generation of the Amora era. In 475 AD, he finished editing the Gemara portion of the Talmud Bavli, completing the work of his teacher Rav Ashi. He was also a nephew of Ravina I. He was a leader for 22 years....

, two leaders of the Babylonian Jewish community, around the year 550. Editorial work by the Savoraim or Rabbanan Savoraei (post-Talmudic rabbis), continued on this text for the next 250 years; much of the text did not reach its final form until around 700. The Mishnah
Mishnah
The Mishnah or Mishna is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions called the "Oral Torah". It is also the first major work of Rabbinic Judaism. It was redacted c...

 and Babylonian Gemara together form the Talmud Bavli (the "Babylonian Talmud").

The three centuries in the course of which the Babylonian Talmud was developed in the academies founded by Rab and Samuel were followed by five centuries during which it was zealously preserved, studied, expounded in the schools, and, through their influence, recognized by the whole diaspora. Sura
Sura (city)
Sura was a city in the southern part of ancient Babylonia, located west of the Euphrates River. It was well-known for its agricultural produce, which included grapes, wheat, and barley...

 and Pumbedita were considered the only important seats of learning: their heads and sages were the undisputed authorities, whose decisions were sought from all sides and were accepted wherever Jewish communal life existed. In the words of the haggadist, "God created these two academies in order that the promise might be fulfilled, that the word of God should never depart from Israel's mouth" (Isa. lix. 21). The periods of Jewish history immediately following the close of the Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

 are designated according to the titles of the teachers at Sura and Pumbedita; thus we have "the time of the Geonim and that of the Saboraim. The Saboraim were the scholars whose diligent hands completed the Talmud in the first third of the 6th century, adding manifold amplifications to its text. The two academies lasted until the middle of the 11th century, Pumbedita faded after its chief rabbi was murdered in 1038, and Sura
Sura
A sura is a division of the Qur'an, often referred to as a chapter. The term chapter is sometimes avoided, as the suras are of unequal length; the shortest sura has only three ayat while the longest contains 286 ayat...

 faded soon after.

Sassanid period (225 to 634)


The Persian people were now again to make their influence felt in the history of the world. Ardashir I
Ardashir I
Ardashir I was the founder of the Sassanid Empire, was ruler of Istakhr , subsequently Fars Province , and finally "King of Kings of Sassanid Empire " with the overthrow of the Parthian Empire...

 destroyed the rule of the Arsacids in the winter of 226, and founded the illustrious dynasty of the Sassanids. Different from the Parthian rulers, who were northern Iranians following Mithraism and Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of prophet Zoroaster and was formerly among the world's largest religions. It was probably founded some time before the 6th century BCE in Greater Iran.In Zoroastrianism, the Creator Ahura Mazda is all good, and no evil...

 and speaking Pahlavi dialect, the Sassanids intensified nationalism and established a state-sponsored Zoroastrian church which often suppressed dissident factions and heterodox views. Under the Sassanids, Babylonia became the province of Asuristan
Asuristan
Asuristan was the province of Assyria under the Sassanid Empire . It corresponds to the Babylonia province under the Parthian Empire.The province for the most part stretched from Mosul to Adiabene....

, with its main city, Ctesiphon
Ctesiphon
Ctesiphon, the imperial capital of the Parthian Arsacids and of the Persian Sassanids, was one of the great cities of ancient Mesopotamia.The ruins of the city are located on the east bank of the Tigris, across the river from the Hellenistic city of Seleucia...

, becoming the capital of the Sassanid Empire.

Shapur I
Shapur I
Shapur I or also known as Shapur I the Great was the second Sassanid King of the Second Persian Empire. The dates of his reign are commonly given as 240/42 - 270/72, but it is likely that he also reigned as co-regent prior to his father's death in 242 .-Early years:Shapur was the son of Ardashir I...

 (Shvor Malka, which is the Aramaic form of the name) was a friend to the Jews. His friendship with Shmuel
Shmuel
Shmuel , the Hebrew equivalent of the name Samuel, may refer to:* Samuel , the Hebrew Bible prophet* Books of Samuel, the book of the Tanach* Shmuel Hakatan, the Tanna * Samuel of Nehardea, the Amora...

 gained many advantages for the Jewish community.

Shapur II
Shapur II
Shapur II the Great was the ninth King of the Persian Sassanid Empire from 309 to 379 and son of Hormizd II. During his long reign, the Sassanid Empire saw its first golden era since the reign of Shapur I...

's mother was Jewish, and this gave the Jewish community a relative freedom of religion and many advantages. Shapur was also the friend of a Babylonian rabbi in the Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

 called Raba, and Raba's friendship with Shapur II enabled him to secure a relaxation of the oppressive laws enacted against the Jews in the Persian Empire. In addition, Raba sometimes referred to his top student Abaye with the term Shvur Malka meaning "Shapur [the] King" because of his bright and quick intellect.

