The Jewish community of Iraq was one of the most ancient and storied of the Jewish diaspora. Jews came to the area after the destruction of the First Temple (586 B.C.E.) - and maybe even 10 years earlier with the exile of Jehoiachin. They integrated into their land of captivity and took part in its economic and cultural development.
At its highest point, the Jewish population of Baghdad, Iraq's capital, amounted to nearly one-third of the total population. The rise of Islamic regimes and increased anti-Semitism drove away most Jews from Iraq. Today, the Jewish community in Iraq is non-existent.
- Under Islamic Rule (661-1258)
- Under Mongol Rule (1258-1335)
- Under Ottoman Rule (1534-1917)
- British Occupation (1917-1932)
- Fascism & Anti-Semitism (1932-1941)
- During & After World War II (1941-1949)
- The Jewish Exodus (1949)
- Iraq & Israel
- Jewish Community Traditions
Under Islamic Rule (661-1258)
The Jews of Babylonia, who had suffered from persecutions at the end of the rule of the Persian Sasanid dynasty, welcomed the Arab conquest of the land, which became known as Iraq.
The legal status of the Jews, as
, was defined by the Shari'a (the Islamic Law), under which they had certain rights including the right to worship and to administer their own religious law. On the other hand they were required to pay the jizya (poll tax) in exchange for protection by the Islamic rulers. They were also exempted from serving in the Muslim armies.
Under the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750)
The extant information on the attitude of the caliphs of the
(661–750) toward the Jews is very limited. During this period the Jews suffered from the political disputes and controversies which took place in Iraq. In the times of the caliph Omar II ibn 'Abd al-Azīz (717–720) the Jews suffered, with other dhimmīs, intolerance toward their religion. He forbade the governors to appoint members of non-Muslims as tax collectors and scribes; he also prohibited the dhimmīs from dressing like Muslims and sought to degrade them socially (The
Covenant of Omar
Under the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258)
The situation of the Jews during the
period was not stable. Some of the rulers were tolerant to them while others oppressed them variously. The caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd (786–809) persecuted the Jews and sought to humiliate them. He imposed heavy taxes and discriminated against them in regard to their dress, commerce, and other matters. The attitude changed under his son, the caliph al-Ma'mūn (813–833), who was a devotee of the sciences. At the beginning of his rule he revealed a tolerant attitude toward the Jews, but at its end he changed this policy for the worse as a result of his advisers' influence. During the reign of the caliph al-Mutawakkil (847–861) the Jewish situation was severely aggravated. This caliph issued, in 850, decrees which degraded the Jews and other non-Muslims. He instituted a yellow head covering and, for the servants and the poor, a yellow patch to be prominently worn on their clothes, on the chest or on the back. Four years later he added some new decrees on the color of clothes and on women's clothing. Various restrictions concerned with living quarters, taxes, and other matters are also attributed to him (see
Covenant of Omar
). It may be assumed that not all these decrees were applied. In spite of all the restrictions, many Jews adapted themselves to the values of the Muslim culture. They distinguished themselves as physicians and writers, played important roles in the economic life and held government positions. The fact that it was necessary from time to time to renew the decrees on clothing proves that they were not generally enforced.
During the terms of office of the gaon
Aharon b. Joseph ha-Cohen Sargado
, Baghdad was conquered by the Buwayhid emirs who ruled Iraq for more than a century (945–1055). This Persian Shi'ite dynasty was extremely fanatic and cruelly persecuted the Sunni Muslims, the Jews, and the Christians. They abolished the former rights of the exilarch to collect the poll tax, and the Jews were compelled to pay it to Muslim collectors who oppressed them severely. The situation of the Jews improved during the rule of the
(1055–1150). After the
Seljuks the Abbasid caliphs restored their power, and a change for the worse occurred during the reign of caliph al-Muqtadī (1075–1094), who adopted a harsh attitude toward both the Jews and the Christians. He imposed heavy taxes upon them and compelled them to live according the discriminatory decrees issued by the caliph al-Mutwwakil. After him the situation of the Jews improved and their former autonomy was restored.
was founded by the caliph al-Manṣūr (754–775) and became the capital of the Abbasids. The Jewish community begin to expand until it became the largest one in Iraq and the seat of the
Under Muslim rule the academies of
began to prosper. The heads of these academies were known, from then on, as geonim. The golden age of the geonim parallels the days of splendor of the Abbasid caliphate.
According to the traveler
Benjamin of Tudela
, who visited Iraq in about 1170, the caliph was most favorable to the Jews; there were many Jewish officials in his service. The traveler R.
Pethahiah of Regensburg
, who visited Iraq at the beginning of the reign of the caliph al-Nāṣir (1180–1225) greatly admired the erudition of the Jews of Babylonia: "… Babylonia is an entirely different world, their occupation consisting of Torah study and the fear of heaven, even the Ishmaelites are trustworthy … in Babylon there are 30 synagogues in addition to that of Daniel …" (Sibbuv Rabbi Petahyah (1905), 8, 24).
After the death of R. Hai the offices of the head of the academy (rosh yeshivah) and the exilarch (resh galuta) were both held by
Hezekiah b. David
The academies of Sura and Pumbedita had been transferred to Baghdad during the 9th and the 10th century. In the middle of the 11th century they ceased to exist and were replaced by the Academy of Baghdad.
