The Jews of Lebanon
By Mitchell Bard
Jewish population: 20,000
2008: Fewer than 1001
Christian Arabs ruled Lebanon,
Jews enjoyed relative toleration. In the mid-50’s,
approximately 7,000 Jews lived in Beirut. As Jews in
an Arab country, however, their position was never secure,
and the majority left in 1967.
in the 1975-76 Muslim-Christian civil war swirled around
the Jewish Quarter in Beirut, damaging many Jewish homes,
businesses and synagogues. Most of the
remaining 1,800 Lebanese Jews emigrated in 1976, fearing
the growing Syrian presence in Lebanon would curtail
their freedom. Most Jews went to Europe (particularly
France), the United States and Canada.
the mid-1980’s, Hizballah kidnapped
several prominent Jews from Beirut — most were
leaders of what remained of the country’s tiny
Jewish community. Four of the Jews were later found murdered.
all of the remaining Jews are in Beirut, where there
is a committee that represents the community.2 Because
of the current political situation, Jews are unable to
openly practice Judaism. In 2004, only 1 out
of 5,000 Lebanese Jewish citizens registered to vote
participated in the municipal elections. Virtually all
of those registered have died or fled the country. The
lone Jewish voter said that most of the community consists
of old women.3
Jewish cemetery in Beirut is decrepit and cared for by
an elderly Shiite woman. The gravestones, written in
Hebrew and French, are a testament to the Lebanese Jewish
community that is now only a shadow of its former self.4
Arab-Israeli conflict, and Israel’s long military presence
in Lebanon, provoked strong anti-Israel sentiment. All
travel from Lebanon to Israel is strictly prohibited. Meanwhile,
Hizballah uses southern Lebanon as a base for terrorist
attacks against Israel.
In September 2008, Isaac Arazi, the leader of Lebanon’s Jewish Community Council announced that he planned to rebuild the Maghen Abraham synagogue in Beirut and that additional plans were underway to restore Beirut’s Jewish cemetery, which is home to some 4,500 graves.5 Originally built in 1926, the synagogue was seriously damaged during the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war when looters stole its Torah ark and prayer benches and gutted its electrical system. Renovation work began in August 2009, with approval from the Lebanese government, planning authorities, and Hizballah. Reconstruction was funded by donations from private donors and a donation from Solidere, a construction company privately owned by the family of assassinated prime minister Rafik Hariri.6
Singer and Lawrence Grossman, Eds. American
Jewish Year Book 2003. NY: American Jewish Committee,
(June 21, 1991); Jewish Telegraphic Agency,
(July 22, 1993); Jewish
Communities of the World.
Hatoum, “Of 5,000 Jewish Lebanese, only 1 voted,” The Daily Star (May 10, 2004).
Talbot, “Syria/Lebanon: The Occupier and the
5“Lebanon Jews to rebuild Beirut’s Maghen Abraham Synagogue,” Ya Libnan (September 18, 2008).
6“Renovation work underway at Beirut’s main synagogue,” Haaretz (August 18, 2009).