Christians, Manicheans, Buddhists and Jews at first seemed at a disadvantage, especially under Sassanian high-priest Kartir
Kartir
Kartir Hangirpe was a highly influential Zoroastrian high-priest of the late 3rd century CE and served as advisor to at least three Sassanid emperors....

; but the Jews, dwelling in more compact masses in cities like Isfahan
Isfahan (city)
Isfahan , historically also rendered in English as Ispahan, Sepahan or Hispahan, is the capital of Isfahan Province in Iran, located about 340 km south of Tehran. It has a population of 1,583,609, Iran's third largest city after Tehran and Mashhad...

, were not exposed to such general discrimination as broke out against the more isolated Christians.

Islamic Arab period (634 to 1258)


The first legal expression of Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

 toward the Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians after the conquests of the 630s were the poll-tax ("jizyah"), the tax upon real estate ("kharaj
Kharaj
In Islamic law, kharaj is a tax on agricultural land.Initially, after the first Muslim conquests in the 7th century, kharaj usually denoted a lump-sum duty levied upon the conquered provinces and collected by the officials of the former Byzantine and Sassanid empires or, more broadly, any kind of...

") was instituted. The first caliph
Caliph
The Caliph is the head of state in a Caliphate, and the title for the ruler of the Islamic Ummah, an Islamic community ruled by the Shari'ah. It is a transcribed version of the Arabic word   which means "successor" or "representative"...

, Abu Bakr
Abu Bakr
Abu Bakr was a senior companion and the father-in-law of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He ruled over the Rashidun Caliphate from 632-634 CE when he became the first Muslim Caliph following Muhammad's death...

, sent the famous warrior Khalid bin Al-Waleed against Iraq; and a Jew, by name Ka'ab al-Aḥbar
Ka'ab al-Ahbar
Ka‘b al-Aḥbār was a prominent rabbi from Yemen of the clan of Dhu Ra'in or Dhu al-Kila. He is counted among the Tabi‘in and narrated many Isra'iliyat.-Umar's era:...

, is said to have fortified the general with prophecies of success.

The Jews may have favored the advance of the Arabs, from whom they could expect mild treatment. Some such services it must have been that secured for the exilarch
Exilarch
Exilarch refers to the leaders of the Diaspora Jewish community in Babylon following the deportation of King Jeconiah and his court into Babylonian exile after the first fall of Jerusalem in 597 BCE and augmented after the further deportations following the destruction...

 Bostanai
Bostanai
Bostanai was the first exilarch under Arabian rule; he flourished about the middle of the seventh century. The name is Aramaized from the Persian "bustan" or "bostan"...

 the favor of Umar I, who awarded to him for a wife the daughter of the conquered Sassanid Chosroes II as Theophanes and Abraham Zacuto narrate. Jewish records, as, for instance, "Seder ha-Dorot," contain a Bostanai legend which has many features in common with the account of the hero Mar Zuṭra II, already mentioned. The account, at all events, reveals that Bostanai, the founder of the succeeding exilarch dynasty, was a man of prominence, who received from the victorious Arab general certain high privileges, such as the right to wear a signet ring, a privilege otherwise limited to Muslims.

Omar and Othman were followed by Ali
Ali
' |Ramaḍān]], 40 AH; approximately October 23, 598 or 600 or March 17, 599 – January 27, 661).His father's name was Abu Talib. Ali was also the cousin and son-in-law of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and ruled over the Islamic Caliphate from 656 to 661, and was the first male convert to Islam...

 (656), with whom the Jews of Babylonia sided as against his rival Mu'awiyah. A Jewish preacher, Abdallah ibn Saba, of southern Arabia, who had embraced Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

, held forth in support of his new religion, expounded Mohammed's appearance in a Jewish sense. Ali made Kufa, in Iraq, his capital, and it was there that Jews expelled from the Arabian Peninsula went (about 641). It is perhaps owing to these immigrants that the Arabic language so rapidly gained ground among the Jews of Babylonia, although a greater portion of the population of Iraq were of Arab descent. The capture by Ali of Firuz Shabur, where 90,000 Jews are said to have dwelt, is mentioned by the Jewish chroniclers. Mar Isaac, chief of the Academy of Sura
Sura (city)
Sura was a city in the southern part of ancient Babylonia, located west of the Euphrates River. It was well-known for its agricultural produce, which included grapes, wheat, and barley...

, paid homage to the caliph, and received privileges from him.

The proximity of the court lent to the Jews of Babylonia a species of central position, as compared with the whole caliphate
Caliphate
The term caliphate, "dominion of a caliph " , refers to the first system of government established in Islam and represented the political unity of the Muslim Ummah...