Under Mongol Rule (1258-1335)
' occupation of Iraq in 1258, which caused total destruction and disaster all over the south and the center of the land, the Jewish communities of Baghdad and Basra did not recover for many generations. The attitude of the new rulers toward the Jews at the beginning of their reign changed for the better. Some of them advanced to high positions of state. The first of these was
who was appointed a physician of the sultan Arghun Khan (1284–91) and then as a finance minister of the Il-khan kingdom. However, in 1291, when the sultan was in his sickbed, Sa'd al-Dawla was executed. The same fate was met 27 years later by another Jewish personality,
(1247–1318), who was a physician, capable financier, historian, and philosopher. He attained high rank and was appointed as physician of the khan and the chief minister (vizir); his enemies accused him of having poisoned the khan and had him executed. The situation of the Jews began to worsen when Ghazan Khan (1295–1304) converted to Islam. At that time a number of Jews were compelled to follow suit. In 1333 and 1334 the synagogues of Baghdad were destroyed, Jewish property was looted and, again, a number of Jews converted to Islam.
The occupation of the country by Tamerlane in 1393 caused destruction of a large part of Baghdad and other towns. The Baghdad community did not recover until the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century.
Under Ottoman Rule (1534-1917)
The Ottomans occupied Baghdad in 1534; their rule continued until 1917, except for 15 years (1623–38) when the Persians ruled the country and dealt very harshly with the Jews.
The shariʿa (the Islamic Code) was the law of the
, so the dhimmīs were treated according to this religious code. Jews suffered from minor discrimination under the Ottomans, and the Iraqi Jews, in general, lived under a tolerant regime. They paid a moderate poll tax and enjoyed relative freedom. Nevertheless, anti-Jewish crime or agitation on a petty scale was ready to appear. At times the Turkish governors oppressed the Jews and the poll tax was collected with many abuses by the highest bidder.
From 1830 to 1917, 42 Turkish valis governed Iraq. Mustafa Nuri Pasha (1860–61) tried to confiscate the shrine of the prophet
(traditionally considered buried in the village of Kifil) from the Jews; and Mustafa 'Asim Pasha (1887–89) made false accusations against the Jews. In the time of the last vali, Khalil Pasha, 17 Jewish notables of Baghdad were accused of having engaged in illegal commerce. They were cruelly tortured and then executed. Conversely, there were some enlightened officials who restored order and brought peace to the country. The most prominent of these were Midhat Pasha (1869–72) and Hüseyin Nazim Pasha (1910–11). During their rule the Jews enjoyed security and tranquility.
The Jewish population of Baghdad in 1824 was estimated at about 1,500 Jewish families. In 1831 it was reported that about 7,000 Jews were dwelling in a special quarter of the city and that they were employed in various governmental jobs. In 1845 the population of Baghdad was estimated at about 16,000 Jews, 40,000 Muslims, and 4,000 Christians. The traveler
II (1848) put the number of the Jewish families in Baghdad at 3,000 with nine synagogues.
Scores of small Jewish communities were scattered throughout northern Iraq. The largest was in Mosul, which in 1848 had about 450 Jewish families. The figure of 3,000 Jews in this city remained stable until approximately the beginning the 20th century. The decline of the economic standing of Mosul seems to have contributed to the departure of Jews for Baghdad. According to official figures, there were in 1919 in all the northern districts (Mosul, Arbil, Suleimania, and Kirkuk) 13,835 Jews. According to the census of 1947 there were in the northern districts 19,767 Jews.
The main demographic changes occurred from the mid-19th century on. A considerable internal emigration from north to south followed the opening of the Suez-Canal (1869), which shifted the commercial pathway from the overland route (from Europe to India via
and Mosul in northern Iraq) to the naval route, thus favoring the Iraqi port of Basra. Economic conditions in the north begin to deteriorate. The Jews, like others, started to move southward. North to south emigration was also encouraged by changes introduced during the reign of the Vali Midhat Pasha (1869–72), who succeeded in pacifying the tribes of central and southern Iraq and protecting the cities from their attacks. The two small Jewish communities in southern Iraq (Basra and Hilla) had grown larger, and additional communities settled in 'Amara, Qal'at Salih. 'Ali al-Gharbi, and Musyab. The Jewish movement to the south, however, declined after World War I, except for Basra.
The Jewish community of Baghdad continued to increase. In the year 1860 there lived in Baghdad about 20,000 Jews among 70,000 non-Jews. In 1889, they were estimated at about 25,000 among a population of 100,000 Muslims and 5,000 Christians. An account by the British Consul in Baghdad, in February 1910 stated, "The Jewish community at Baghdad is, after that of Salonica, the most numerous, important, and prosperous in Turkey." At the beginning of the 20th century the Jewish community of Baghdad numbered about 45,000, In 1919 the British put the figures of Iraqi Jews at 87,488 among a total population of 2,849,283; that is to say 3.1%. In the Baghdad district there were about 50,000 Jews in a total of 250,000 inhabitants. Official Iraqi statistics, based on the 1947 census, put the total number of Iraqi Jews at 118,000 or 2.6% of the total population of 4.5 million. In spite of this official census, some studies suggest that the real number of Jews in the late 1940s was higher. During the years 1948–51, 123,500 Jews immigrated to Israel, with several thousand others leaving during this period for other countries. About 6,000 Jews remained in Iraq after the mass immigration. This led to the conclusion that the total number of Jews in Iraq in the late 1940s was about 135,000.
The reforms in the Ottoman Empire that took place in the second half of the 19th century (Tanzimat) improved the legal status of the Jews. Theoretically they became equal in rights and obligations. The traditional poll tax (jizya), which symbolized the inferiority of the dhimmis and their subject status, was rescinded. The fiscal change was, however, cosmetic in a sense, since the jizya was replaced in 1855 by a new levy, Bedel-i'Askari or military substitution tax, which exempted the non-Muslims from military service, for which they had become technically liable with the granting of civil equality. In 1909, shortly after the Young Turks' coup, this tax was canceled, and about 100 young Baghdadi Jews applied for admission to officers training school.
