Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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2 Sivan 5768 - June 5, 2008 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Baghdad Jewish Population Less Than a Minyan

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

The Jewish population of Baghdad, which numbered 130,000 five decades ago, is now down to less than a minyan according to a New York Times report. The handful of Jews remaining in the Iraqi capital live in fear and are very reluctant to have their names published or be interviewed in person. Over the course of several months one reporter corresponded with a 40- year-old Jew who referred to himself as "Saleh's grandson" to avoid being identified by the Shiite extremists in his neighborhood. A former car salesman, he describes himself as "a rabbi, a shochat and one of the heads of the Jewish community in Iraq." He is proud to be a Jew, he says.

He says the last beis knesses in the city was closed in 2003 after it became too dangerous to gather openly. He prays at home and feels he has no future in his home country: there's nobody for him to marry and he cannot wear a yarmulke outside. He stays close to home because at checkpoints, which are often manned by death squads, he would have to present his ID card, which lists his religion. In his own neighborhood he is protected by Muslim neighbors who have known his family for decades.

"Saleh's grandson" has relatives living outside of Iraq who urge him to join them. By 1951 most Iraqi Jews had fled the country in Operation Ezra and Nechemia, which brought 120,000 Jews to Eretz Yisroel to escape the antisemitic pogroms rampant in Iraq from 1949 to 1952.

His mother passed away 20 years ago, his older brother emigrated in 1991 and his father was brought to Israel at the age of 82 when the Jewish Agency assisted some of the last members of the community to leave in 2003. He says among the handful of Jews remaining in the city are two doctors and a few unemployed people living off of handouts. When someone passes away or needs urgent assistant, they gather together.

Babylonian Jewry was founded 2,400 years ago following the Destruction of the Second Temple. In 1908 the government granted the Jews equal rights, religious freedom and parliamentary representation, but in the 1940s reports of the Zionist movement and the founding of the State of Israel brought harsh reactions, driving many Jews to other countries. The few who remained left following the Gulf War in 1991.

At the end of 1994 Arab newspapers published in London reported that 50 Jewish families were living in Baghdad. Their communal life surrounded the Meir Tweig Synagogue, which drew 25 congregants on Shabbos and no more than 50 on holidays. Yitzchak Ezra Abdallah was head of the community. The last reported wedding took place in 1978. Generally young couples left the country to marry and rarely returned to Iraq.

Following the invasion of coalition forces and the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, other remnants of Iraqi Judaism were uncovered. In the basements of the Iraqi intelligence organization US soldiers fond an archive of the Jewish community. The archive, which was flooded during the war, includes documents that were preserved for up to 500 years.


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