; so that Babylonia
Babylonia
Babylonia was an ancient cultural region in central-southern Mesopotamia , with Babylon as its capital. Babylonia emerged as a major power when Hammurabi Babylonia was an ancient cultural region in central-southern Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), with Babylon as its capital. Babylonia emerged as...

 still continued to be the focus of Jewish life. The time-honored institutions of the exilarchate and the gaonate—the heads of the academies attained great influence—constituted a kind of higher authority, voluntarily recognized by the whole Jewish diaspora. But unfortunately exilarch
Exilarch
Exilarch refers to the leaders of the Diaspora Jewish community in Babylon following the deportation of King Jeconiah and his court into Babylonian exile after the first fall of Jerusalem in 597 BCE and augmented after the further deportations following the destruction...

s and geonim
Geonim
Geonim were the presidents of the two great Babylonian, Talmudic Academies of Sura and Pumbedita, in the Abbasid Caliphate, and were the generally accepted spiritual leaders of the Jewish community world wide in the early medieval era, in contrast to the Resh Galuta who wielded secular authority...

 only too soon began to rival each other. A certain Mar Yanḳa, closely allied to the exilarch, persecuted the rabbis of Pumbedita
Pumbedita
Pumbedita was the name of a city in ancient Babylonia close to the modern-day city of Fallujah....

 so bitterly that several of them were compelled to flee to Sura, not to return until after their persecutor's death (about 730). "The exilarchate was for sale in the Arab period" (Ibn Daud); and centuries later, Sherira boasts that he was not descended from Bostanai. In Arabic legend, the resh galuta (ras al-galut) remained a highly important personage; one of them could see spirits; another is said to have been put to death under the last Umayyad caliph, Merwan ibn Mohammed (745-750).

The Umayyad caliph, Umar II
Umar II
Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz was an Umayyad caliph who ruled from 717 to 720. He was also a cousin of the former caliph, being the son of Abd al-Malik's younger brother, Abd al-Aziz. He was also a great-grandson of the companion of the Prophet Muhammad, Umar bin Al-Khattab.-Lineage:Umar was born around...

. (717-720), persecuted the Jews. He issued orders to his governors: "Tear down no church, synagogue, or fire-temple; but permit no new ones to be built". Isaac Iskawi II (about 800) received from Harun al-Rashid (786-809) confirmation of the right to carry a seal of office. At the court of the mighty Harun appeared an embassy from the emperor Charlemagne, in which a Jew, Isaac, took part. Charles (possibly Charles the Bald
Charles the Bald
Charles the Bald , Holy Roman Emperor and King of West Francia , was the youngest son of the Emperor Louis the Pious by his second wife Judith.-Struggle against his brothers:He was born on 13 June 823 in Frankfurt, when his elder...

) is said to have asked the "king of Babel" to send him a man of royal lineage; and in response the calif dispatched Rabbi Machir to him; this was the first step toward establishing communication between the Jews of Babylonia and European communities. Although it is said that the law requiring Jews to wear a yellow badge upon their clothing originated with Harun, and although the laws of Islam were stringently enforced by him to the detriment of the Jews, the magnificent development which Arabian culture underwent in his time must have benefited the Jews also; so that a scientific tendency began to make itself noticeable among the Babylonian Jews under Harun and his successors, especially under Al-Ma'mun (813-833).

Like the Arabs, the Jews were zealous promoters of knowledge, and by translating Greek and Latin authors, mainly at the House of Wisdom
House of Wisdom
The House of Wisdom was a library and translation institute established in Abbassid-era Baghdad, Iraq. It was a key institution in the Translation Movement and considered to have been a major intellectual centre during the Islamic Golden Age...

 in Bagdad, contributed essentially to their preservation. They took up religio-philosophical studies (the "kalam
Kalam
ʿIlm al-Kalām is the Islamic philosophical discipline of seeking theological principles through dialectic. Kalām in Islamic practice relates to the discipline of seeking theological knowledge through debate and argument. A scholar of kalām is referred to as a mutakallim...

"), siding generally with the Mutazilites
Mu'tazili
' is an Islamic school of speculative theology that flourished in the cities of Basra and Baghdad, both in present-day Iraq, during the 8th–10th centuries. The adherents of the Mu'tazili school are best known for their having asserted that, because of the perfect unity and eternal nature of God,...

 and maintaining the freedom of the human will ("chadr"). The government meanwhile accomplished all it could toward the complete humiliation of the Jews. All non-believers — Magi, Jews, and Christians — were compelled by Al-Mutawakkil to wear a badge; their places of worship were confiscated and turned into mosques; they were excluded from public offices, and compelled to pay to the caliph a tax of one-tenth of the value of their houses. An utterance of the caliph Al-Mu'tadhel (892-902) ranks the Jews, as state servants, after Christians. Reasons for this change need to be investigated.

Mongol period (1258 to 1534)


The Caliphate hastened to its end before the rising power of the Mongol Empire
Mongol Empire
The Mongol Empire , initially named as Greater Mongol State was a great empire during the 13th and 14th centuries...