When World War I broke out, several thousands of Iraqi Jews were drafted into the Ottoman Army and sent to distant fronts, from which many of them did not return.
The most far-reaching of the reforms came in the reorganization of the millet all over the Empire. In Baghdad the post of the Nasi (the leader of the Jewish community) was suppressed in 1849, and the community was recognized as a millet. Its leadership was vested in a religious personality (the ḥakham bashi), "the chief rabbi." Later on, in 1931, under the British Mandate a new law was enacted to replace the Ottoman one. This law permitted the vesting of the leadership of Baghdad's Jewish community in a secular personality. Relying upon this law, it was possible in 1949 to replace Chief Rabbi
Kadoorie with Heskel Shemtov.
As a result of the improvement in their civil status deriving from the reforms, the Jews were appointed to positions of judges, lecturers in the universities, officials in governmental service, and police officers. They also were appointed as members of city councils.
In 1869, when Midhat Pasha carried out the vilayet system, he appointed a leading Jewish notable,
, as council member of the Baghdad vilayet (Majlis al-Idāra). Daniel was also elected to parliament, which was opened in 1877 in Istanbul. This was a precedent which was followed in 1908 by the election of Heskel
(1860–1932) to parliament.
The changes in the status of the dhimmis did not sit well with the traditionally minded Muslims. Anti-Christian violence erupted in many places in the Middle East, but not in Iraq. However, when the Young Turks tried to bring into force their notions of liberty, equality, and justice in Iraq, the Muslims greeted them with shock and dismay. They reacted on October 15, 1908, with violence against the Jews of Baghdad, which resulted in 40 wounded Jews. This event disabused the Jews of Baghdad of any illusions of equality.
In 1832 Midrash Talmud Torah was founded in Baghdad, which continued its activity until the mass immigration in the mid-20th century. In 1840 a religious academy, "Yeshivat Bet Zilkha," was founded after 100 years during which there was no such institution. This yeshivah educated rabbis for the Iraqi communities and those of its neighboring countries.
The founding of modern schools accelerated the secular trend in education among Iraqi Jews. The role of the bet midrash and the yeshivah was steadily undermined and became insignificant by the 1940s.
The first school of the
Alliance Israélite Universelle
for boys was founded in Baghdad in 1865 and for girls in 1883. More elementary schools were later opened in the provincial towns of Iraq. Those schools introduced modern methods of teaching and included foreign languages in the curriculum alongside Arabic, French, English, and Turkish. It created a real gap between the educational level of the Jews and that of the non-Jews. It qualified the Jews to be businessmen, clerks, and employees in the governmental offices and banks. This gap prevailed until the mass emigration and aroused the jealousy of the non-Jews in the country, causing friction between the Jews and their neighbors.
By the 1920s numerous schools had been established, mostly by Jewish philanthropists, and maintained by both Jewish community funds and regular contributions by the Iraqi government.
The number of the schools supervised by the Jewish community in Baghdad continued to rise, reaching 20 at the time of the mass exodus of 1950–51. In addition to the regular schools, a number of other institutes were established, including a school for the blind, orphanages, a music school, vocational centers, and charitable organizations.
Jewish students began attending universities in Iraq and abroad after World War I, and government schools were open to Jews as well as to other religious and ethnic minorities. In the 1930s there was no restriction on the number of Jewish students in governmental schools and colleges. Later, in the 1940s, a preferential quota introduced for scientific and medical colleges affected Jews' chances of entering these colleges.
The liberal and secular trend brought about a stronger association of Iraqi Jews and Arab culture and led Jews to take a more active role in public and cultural life. A considerable number of prominent Jewish writers and poets emerged, whose works in Arabic were both well known and well regarded; among them were the poet and historian
(1911– ) and the poet
(1904–1984). Jewish journalists founded a number of newspapers and magazines in Arabic, such as al-Misbah (1924–1929) and al-Hasid (1929–1937). Jewish journalists contributed to the Iraqi press and occasionally wrote for the Arabic press outside Iraq.
From the 1920s a number of Jews were also prominent in the Iraqi theater and performed in Arabic. Many Jews in Iraq distinguished themselves in music as singers, composers, and players of traditional instruments.
Some works by the Jewish intelligentsia were Arabic in essence and expressed the cultural life of the country.
British Occupation & Mandate (1917-1932)
The Jews under the British occupation (1917–21) enjoyed full rights of equality and freedom as well as a feeling of security. The majority of the Jews considered themselves as British citizens. Some grew rich, others were employed in the British administration, especially in Baghdad and Basra. They were interested in the continuation of British rule, and they expressed this in 1918, only a week after the armistice went into effect, when the Jewish community of Baghdad presented a petition to the civil commissioner of Baghdad, asking him to make them British subjects. Twice again, in 1919 and 1920, the Jews of Iraq appealed to the British high commissioner and asked him not to allow an Arab government to come to power or at least to grant British citizenship to the Jewish community en masse. The British authorities rejected this request, and the Jews were eventually appeased by personal assurances that ample guaranties would be afforded. However, when in April 1930 the League of Nations decided to adopt the mandate, the Jewish leaders decided to support the establishment of an Iraqi state under the British Mandate.
The Jews were given further assurances by Amir Faysal (1883–1933), who was the leading British candidate for the Iraqi throne. The new monarch-to-be made numerous speeches, including one before the Jewish community of Baghdad on July 18, 1921, one month before his coronation, in which he emphasized the equality of all Iraqis, irrespective of religion.
