The Last Jews of Baghdad

23

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Article Taken From Time: Baghdad was once one of the great cradles of Jewish culture and wisdom, but now, according to the Christian priest who has been looking after them, there are only eight Jews left in the Iraqi capital, and their situation is “more than desperate.” The Rev. Canon Andrew White, the Anglican chaplain to Iraq, says that the small group is in considerable danger. However, the community has been unable to agree to emigrate as a whole. Some of its members, without identifying themselves as Jews, have attempted to leave individually, but have been turned down. White says that only one of the Jews, a woman, still regularly goes to a Baghdad synagogue, though he will give no details.

White provides the group with food and money once a month, some of which they give to local Muslims, he says. “Not because they are forced to,” he says, “but because they care about them. These are wonderful people.” He notes that the Iraqi Jews constituted one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities, and that the country contains numerous important Jewish sites, such as the graves of the prophets Ezra and Ezekiel. The flourishing Jewish community in Baghdad also produced one version of Judaism’s second-holiest book, the Talmud, in about 550 A.D.

The Baghdad Jews have not been able to agree to make an application to go to Israel together, says White. For people who have “spent [their] life in Iraq hearing awful things about Israel,” he says, such hesitation would be natural.

White spoke from England several days after giving testimony in Washington before the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. White said that he had to leave Iraq temporarily for the safety of his staff. Earlier this month White reported that he had received a warning by al-Qaeda in Baghdad in April that “those who cure you will kill you.” He later realized that it may have been a reference to the abortive July 4 terror attacks in London and Glasgow where medical personnel, including doctors, were among those arrested.

The Jewish population in Iraq began to disappear after 1948, when the founding of Israel resulted in anti-Jewish reprisals throughout the Arab world. Says Felice Gaer, one of the International Religious Freedom panel’s commissioners and head of the American Jewish Committee’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for Human Rights: “I didn’t know about this community until I heard about it from Canon White. I certainly intend to learn more about the situation. It’s hard to believe that those who want to provide charitable assistance couldn’t reach people anywhere in the world, no less in a country where he U.S. has 160,000 troops.”

Both Gaer and White point out that the plight of the remaining Jews is not very different from the hardships faced in Iraq by other religious minorities such as Christians, Mandeans (a gnostic group to whom John the Baptist is a central figure) and Yazidis (whose faith draws from Zoroastrianism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity and other sources). However, the priest says that the Jews have not able to get any material aid from the Iraqi government, and have been advised by officials “to say that they are Christians or to become Christians, because it’s a lot safer.”

White says the Iraqi government is “scared about admitting that there are Jews there,” for fear of Muslim response in the region. For similar reasons, he says that no Jewish organization could provide them with direct aid, although indirect help through a non-Jewish agent might be possible.

“I don’t want them to leave at all because the Jewish presence here is very important,” White says. “But unless we care for them, I dread for what is going to happen to them. I do not want them to leave, but I think that is the only way.”


23 COMMENTS

  1. Yidden have been there since long before the Talmud Bavli was composed there (in Bavel.)

    All this Jewish history began to tragically end with the advent of zionism and the establishment of the zionist regime.

  2. To #1
    True there were some bad with the Zionist regime, but the Talmud Bavli has never had so many full time people studying it as now under the Zionist regime, especially as it is a way to escape army service. And who knows if we would of had a Zionist regime before WW2 there might have been more Jews alive today as there were no countries taking them. There is nothing all bad!!!!

  3. the jews of baghdad were offered an opportunity just after the second gulf war, and they dont want / are afraid / dont know better / dont want to understand. family was involved, etc.

    unfortunately, similar to cairo, alexandria, halab, damascus, IRAN, beirut. (in no particular order)

    i’m sure the minute they agree to leave, appropriate arrangements are available, subject to …

  4. ExKollel,
    If you think MOST of the people who learn gemara in Eretz Yisroel do so for the sake of evading the draft, can you please explain to me why thousands of people study day and night in Lakewood, NJ as well as in countless other yeshivos throughout North America? Last I checked, Charlie Rangel was unsuccessful in his attempts to reinstate the draft in the US.

    As for the zionist regime protecting world jewry, I think that myth was broken last summer when they couldn’t even protect their own citizens. Im Hashem Lo Yishmor Ir…

  5. To #2: Read Ben Hect’s Perfidy — banned in Israel until Menachem Begin’s term as PM. The “Zionest Regime” as you call it, according to the documents Hecht presents, turned away many G-d fearing, Torah learning Jews and sent them marching to their deaths back in Europe. True, the Yad HaShem (not Yad va’Shem) has replanted many of the great pre-ear Yeshivos on holy ground, but I do not know to what degree the government is to thank or to what degree they are happy with it. How many times have they tried to take away the Yeshivah deferment? How many times have they tried to cut back or take away funding for Yeshivos and large families?

    To #4: Exactly

  6. All the Torah in Eretz Yisroel predates and exists despite the best efforts of the zionist regime to eradicate it.

    The Jews are less safe as a result of the zionist regime. The takanas that Klal Yisroel had to endure during the holocaust would not have been prevented by it. In fact many gedolim have directly laid the blame for the Jewish bloodshed during those terrible years, squarely at the feet of the zionists.

    The Arab position during the war was taken in no small part as a result of the pro-zionist position taken by the allies, namely the British and its Balfour Declaration.

  7. sayit,

    So long as it is the Brisker Rov holding up that bridge, I’ll feel quite safe, thank you.