. As Bar Hebræus remarks, these Mongol tribes knew no distinction between heathens, Jews, and Christians; and their Great Khan Kublai Khan
Kublai Khan
Kublai Khan , born Kublai and also known by the temple name Shizu , was the fifth Great Khan of the Mongol Empire from 1260 to 1294 and the founder of the Yuan Dynasty in China...

 showed himself just toward the Jews who served in his army, as reported by Marco Polo
Marco Polo
Marco Polo was a Venetian merchant traveler from the Venetian Republic whose travels are recorded in Il Milione, a book which did much to introduce Europeans to Central Asia and China. He learned about trading whilst his father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo, travelled through Asia and apparently...

. Hulagu, the destroyer of the Caliphate (1258) and the conqueror of Palestine (1260), was tolerant toward Muslims, Jews and Christians; but there can be no doubt that in those days of terrible warfare the Jews must have suffered much with others. Under the Mongolian rulers, the priests of all religions were exempt from the poll-tax. Hulagu's second son, Aḥmed
Tekuder
Ahmed Tekuder , also known as Sultan Ahmad , was the sultan of the Persia-based Ilkhanate, son of Hulegu and brother of Abaqa. He was eventually succeeded by Arghun Khan...

, embraced Islam, but his successor, Arghun
Arghun
Arghun Khan aka Argon was the fourth ruler of the Mongol empire's Ilkhanate, from 1284 to 1291. He was the son of Abaqa Khan, and like his father, was a devout Buddhist...

 (1284–91), hated the Muslims and was friendly to Jews and Christians; his chief counselor was a Jew, Sa'ad al-Daulah, a physician of Baghdad. After the death of the great khan and the murder of his Jewish favorite, the Muslims fell upon the Jews, and Baghdad witnessed a regular battle between them. Gaykhatu
Gaykhatu
Gaykhatu was the fifth Ilkhanate ruler in Iran. He reigned from 1291 to 1295. During his reign, Gaykhatu was a noted dissolute who was addicted to wine, women, and sodomy...

 also had a Jewish minister of finance, Reshid al-Daulah. The khan Ghazan also became a Muslim, and made the Jews second class citizens. The Egyptian sultan Naṣr, who also ruled over Iraq, reestablished the same law in 1330, and saddled it with new limitations. Mongolian fury once again devastated the localities inhabited by Jews, when, in 1393, Timur
Timur
Timur , historically known as Tamerlane in English , was a 14th-century conqueror of West, South and Central Asia, and the founder of the Timurid dynasty in Central Asia, and great-great-grandfather of Babur, the founder of the Mughal Dynasty, which survived as the Mughal Empire in India until...

 captured Baghdad, Wasit
Wasit
Wasit is a place in Wasit Governorate, south east of Kut in eastern Iraq.-History:During Ottoman times, it was the head city of the sanjak of Wasit.To quote UNESCO:...

, Hilla, Basra
Basra
Basra is the capital of Basra Governorate, in southern Iraq near Kuwait and Iran. It had an estimated population of two million as of 2009...

, and Tikrit
Tikrit
Tikrit is a town in Iraq, located 140 km northwest of Baghdad on the Tigris river . The town, with an estimated population in 2002 of about 260,000 is the administrative center of the Salah ad Din Governorate.-Ancient times:...

, after obstinate resistance. Many Jews fled to other areas during this time.

The cumulative effect of the Mongol incursions is that most of the pre-existing Jewish community either died or fled, and the later Jewish community consisted largely of immigrants from other places, principally Aleppo
Aleppo
Aleppo is the largest city in Syria and the capital of Aleppo Governorate, the most populous Syrian governorate. With an official population of 2,301,570 , expanding to over 2.5 million in the metropolitan area, it is also one of the largest cities in the Levant...

. For this reason the traditions of Iraqi Jewry cannot be regarded as continuous with the Babylonian tradition of Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

ic or Geonic
Geonim
Geonim were the presidents of the two great Babylonian, Talmudic Academies of Sura and Pumbedita, in the Abbasid Caliphate, and were the generally accepted spiritual leaders of the Jewish community world wide in the early medieval era, in contrast to the Resh Galuta who wielded secular authority...

 times, but are a variant of those of Middle Eastern Jewry generally.

Ottoman rule (1534 to 1918)




After various changes of fortune, Mesopotamia and Iraq came into the hands of the Ottoman Turks, when Sultan Suleiman II
Suleiman II
Suleiman II was the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1687 to 1691...

 in 1534 took Tabriz and Baghdad from the Persians, leading to an improvement in the life of the Jews. The Persian reconquest in 1623 led to a much worse situation, so that the re-conquest of Iraq by the Turks in 1638 included an army with a large population of Jews, some sources say they made up 10% of the army. The day of the reconquest was even given a holiday, "Yom Nes" (day of miracle).