King Faysal continued to maintain cordial personal relations with individual members of the Jewish elite through his 12-year reign. As his first finance minister, he appointed Sir Sasson Heskel, the only Jew who ever held cabinet rank in Iraq. Four members represented the Jews in the Iraqi parliament. In 1946 their number increased to six. In the Senate
Menahem Salih Daniel
represented them and after him his son, Ezra
Because of their generally superior educational qualifications, Jews and Christians could be found in the civil service during the first decade of the kingdom while it was still under the British Mandate. However, as early as 1921, a strong Arab nationalist element rejected the employment of foreigners and non-Muslims. This opposition intensified after Iraq had gained full independence in 1932 and became even stronger after the death of Faysal the following year.
Zionist Activity During the British Mandate
Zionist activity resumed in Iraq about a year after World War I ended; though still unorganized, serious fundraising was undertaken through the initiatives of a few individuals. Despite the substantial sums donated by a few wealthy philanthropists for development projects in the Holy Land, most of the Jewish mercantile elite of Iraq remained unattracted by Zionism. The first organized Zionist group in the postwar period included a schoolteacher, a law student, and a police officer. In 1920 they founded an association in Baghdad with the innocuous name of "Jamʿiyya Adabiyya Isrā ʾ iliyya" ("Jewish Literary Society"), which published a short-lived journal in Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic, Yeshurun. In early 1921, a group within the Jewish Literary Society founded a separate Zionist society, "Al-Jam ʿi yya al-Sahyuniyya li-Bilād al-Rāfidayn" ("The Mesopotamian Zionist Society) under the presidency of
Aaron Sassoon b. Eliahu Nahum
, who was also known as "ha-Moreh" (the teacher). The society received a permit from the government. Ha-Moreh was very active together with his deputy, the lawyer Joseph Elias
Gabbai, and others. The organization's headquarters were in Baghdad and branches existed in Basra, Khanaqin, Amara and Arbil. Fundraising was the principal object of the Zionists in Iraq during the 1920s. Emissaries from the Holy Land were well received and helped by the authorities of the British Mandate and senior Iraqi officials. The Zionists enjoyed considerable sympathy from the poorer Jewish masses, who demonstrated their support in vocal public gatherings, which offended Arab public opinion, but failed to attract any influential community figures. The unrestrained behavior of the Zionists caused anxiety among members of the upper class such as Menahem Salih Daniel, a leading Baghdadi Jewish notable and later, as noted above, a senator in the Iraqi Senate. In reacting to the request for help in promoting Zionist activities in Iraq, he foresaw the danger to the community because of the political style the Zionists endorsed. Zionist ideology was attacked by another prominent figure, Joseph
, a Baghdadi Jewish lawyer, in a letter published in the Iraq Times in November 1938.
British officials and the native Arab authorities also warned both the Zionists and the visiting representative of the movement against public activities and indiscreet statements. The nationalist press was more emphatic in this regard. Therefore, even though no actual ban was imposed upon their activities in Iraq until 1929, the need to maintain a low profile increased when the Zionist committee found it could not renew its permit in 1922, although it was allowed to continue operating unofficially until 1929.
In 1923 a "Keren Hayesod" committee was founded in Baghdad; contributions to the national funds passed through this committee. The size of contributions increased during the early years of British rule (1920–1924), but declined steadily afterwards, and Iraqi Jews were not represented at any international Zionist Congress after 1927. Evidence also shows that Congress representatives of the community before that date were actually foreigners who had succeeded in selling in Iraq the number of shekels required for representation by Zionist Congress rulers.
Short-lived Zionist societies were established at the end of the British Mandate, such as "Agudat Ahi'ever" (1929), whose aim was to spread the Hebrew book; the "Maccabi" sport society (1929–1930); "Histadrut ha-Noʿar ha-Ivri" (1929) and others. Hebrew teachers from the Holy Land were invited to teach Hebrew and Jewish history.
The visit of Sir Alfred Mond (a well-known Zionist) to Baghdad, in February 1928, marked the first anti-Zionist demonstration in the city. Some Jews who passed by were beaten.
The Palestine disturbances, which erupted in August 1929, aroused a widespread and highly vocal reaction in Iraq. The press published exaggerated reports placing the Arab casualties in the thousands. A leading national paper claimed that the Jews had thrown a bomb into a mosque, killing 70 worshipers at Friday prayers. On August 30 some 10,000 Arabs gathered in a Baghdad mosque, where prayers were recited for the victims of British and Zionist aggression. After the speeches, the crowd poured out into the streets for a demonstration march, which turned into violent clashes with the police. Some of the speakers did not differentiate between Zionists and other Iraqi Jews.
From that time the Iraqi government began to persecute Zionism, Palestinian Jewish teachers were expelled. In 1935 ha-Moreh was arrested and forced to leave Iraq for Palestine. After that there was no legal Zionist activity in Iraq.
Fascism & Anti-Semitism (1932-1941)
Iraqi Jews did not know the kind of
that prevailed in some Christian states of Europe. The first attempt to copy modern European antisemitic libels was made in 1924 by Sādiq Rasūl al-Qādirī, a former officer in the White Russian Army. He published his views, particularly that of worldwide conspiracy, in a Baghdadi newspaper. The Jewish response in its own weekly newspaper, al-Misbah, compelled al-Qādirī to apologize, although he later published his antisemitic memoirs.