    If you have any issues with that position, please bring it to the attention of the Rov.

  8. to #1 & #8 I agree with you that the State of Israel theoretically is the worst thing that has happened to Torah. A state that was created for Jews with a goal of squashing out all of Torah. BUT there has never been a bigger explosion of Torah learning ANYWHERE ELSE during this Galus (except perhaps Bavel). This nasty, secular government has resulted in more Jews returning to Torah and miztvos then any other Jewish community in the world. And it has united all Jews secular and frum to identify with one thing. Unfortunately it’s not Torah, but the fact that a vast majority of Jews in the world now identify with Eretz Yisrael is something one of the biggest steps towards geulah we could take. Now we have a little bit more work to do. . .

  9. Your medina is hardly responsible for the growth of Torah in Eretz Yisroel, as aside that the Torahs growth began prior to the establishment of the zionist regime, your medina has tried every which way to stop the growth of Torah, something they consider a relic of a bygone era.

    As others have proposed, let the chareidim stop funding the state, stop paying taxes, etc. to it, and the chareidim will stop taking any funds from it, i.e. for Yeshivos. Total seperation. Something the zionists obviously fear.

    The only ”haven” the medina has served as, is one for continuous terrorism directed against innocent Jews, a lack of security that makes Jews more unsafe in the medina than anywhere else in the universe.

    That rasha mrusha bears no responsibility for the rescue of that Rabbeinu Shel Yisroel. He was out making a deal with Adolf Eichmann to save a few fellow zionists and family at the expense of sellng all the rest of Hungarian Jewry to the nazis.

  10. To sammygol: Your points are very good ones and, to the best of my knowledge, historically accurate. One correction is in order. Even the “Agudists” were, as I understand it, against the establishment of a “Jewish State.” It was only once the State was a foregone conclusion that the “opposite psak using the same Daas Torah” surfaced. History has surely proven that Rabbi Teitelbaum and the Brisker Rav were both very correct in their assessment. Notwithstanding their accuracy, many of “our” Gedolim still feel we should work with and within the government.

  11. We didn’t ask for an IDF, and we don’t seek its so-called ”protection.” We lived in Eretz Yisroel prior to the establishment of the zionist regime, and we will continue living throughout the land after the end of the regime.

    Many Yeshivos, such as Brisk, Satmar, and others refuse to take or even touch the kofrims money. I don’t see any reason why people can’t pay the electric co. an electric bill or other utility bill directly, without subsidizing non-utility services.

    Even Kastners zionist buddies in the Israeli legal system admitted he was a nazi collaborater. It is well known his one train, mainly full of his zionist cohorts and family was the result of his having handed over the lives of Hungarian Jewry to Adolf Eichmann, and having refused to disclose what he knew of Eichmann’s death camp plans to his brethren Jews in Hungary.

    It is correct, as the above poster pointed out, that the Agudist and others only collaboated with the zionists after the fact, once their corrupt state was a fait accompli.

  12. Diatribe – quite a strong word. I guess you’re not used to reading/hearing/seeing opinions other than the ones you hold.

    1)My point re: Hesder was to give you an example of how wrongheaded you are regarding calling Religious Zionism ‘glatt pork’.
    2)Going against a majority on hashkafic issues doesn’t put one out of any league, unless you favor going back to the days when Moreh Nevuchim was put to the flames.
    3)The context of charedim not caring about the Klal (something I said at the outset was a generalization)was said in the context of their political agenda.
    4)Rav Goren was a controversial figure – within Religious Zionist circles as well. As an independent and a maverick, he wasn’t considered a Mizrachi/RZ leader although his Torah knowledge was highly respected. That all said, it isn’t for you to revoke his semicha as you did in your earlier post. But certainly feel free to raise any eyebrow you want.
    5) You only prove my point. The secularists uprooted the Gaza settlements, have tried to destroy Hesder and have tried to close down Arutz Sheva precisely because they fear the Religious Zionists more. I’m not saying the secularists don’t fear the charedim as well, but in the end the feeling among the secularists is that the charedim can be bought whereas the Datiim can’t.
    6)A daas yachid doesn’t put someone out of the fold, doesn’t render them not frum and doesn’t give you the right to revoke their semicha. He wasn’t the first posek to decide a controversial psak. That said, since all rabbonim associated with RZ are pariahs, I suppose you will now have to revoke the semichas of “rabbis” Zevin, Herzog, Waldenberg, etc.

  13. >> the secularists is that the charedim can be bought whereas the Datiim can’t.
    –Moshe Fox

    Then pray tell, why did they put shinui in power a couple years back?

  14. Moshe,
    I finally found something I agree with you on – that shinui hated national religious folks as much as chareidim. However, it was the NRP who broke ranks with degel and shas and agreed to join Sharon’s coalition together with shinui and thus gave them a lot more power than if they had been left out of the coalition. Had the NRP refused that deal, it is unlikely that sharon could have put together a coalition which included shinui.

  15. Moshe, shas and degel have formed alliances with secularists but never with a party whose entire platform was to destroy yidishkeit.
    Also, Mafdal didn’t fight nearly as hard to neutralize shinui’s changes as they did to try to prevent the disengagement. Obviously zionism was a higher priority to them than torah. If you are also no fan of mafdal then this is an attack on them not on you.

    BTW, just out of curiosity shouldn’t you be moishe not moshe if you’re 5th generation bnei brak? 😉