In 1743 there was a plague in which many of the Jews of Baghdad, including all the rabbis, died. The remaining Baghdad community asked the community of Aleppo to send them a new Chief Rabbi, leading to the appointment of Rabbi Sadka Bekhor Hussein. One effect of this was a further assimilation of Iraqi Judaism to the general Sephardic
Sephardic Judaism
Sephardic law and customs means the practice of Judaism as observed by the Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews, so far as it is peculiar to themselves and not shared with other Jewish groups such as the Ashkenazim...

 mode of observance.

Over time, the centralized Turkish control over the region deteriorated and the situation of the Jews worsened, but the population continued to grow. An example of this deterioration are the persecutions of Daud Pasha
Daud Pasha (mamluk)
Daud Pasha was the last Mamluk ruler of Iraq, from 1816 to 1831. Iraq at this period was nominally part of the Ottoman Empire but in practice largely autonomous...

, which caused many members of the Jewish community, such as David Sassoon
David Sassoon
David Sassoon was the treasurer of Baghdad between 1817 and 1829. He became the leader of the Jewish community in Bombay after Baghdadi Jews emigrated there.-Biography:...

 to flee. In 1884 there were 30,000 Jews in Baghdad and by 1900, 50,000, comprising over a quarter of the city's total population. The community also produced great rabbis, such as Joseph Hayyim ben Eliahu Mazal-Tov, known as the Ben Ish Chai
Ben Ish Chai
Yosef Chaim or in Iraqi Hebrew Yoseph Ḥayyim was a leading hakham , authority on Jewish law and Master Kabbalist...

 (1834–1909).

Modern Iraq (1918 to the present)


Sociologist Philip Mendes asserts that before the anti-Jewish actions of the 1930s and 1940s, overall Iraqi Jews "viewed themselves as Arabs of the Jewish faith, rather than as a separate race or nationality". Additionally, early Labor Zionism mostly concentrated on the Jews of Europe, skipping Iraqi Jews because of their lack of interest in agriculture. The result was that "Until World War II, Zionism made little headway because few Iraqi Jews were interested in the socialist ideal of manual labor in Palestine." (Simon, Reguer, and Laskier, p 364)

During the British Mandate from 1918, and in the early days after independence in 1932, well-educated Jews played an important role in civic life. Iraq's first minister of finance, Sir Sassoon Eskell
Sassoon Eskell
Sir Sassoon Eskell, KBE was an Iraqi statesman and financier. Also known as Sassoon Effendi . Regarded in Iraq as the Father of Parliament, Sir Sassoon was the first Minister of Finance in the Kingdom and a permanent Member of Parliament until his death...

, was a Jew, and Jews were important in developing the judicial and postal systems. Records from the Baghdad Chamber of Commerce show that 10 out of its 19 members in 1947 were Jews and the first musical band formed for Baghdad's nascent radio in the 1930s consisted mainly of Jews. Jews were represented in the Iraqi parliament, and many Jews held significant positions in the bureaucracy which in many cases led to resentment by the Iraqi population.

In the 1930s, the situation of the Jews in Iraq deteriorated. Previously, the growing Iraqi Arab nationalist sentiment included Iraqi Jews as fellow Arabs, but these views changed with the introduction of Nazi propaganda and the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian Mandate. Despite protestations of their loyalty to Iraq, Iraqi Jews were increasingly subject to discrimination and harsh laws. On August 27, 1934 many Jews were dismissed from public service, and quotas were set up in colleges and universities. Zionist activities were banned, as was the teaching of Jewish history and Hebrew in Jewish schools. Following the collapse of Rashid Ali's pro-Axis
Axis Powers
The Axis powers , also known as the Axis alliance, Axis nations, Axis countries, or just the Axis, was an alignment of great powers during the mid-20th century that fought World War II against the Allies. It began in 1936 with treaties of friendship between Germany and Italy and between Germany and...

 coup, the Farhud
Farhud
Farhud refers to the pogrom or "violent dispossession" carried out against the Jewish population of Baghdad, Iraq, on June 1-2, 1941 during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. The riots occurred in a power vacuum following the collapse of the pro-Nazi government of Rashid Ali while the city was in a...

 ("violent dispossession") pogrom
Pogrom
A pogrom is a form of violent riot, a mob attack directed against a minority group, and characterized by killings and destruction of their homes and properties, businesses, and religious centres...

 of June 1 and 2, 1941, broke out in Baghdad
Baghdad
Baghdad is the capital of Iraq, as well as the coterminous Baghdad Governorate. The population of Baghdad in 2011 is approximately 7,216,040...

 in which approximately 200 Jews were murdered (some sources put the number higher), and up to 2,000 injured—damages to property were estimated at $3 million. There was also looting in many other cities at around the same time. Afterwards, Zionist emissaries from Palestine were sent to teach Iraqi Jews self-defense, which they were eager to learn. (Simon, Reguer, and Laskier, p 364)

,. (A. al-Arif, p. 893) In 1948, the country was placed under martial law, and the penalties for Zionism were increased. Courts martial were used to intimidate wealthy Jews, Jews were again dismissed from civil service, quotas were placed on university positions, Jewish businesses were boycotted (E. Black, p. 347) and Shafiq Ades
Shafiq Ades
Shafiq Ades was a wealthy Iraqi-Jewish businessman of Syrian origins. After a short show trial in 1948, he was executed by hanging on charges of selling weapons to Israel and supporting the Iraqi Communist Party.- Background :Ades was born to a wealthy family based in Aleppo, Syria...