At that time the press drew a clear dividing line between Judaism and Zionism. This line became blurred in the 1930s, along with the demand to remove Jews from the genealogical tree of the Semitic peoples. This anti-Jewish trend coincided with Faysal's death in 1933, which brought about a noticeable change for the Jewish community. His death also came at the same time as the Assyrian massacre, which created a climate of insecurity among the minorities. Iraqi Jewry at that time had been subject to threats and invectives emanating not only from extremist elements, but also from official state institutions as well. Dr. Sāmī Shawkat, a high official in the Ministry of Education in the pre-war years and for a while its director general, was the head of "al-Futuwwa," an imitation of Hitler's Youth. In one of his addresses, "The Profession of Death," he called on Iraqi youth to adopt the way of life of Nazi Fascists. In another speech he branded the Jews as the enemy from within, who should be treated accordingly. In another, he praised Hitler and Mussolini for eradicating their internal enemies (the Jews). Syrian and Palestinian teachers often supported Shawkat in his preaching.
The German ambassador, Dr. F. Grobba, distributed funds and Nazi films, books, and pamphlets in the capital of Iraq, mostly sponsoring the anti-British and the nationalists. Grobba also serialized Hitler's book Mein Kampf in a daily newspaper. He and his German cadre maintained a great influence upon the leadership of the state and upon many classes of the Iraqi people, especially through the directors of the Ministry of Education.
The first anti-Jewish act occurred in September 1934, when 10 Jews were dismissed from their posts in the Ministry of Economics and Communications. From then on an unofficial quota was fixed for the number of Jews to be appointed to the civil service.
Pro-Palestinian, anti-British, anti-Jewish, and anti-Zionist sentiments rose to new heights in Iraq in 1936. The Arab general strike and the revolt, which erupted in Palestine that year, gave the conflict a new centrality in Arab politics. The atmosphere in Baghdad became highly charged. The Committee for the Defense of Palestine circulated anti-Jewish
pamphlets. Over a four-week period, extending from mid-September to mid-October, three Jews were murdered in Baghdad and in Basra. A bomb, which however failed to explode, was thrown into a Baghdadi synagogue on Yom Kippur (September 27). Several other bombs were thrown at Jewish clubs, and street gangs roughed up a number of Jews.
The president of the Baghdadi Jewish community, Rabbi
, who was himself a staunch anti-Zionist, issued a public statement, in response to a demand from the national press, affirming loyalty to the Arab cause in Palestine and dissociating Iraqi Jewry from Zionism. This did not bring about any real improvement in the situation and, in August 1937, incidents against the Jews were renewed, fostered then and later by Syrians and Palestinians who had settled in Iraq.
During & After World War II (1941-1949)
The Anti-Jewish Pogrom of June 1-2, 1941 - "Alfarhud"
On June 1, the first day of Shavuʿot, which in Iraq was traditionally marked by joyous pilgrimages to the tomb of holy men and visits of friends and relatives, the Hashemite regent, 'Abd al-Ilāh, returned to the capital from his exile in Transjordan. A festive crowd of Jews crossed over the west bank of the Tigris River to welcome the returning prince. On the way back, a group of soldiers, who were soon joined by civilians, turned on the Jews and attacked them, killing one and injuring others. Anti-Jewish riots soon spread throughout the city, especially on the east bank of the Tigris, where most of the Jews lived. By nightfall, a major pogrom was under way, led by soldiers and paramilitary youth gangs, followed by a mob. The rampage of murder and plunder in the Jewish neighborhoods and business districts continued until the afternoon of the following day, when the regent finally gave orders for the police to fire upon the rioters and Kurdish troops were brought in to maintain order.
In the " Farhud," 179 Jews of both sexes and all ages were killed, 242 children were left orphans, and 586 businesses were looted, 911 buildings housing more than 12,000 people were pillaged. The total property loss was estimated by the Jewish community's own investigating committee to be approximately 680,000 pounds.
The " Farhud " dramatically undermined the confidence of all Iraqi Jewry and, like the Assyrian massacres of 1933, had a highly unsettling effect upon all the Iraqi minorities. Nevertheless, many Jews tried to convince themselves that the worst was over. A factor in this was the commercial boom during the war, of which the Jewish business community was the prime beneficiary. Another factor was the tranquility which prevailed during the next years of the war. But the shadow of the " Farhud " continued to hover for years.
The pogrom caused a split between the youth of the Jewish community and its traditional leadership. The new generation turned to two separate directions: the Communist and the Zionist movements, the activity of both being underground.
Jewish Youth in the Communist Party
The Communist underground was joined by some young Jewish intellectuals who believed that by changing the regime of the state salvation would come to them as a minority. During the 1940s they played an important part in organizing demonstrations and anti-government activities. Two of them reached the top ranks of the party and were hanged in 1949. In 1946 'Uṣbat Mukāfahat al-Ṣahyūniyya' (the Anti-Zionist League) was authorized by the Iraqi government. This League succeeded in attracting many intellectuals. Its meetings were well attended and its daily newspaper, 'al-'Usba', was widely read. The League soon established itself as an outspoken representative of the Iraqi Jewish community on the issue of Palestine. It distinguished between Judaism and Zionism, terming the latter a "colonialist phenomenon." In June 1946 the League organized a large demonstration in Baghdad against "the injustice in Palestine." Three months after granting permission, the authorities banned 'al-'Usba' and closed it. Its leaders were arrested and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment.
The role of Jewish communists was visible in the daily demonstrations of February 1948, which erupted against the Portsmouth Agreement, endangered the regime, and brought down the government. The Jewish communists succeeded in convincing many Jews, including the leadership of the Jewish community, to participate in the demonstrations. By their behavior they stirred the anger of the government, which removed its protection from its Jewish subjects and began to display an official antisemitic policy.
The Zionist Underground
The Zionist Movement renewed its activity in March 1942 by forming the youth organization called Tenu'at he-Ḥalutz (the Pioneer Movement) and paramilitary youth, Haganah, among Iraqi Jews. Contrary to the Communist underground, the Zionists did not work against the regime. They concentrated on teaching Hebrew and educating the young generation to Zionism and pioneering. A main purpose was to convince the Jews, mainly the youth, to immigrate to Ereẓ Israel.
The ranks of the Zionist movement in Iraq increased when World War II was over, and the Iraqi press began to address the Palestine question. The Zionist underground organizations in Iraq, despite some crises, were flooded, from 1945 until 1951, with requests for joining. The most dangerous crisis was that of October 1949, which nearly wiped out the Zionist movement in Iraq. The Iraqi authorities arrested about 50 Jews who were accused of Zionism and court-martialed. The second crisis was that of May–June 1951. When the evacuation of the Jews was nearing its end, the Iraqi government uncovered a spy ring in Baghdad, run by two foreigners, Yehuda Tajir and Rodny, who were arrested. The authorities also discovered explosives, guns, files, typewriters, presses, and membership lists hidden in synagogues or buried in private homes. As a result, the police arrested about 80 Jews, 13 of them were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment, two others (Yosef Basri and Shalom Saleh) were sentenced to death and hanged on January 19, 1952. By June 15, 1951, the order was given to the Zionist underground to cease its activity in Iraq.
When World War II was over the former pro-Nazi followers were released and began anew their activities and incitement against the Jews. The General Assembly vote in favor of the partition of Palestine on November 29, 1947, increased tensions between Arabs and Jews in Iraq and the authorities started to oppress the Jews.
The declaration of martial law, before sending Iraqi troops to Palestine, marked the beginning of official antisemitism. At first it was directed mainly against Communists but soon was used against Jews, when it became clear that the Arab offensive in Palestine was encountering serious difficulties. Now the Iraqi authorities seemed increasingly willing to accommodate anti-Jewish demands as a mean of diverting the attention of the Iraqi population from the failure in Palestine and from concern with social and political reforms. From now on, abuses and restrictions characterized the life of the Jews in Iraq. Restrictions were imposed on travel abroad and disposal of property. Hundreds of Jews were dismissed from public service; efforts were made to eliminate Jews from the army and the police; they were prohibited from buying and selling property; they were also discriminated against in obtaining the necessary licenses granting access to some professions.
At the same time the nationalist press opened with aggressive attacks against the Jews, practically daily. The longstanding distinction between Judaism and Zionism was fast becoming blurred, The Jews were held responsible for the economic hardship faced by Iraq in 1948–49, and their leaders were threatened by the national press. The most important effect, which shook the Jewish community to the core, was the hanging of Shafiq Adas, one of the wealthiest Jews in the country, in front of his house in Basra on September 23, 1948. Adas was condemned on the unlikely charge of having supplied scrap metal to the Zionist state.
When Adas was executed about 450 Jews were in the jails; added to these were those arrested the following year, in early October 1949. The detainees were sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from 2 to 10 years. In carrying out the arrests the police also arrested another 700 Jews and released them after investigation, most of them were relatives of those who were brought before martial courts.
The Jewish Exodus - Operation Ezra & Nehemiah (1949)
Throughout 1949, the general disaffection of Iraqi Jewry was exacerbated. With this atmosphere Jewish youths were fleeing the country. The clandestine crossing of the Iranian border began to assume major proportions. Within a few months in 1950, about 10,000 Jews fled Iraq in this way. Once in Iran, most Iraqi Jews were directed to the large refugee camp administered by the Joint Distribution Committee near Teheran, and from there they were airlifted to Israel.
In an attempt to stabilize the situation and to solve the Jewish problem, the government introduced a bill in the Iraqi Parliament at the beginning of March 1950 that would in effect permit Jews who desired to leave the country for good to do so after renouncing their Iraqi citizenship. The bill also provided for the denaturalization of those Jews who had already left the country. The bill was duly passed in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate as Law No. 1 0f 1950.
Iraqi government officials thought that only about 6,000–7,000 and at most 10,000 Jews would take advantage of the new law. The British diplomats in Baghdad and the Israelis shared this view as well. They were all mistaken. The Jews were tired of life in Iraq. And when the Zionist organization in Iraq issued a call at the end of Passover (April 8, 1950) for Jews to come forward and register for emigration in the centers which had been set up at the major synagogues, the call was highly effective. The overwhelming majority of the Jewish community preferred to leave their birthplace. By July 5, 1951, about 105,000 had arrived in Israel.
On March 10, 1951, only one day after the registration deadline had passed, while nearly 65,000 Jews were waiting for departure, the authorities enacted a law which froze the assets of all departing Jews and placed them under the control of a government bureau. Parliament passed a second law, which declared that those Iraqi Jews who were abroad and did not return home within a specific period would forfeit both their nationality and their property. Although some individuals succeeded in smuggling out some money after March 10, 1951, many more were reduced to paupers, being allowed to take out only 50 dinars ($140) per adult and 20 to 30 dinars ($56 to $84) per minor, depending upon the age.
After the Mass Emigration
About 6,000 Jews preferred to remain in Iraq after the mass emigration. Over the years this number fell to about 4,700 in 1957 and about 3,000 in 1968 when the Baʿth Party came to power in Iraq. Their number continued to decline and in the early 21st century there were only a handful of Jews still living in Iraq. Most of those remaining were from the elite and the rich families, who believed that the violent storm which had marked the life of the Jews in Iraq before and during the mass emigration would pass.