 (one of the most important anti-Zionist Jewish businessmen in the country) was arrested and executed for allegedly selling goods to Israel, shocking the community (Tripp, 123). Additionally, like most Arab League
Arab League
The Arab League , officially called the League of Arab States , is a regional organisation of Arab states in North and Northeast Africa, and Southwest Asia . It was formed in Cairo on 22 March 1945 with six members: Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan , Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Yemen joined as a...

 states, Iraq forbade any legal emigration of its Jews on the grounds that they might go to Israel and could strengthen that state. At the same time, increasing government oppression of the Jews fueled by anti-Israeli sentiment created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty.
1948, the year of Israel's independence was a rough year for the Jews of Iraq:
  • In July 1948, the government passed a law making all Zionist activity punishable by execution, with a minimum sentence of seven years imprisonment,
  • By the summer, most of the wealthy Jews of Iraq were arrested as Zionists and their property confiscated,

  • On August 28, 1948, Jews were forbidden to engage in banking or foreign currency transactions,
  • In September 1948, Jews were dismissed from the railways, the post office, the telegraph department and the Finance Ministry on the ground that they were suspected of "sabotage and treason,"
  • On October 8, 1948, the issuance of export and import licenses to Jewish merchants was forbidden,
  • On October 19, 1948, the discharge of all Jewish officials and workers from all governmental departments was ordered,
  • In October, the Egyptian paper, El-Ahram, estimated that as a result of arrests, trials and sequestation of property, the Iraqi treasury collected some 20 million dinars or the equivalent of 80 million U.S. dollars,
  • On December 2, 1948, the Iraq government suggested to oil companies operating in Iraq, that no Jewish employees be accepted.

"With very few exceptions, only Jews wore watches. On spotting one that looked expensive, a policeman had approached the owner as if to ask the hour. Once assured the man was Jewish, he relieved him of the timepiece and took him into custody. The watch, he told the judge, contained a tiny wireless; he'd caught the Jew, he claimed, sending military secrets to the Zionists in Palestine. Without examining the "evidence" or asking any questions, the judge pronounced his sentence. The "traitor" went to prison, the watch to the policeman as reward." (Haddad, p. 176).

By 1949, the Iraqi Zionist underground had become well-established (despite many arrests), and they were smuggling Iraqi Jews out of the country illegally at a rate of 1,000 a month (Simon, Reguer, and Laskier, p 365). Hoping to stem the flow of assets from the country, in March 1950 Iraq passed a law of one year duration allowing Jews to emigrate on condition of relinquishing their Iraqi citizenship. They were motivated, according to Ian Black, by "economic considerations, chief of which was that almost all the property of departing Jews reverted to the state treasury" and also that "Jews were seen as a restive and potentially troublesome minority that the country was best rid of." (p. 91) Israel was initially reluctant to absorb so many immigrants, (Hillel, 1987) but eventually mounted an airlift in March 1951 called "Operation Ezra and Nehemiah
Operation Ezra and Nehemiah
From 1950 to 1952, Operation Ezra and Nehemiah airlifted between 120,000 to 130,000 Iraqi Jews to Israel via Iran and Cyprus. The massive emigration of Iraqi Jews was among the most climactic events of Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries. By 1968 only 2,000 Jews remained in Iraq...

" to bring as many of the Iraqi Jews as possible to Israel, and sent agents to Iraq to urge the Jews to register for immigration as soon as possible. Between 1948 and 1951 121,633 Jews left the country, leaving 15,000 behind.

From the start of the emigration law in March 1950 until the end of the year, 60,000 Jews registered to leave Iraq. In addition to continuing arrests and the dismissal of Jews from their jobs, this exodus was encouraged by a series of bombings starting in April 1950 that resulted in a number of injuries and a few deaths. Two months before the expiration of the law, by which time about 85,000 Jews had registered, another bomb at the Masuda Shemtov synagogue
Synagogue
A synagogue is a Jewish house of prayer. This use of the Greek term synagogue originates in the Septuagint where it sometimes translates the Hebrew word for assembly, kahal...

 killed 3 or 5 Jews and injured many others. The law expired in March 1951 but was later extended after the Iraqi government froze the assets of departing Jews, including those who had already left. During the next few months, all but a few thousand of the remaining Jews registered for emigration, spurred on by a sequence of further bombings that caused few casualties but had great psychological impact. In Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, some 120,000 Jews were airlifted to Israel via Iran and Cyprus.

The true identity and objective of the masterminds behind the bombings has been the subject of controversy. A secret Israeli inquiry in 1960 found no evidence that they were ordered by Israel or any motive that would have explained the attack, though it did find out that most of the witnesses believed that Jews had been responsible for the bombings. The issue remains unresolved: Iraqi activists still regularly charge that Israel used violence to engineer the exodus, while Israeli officials of the time vehemently deny it. Historian Moshe Gat reports that "the belief that the bombs had been thrown by Zionist agents was shared by those Iraqi Jews who had just reached Israel".
Sociologist Phillip Mendes backs Gat's claims, and further attributes the allegations to have been influenced and distorted by feelings of discrimination.

Journalist Naeim Giladi
Naeim Giladi
Naeim Giladi was an anti-Zionist Iraqi jew, president of the World Organization of Jews From Islamic Countries and author of an autobiographical article and historical analysis entitled The Jews of Iraq...

's position that the bombings were "perpetrated by Zionist agents in order to cause fear amongst the Jews, and so promote their exodus to Israel" is shared by a number of anti-Zionist authors, including the Israeli Black Panthers (1975), David Hirst (1977), Wilbur Crane Eveland (1980), Uri Avnery (1988), Ella Shohat (1986), Abbas Shiblak (1986), Marion Wolfsohn (1980), and Rafael Shapiro (1984). In his article, Giladi notes that this was also the conclusion of Wilbur Crane Eveland, a former senior officer in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who outlined that allegation in his book "Ropes of Sand".

The affair has also been the subject of a libel lawsuit by Mordechai Ben Porat, which was settled in an out-of-court compromise with an apology of the journalist who described the charges as true.

Iraqi authorities eventually charged three members of the Zionist underground with perpetrating some of the explosions. Two of those charged, Shalom Salah Shalom and Yosef Ibrahim Basri, were subsequently found guilty and executed, whilst the third was sentenced to a lengthy jail term. Salah Shalom claimed in his trial that he was tortured into confessing, and Yosef Basri maintained his innocence throughout.

Gat reports that much of the previous literature "reflects the universal conviction that the bombings had a tremendous impact on the large-scale exodus of the Jews... To be more precise it is suggested that the Zionist emissaries committed these brutal acts in order to uproot the properous Iraqi Jewish community and bring it to Israel". However, Gat argues that both claims are contrary to the evidence. As summarized by Mendes:
Historian Moshe Gat argues that there was little direct connection between the bombings and exodus. He demonstrates that the frantic and massive Jewish registration for denaturalisation and departure was driven by knowledge that the denaturalisation law was due to expire in March 1951. He also notes the influence of further pressures including the property-freezing law, and continued anti-Jewish disturbances which raised the fear of large-scale pogroms. In addition, it is highly unlikely the Israelis would have taken such measures to accelerate the Jewish evacuation given that they were already struggling to cope with the existing level of Jewish immigration. Gat also raises serious doubts about the guilt of the alleged Jewish bombthrowers. Firstly, a Christian officer in the Iraqi army known for his anti-Jewish views, was arrested, but apparently not charged, with the offences. A number of explosive devices similar to those used in the attack on the Jewish synagogue were found in his home. In addition, there was a long history of anti-Jewish bomb-throwing incidents in Iraq. Secondly, the prosecution was not able to produce even one eyewitness who had seen the bombs thrown. Thirdly, the Jewish defendant Shalom Salah indicated in court that he had been severely tortured in order to procure a confession. It therefore remains an open question as to who was responsible for the bombings, although Gat suggests that the most likely perpetrated by the Mossad. Certainly memories and interpretations of the events have further been influenced and distorted by the unfortunate discrimination which many Iraqi Jews experienced on their arrival in Israel.


Many years later, the Zionist emissary Yehuda Tager stated that while the main bombings were carried out by the Muslim Brotherhood
Muslim Brotherhood
The Society of the Muslim Brothers is the world's oldest and one of the largest Islamist parties, and is the largest political opposition organization in many Arab states. It was founded in 1928 in Egypt by the Islamic scholar and schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna and by the late 1940s had an...

, later smaller attacks were staged by Yosef Beit-Halahmi, on his own initiative, in an attempt to make it seem as if the activists on trial were not the perpetrators.

Iraqi Jews left behind them extensive property, often located in the heart of Iraq's major cities. A relatively high number found themselves in refugee camps in Israel known as Ma'abarot
Ma'abarot
The Ma'abarot were refugee absorption camps in Israel in the 1950s. The Ma'abarot were meant to provide accommodation for the large influx of Jewish refugees and new Olim arriving to the newly independent State of Israel, replacing the less habitable immigrant camps or tent cities...

.
Most of the 10,000 Jews remaining after Operation Ezra and Nehemiah stayed through the Abdul Karim Qassim
Abdul Karim Qassim
Abd al-Karim Qasim , was a nationalist Iraqi Army general who seized power in a 1958 coup d'état, wherein the Iraqi monarchy was eliminated. He ruled the country as Prime Minister of Iraq until his downfall and death in 1963....

 era when conditions improved, but Anti-Israeli Sentiment increased during the rule of the Aref brothers and later the Ba'ath Party era, culminating in the 1969 public hanging of 14 Iraqis, nine of them Jews, who were falsely accused of spying for Israel, which led to the departure of most of the remaining Jews.