The Jewish community, which consisted before the mass emigration of about one quarter of the population of Baghdad, now became a small and unimportant one. These Jews no longer dominated the economic and the financial life of the country, and Jewish youth posed no danger to the regime through activities in the communist underground. So the regime removed some of the restrictions, and the pressure upon them was lightened to some degree. But in principle, the antagonistic attitude to them remained. Still in force were the restrictions on Jews registering in the universities and the sanction of taking away Iraqi nationality from those who did not return to the country within a limited time, which was marked in their passports. In 1954 the authorities nationalized the Jewish Meir Elias Hospital, which was the most modern and largest in Iraq. The Iraqi government also expropriated from the Jewish community the Rima Kheduri Hospital, which treated eye diseases.
Relief came under Brigadier 'Abd al-Karīm Qāsim (1958–1963), who toppled the monarchy by a military revolution on July 14, 1958. Qāsim canceled all the restrictions against the Jews. He also released Yehuda Tajir and let him go back to Israel. The Jewish golden age under Qāsim was affected however by the confiscation and destruction of the Jewish cemetery, located in the middle of the capital, in order to build a tower to immortalize his name.
Qāsim was assassinated by Colonel 'Abd al-Salām 'Ārif, who carried out a successful coup on February 13, 1963. The new rulers reinstated all the restrictions which had been in force before Qāsim, and added others: Passports were not to be issued to Jews; the Jews were prevented from discounting their promissory notes and it was prohibited to grant them credit in the then-nationalized banks; again, Jewish students were not to be admitted to government colleges; a warning was issued to all Jews abroad to return to Iraq within three months, otherwise they would be denationalized and their movable and immovable property in Iraq would be sequestrated; Jews were not allowed to sell their landed property.
After the Six-Day War, the situation of the Iraqi Jews worsened more. They were terrorized and cruelly persecuted. The government opened with a series of detentions, enacted laws, and issued instructions which brought the Jewish community to the threshold of starvation. The measures taken against the small isolated Jewish community of Baghdad after the Six-Day War included: warning the public not to cooperate with them; expelling them from all social clubs; depriving Jewish importers and pharmacists of their licenses; forbidding all transactions with Jews (including access to the banks); prohibiting them from selling their cars and furniture; and cutting off all telephone communications from their homes, offices, or stores.
Under the Baʿth regime (1968–2003), persecution increased and many Jews reached starvation level. Some were jailed, accused of spying or held without any formal charge. Within one year (January 1969–January 1970), 13 were hanged; up to April 1973 the total number of Jews hanged, murdered, kidnapped, or who simply disappeared reached 46; dozens more were jailed.
The shock following the executions of the innocent Jews caused repercussions throughout the world and the world conscience was aroused. The Iraqi government responded to the world reaction by relaxing, for a while, some of its anti-Jewish discriminatory measures, including those limiting travel in Baghdad and throughout Iraq, too. At the same time a peace treaty was signed (March 1970) between the Iraqi government and the Kurdish rebels. Some Jews seized the opportunity and escaped across the Kurdish Mountains, in the summer of 1970, to the Iranian frontier. Up to 300 Jews fled the country in this way. In September 1971 the authorities began to issue passports to the Jews, and about 1,300 Jews left Iraq legally. They sought refuge mainly in England, Canada, the United States, and Israel. In 1975 the Jews in Iraq numbered about 350; over time this figure declined further, reaching c. 120 in 1996. At the beginning of the 21st century, as stated, there were only a handful of Jews there. Thus came to its end the most ancient Diaspora of the Jewish people.
Iraq & Israel
, including 440 mi. (700 km.) of desert and steppe, come between Iraq and Israel, making Iraq's interests and fears vis-à-vis Israel less realistic than those of the Arab states that border directly upon the latter. Iraq has no territorial questions to settle with Israel, and its own internal and foreign problems (the Kurds, the Persian Gulf, conflicts with
, social and economic unrest, the absence of a stable and representative government) are more pressing and important than the conflict with Israel. The position taken by Iraq toward Israel has been a function of its inter-Arab aspirations and relations; the importance of the Pan-Arab factor among active Iraqi circles, especially the Sunnis, who, under Ṣaddām, were the basic support of the Iraqi authorities; and its interest in an outlet on the Mediterranean Sea. Under both Hashemite and republican rule, Iraq nonetheless displayed active and extreme hostility toward Israel.
There were, however, certain differences in Iraqi policy toward Israel between the Hashemite period and the revolutionary republic established in 1958. During the Hashemite monarchy and Nūrī al-Saʿīd's rule, the latter proposed (in his "Blue Book" of 1943) a certain degree of autonomy for the Jewish community in Palestine in the framework of his plan for a federation of the Fertile Crescent. This period was also characterized by the special ties between Hashemite Iraq and Jordan and the need to justify the alliance between Iraq and Britain by displays of anti-Israel extremism and anti-Israel influence on Britain. On the other hand, in his contacts with the British, Nūrī al-Saʿīd was willing to discuss a compromise solution in Palestine on the basis of the UN partition plan. At the time leftist circles in Iraq did not show any special hostility toward Israel.ʿAbd al-Karīm Qāsim (July 1958–February 1963) exploited anti-Israel positions and support for the Palestinians in his inter-Arab struggles, but he did not actually turn his attention to a struggle against Israel and personally was not particularly extreme in relation to this subject. After Qāsim's fall the combination of a military government and the Pan-Arab ideology of the ruling Baʿth Party exacerbated hostility toward Israel.