The remainder of Iraq's Jews left over the next few decades, and had mostly gone by 1970. By 2004, fewer than 100 Jews remained in the country, and debate over the Iraqi constitution
Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period
The Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period , was Iraq's provisional constitution following the 2003 Iraq War. It was signed on March 8, 2004 by the Iraqi Governing Council...

 has included whether Jews should be considered a minority group, or left out of the constitution altogether.

In October 2006, Rabbi Emad Levy, Baghdad's last Rabbi and one of about 12 members of the Jewish community remaining in the city, compared his life to "living in a prison". He reported that most Iraqi Jews stay in their homes "out of fear of kidnapping or execution" due to sectarian violence.

Present estimates of the Jewish population in Baghdad are seven or eight. Among the American armed forces stationed in Iraq, there are only three Jewish chaplains.

See also

  • Farhud
    Farhud
    Farhud refers to the pogrom or "violent dispossession" carried out against the Jewish population of Baghdad, Iraq, on June 1-2, 1941 during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. The riots occurred in a power vacuum following the collapse of the pro-Nazi government of Rashid Ali while the city was in a...

  • Judeo-Iraqi Arabic
    Judeo-Iraqi Arabic
    Judeo-Iraqi Arabic is a variety of Arabic spoken by Jews living or formerly living in Iraq. 99% of all speakers now live in Israel. Speakers are older adults....

  • Baghdad Arabic (Jewish)
  • Baghdadi Jews
    Baghdadi Jews
    Baghdadi Jews, also known as Iraqi Jews, are Jewish emigrants from Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, who fled religious persecution and formed immigrant communities in their new homelands...

     (Jews of Iraqi origin now resident in India and Pakistan)
  • Barzani Jewish Neo-Aramaic
    Barzani Jewish Neo-Aramaic
    Barzani Jewish Neo-Aramaic is a modern Jewish Aramaic language, often called Neo-Aramaic or Judeo-Aramaic. It was originally spoken in three villages near Aqrah in Iraq...

  • Lishanid Noshan
    Lishanid Noshan
    Lishanid Noshan is a modern Jewish Aramaic language, often called Neo-Aramaic or Judeo-Aramaic. It was originally spoken in southern and eastern Iraq, in the region of Arbil. Most speakers now live in Israel. Lishanid Noshan means 'the language of our selves'; speakers often also call it Lishana...

  • Lishana Deni
    Lishana Deni
    Lishana Deni is a modern Jewish Aramaic language, often called Neo-Aramaic or Judeo-Aramaic. It was originally spoken in the town of Zakho and its surrounding villages in northern Iraq, on the border with Turkey. Most speakers now live in and around Jerusalem...

  • Jewish exodus from Arab lands
    Jewish exodus from Arab lands
    The Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries was a mass departure, flight and expulsion of Jews, primarily of Sephardi and Mizrahi background, from Arab and Muslim countries, from 1948 until the early 1970s...

  • Music of Iraq
    Music of Iraq
    The music of Iraq or Iraqi music, encompasses the music of a number of ethnic groups and musical genres. Ethnically, it includes Arabic music, Assyrian music, Turcoman, Armenian, Roma and Kurdish music among others...

  • Operation Ezra and Nehemiah
    Operation Ezra and Nehemiah
    From 1950 to 1952, Operation Ezra and Nehemiah airlifted between 120,000 to 130,000 Iraqi Jews to Israel via Iran and Cyprus. The massive emigration of Iraqi Jews was among the most climactic events of Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries. By 1968 only 2,000 Jews remained in Iraq...

  • Religion in Iraq
    Religion in Iraq
    The major religion in Iraq is Islam, followed by about 95% of Iraqis, although more recent poll results seem to contradict these numbers. The other 5% consist of those following Christianity and other religions...

  • List of Jews from Iraq
  • Sassoon family
    Sassoon family
    The Sassoon family was an Indian family of Iraqi Jewish descent and international renown, based in Bombay, India. It was descended from the famous Ibn Shoshans, one of the richest families of medieval Spain...


External links


Films

  • 2002 - Forget Baghdad: Jews and Arabs - The Iraqi Connection
    Forget Baghdad: Jews and Arabs - The Iraqi Connection
    Forget Baghdad: Jews and Arabs - The Iraqi Connection is a 2002 documentary film about the Mizrahim, or Jewish community of Iraq. It was written and directed by Samir, an Iraqi born in Baghdad in 1955 and living since 1961 in Switzerland....

    . Directed by Samir.
  • 2005 - Forgotten Refugees
  • 2007 - Baghdad Twist. Directed by Joe Balass.