Iraq became increasingly one of the most extreme forces in Arab deliberations and often called for the destruction of Israel. This extremism was motivated by Iraq's competition with
for supremacy in the Arab world and the desire to place Egypt in an untenable position by proposing initiatives that Egypt could not accept and thus making the latter seem to be weak and hesitant. Anti-Israel extremism also served the Iraqi regimes as (a) a pretext for initiatives and intervention in the countries of the Fertile Crescent and competition with Syria, one of the most outspoken of Israel's enemies; (b) in the struggle with the opposition nationalist factors within Iraq, which tend toward Pan-Arabism and hostility toward Israel; (c) as a justification of government policy among the Iraqi public and to deflect attention from more pressing internal
problems. It was also motivated by feelings of injured prestige and the longing for revenge, especially among the army following the defeats in the wars against Israel.
Despite the logistical difficulties, Iraq participated in two wars against Israel (1948, 1967), and during the Sinai Campaign (1956) sent troops into Jordan. As early as December 1947, it demanded that regular Arab troops invade that country, following the UN decision to partition Palestine. When irregular Arab forces were waging war in Palestine (end of 1947–May 14, 1948), Iraqis stood out among the officers and soldiers of the Arab "rescue force." The Iraqi deputy chief of staff, General Ismāʿil Ṣafwat, was appointed head of the Palestinian forces and volunteers, and Ṭāhā al-Hāshimī was appointed inspector general of the "rescue force." With the invasion of Palestine by regular Arab forces (May 15, 1948), the Iraqi general Nūr-Din Maḥmūd was appointed acting commander. The Iraqi force that invaded Palestine waged hard-fought battles against the Israel Defense Forces in the Jenin area at the beginning of June 1948. Just before the Six-Day War a token force came from Iraq to Egypt (May 31) and after hostilities broke out an Iraqi brigade entered Jordan (June 5) and an Iraqi plane bombed Netanyah (June 6). The Iraqi brigade that entered Jordan at the beginning of the war was not withdrawn with the cease-fire and was added to later on until the Iraqi expedition force reached 12,000 soldiers. In March 1969 an Iraqi force of 6,000 men entered southern Syria in the framework of the Eastern Arab Command against Israel. The Iraqi contingent in Jordan participated in bombardments of Israel territory a number of times after the Six-Day War.
Iraq objected to the cease-fires of June and July 1948, and refused to conduct negotiations on an armistice with Israel (as Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon did). In June 1949 Iraq withdrew its forces from the "triangle" sector (Shechem-Jenin-Ṭūl-Karm). It also avoided expressly agreeing to the 1967 cease-fire, replying on June 15, 1967, that its forces were under joint command with Jordan, which agreed to the cease-fire. Iraq strongly opposed the Security Council resolution of Nov. 22, 1967 and any political settlement in Palestine.
Except for times of war there has been a large gap between the ostensible extremism of Iraq and its actual contributions to Arab belligerence against Israel. Among the factors that precluded more active Iraqi participation were internal struggles and difficulties, the extended battles against the Kurds, and tension regarding Iran and the Persian Gulf. Iraqi propaganda also accused Israel of lending support to the Kurds. Iraqi hostility to Israel continued unabated; a symptom was its firing 39 scud missiles into Israel in the 1991 first Gulf War (although Israel was not a participant in that war). The downfall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 did not produce any normalization of Israel–Iraq relations.
Iraq was one of the leading forces in the Arab economic boycott of Israel. On the eve of the UN resolution to partition Palestine, it demanded that the Arab states cancel all Western oil rights. In April 1948, it closed off the IPC oil pipeline to Haifa, and its consequent losses in the period 1948 to 1958 were estimated at more than $400,000,000. In 1967 Iraq was again among the more extreme forces in its desire to use oil as a weapon in order to prevent Western support for Israel (see also
Jewish Community Traditions
In view of the antiquity of the community, one could assume that ancient elements have been preserved in their traditional music. A long period of cultural decline, however, and contact with the powerful and flourishing music of the Muslim world, of which Iraq was for a long time an influential center, deeply marked their music and somehow altered their pre-Islamic heritage. Although it is difficult to trace a borderline between the older and the more recent elements, it would appear that older elements have been preserved only in the biblical cantillations and some of the synagogal melodies.
The second volume of
's Thesaurus of Hebrew-Oriental Melodies (1923) contains the Babylonian traditions. Idelsohn classified the synagogal melodies according to 13 basic "modes," but these are fairly common to many of the Near Eastern communities. However, the Babylonians also had a number of melodic patterns peculiarly their own. One of these is the "lamentations mode," for which Idelsohn could find an analogy only in the chants of the Syrian Jacobites and the Copts (cf. Thesaurus II, no. 17). It has become possible to identify still another Babylonian "lamentations mode," which shows similar archaic features (see A.
in: Yuval I, 1968, pp. 194–203). In this context it is surely significant that
in his Taḥkemoni (ch. 18) emphasized the mournful character of their songs, while denigrating the Babylonian poets.
From the early Middle Ages the Babylonian rabbinic authorities were known for their strict adherence to traditional liturgical chant. One of the oldest masters of post-talmudic synagogal chant was
Yehudai b. Naḥman
Gaon of Sura (eighth century), whose tradition was supposed to go back to the talmudic period. Two of the earliest documents concerning Jewish music come to us from Babylonian Gaonic circles. The first is a paragraph in
's Sefer ha-Emunot ve-ha-De'ot ("Book of Beliefs and Opinions") where he speaks of the influence of the rhythmic modes on the soul; the second is by R. Hai Gaon and it proposes an answer to a question put by the Jews of Gabes (Tunisia) concerning the use of singing and playing during the marriage ceremony. A vivid description of responsorial and even choral singing in tenth-century Baghdad is given in
Nathan b. Isaac
ha-Bavli's description of the installation of the Exilarch Oukba, who was himself a poet-musician having composed and performed songs in honor of the caliph. Benjamin of Tudela reports from his travels (c. 1160–80) that Eleazar b. Ẓemaḥ, the head of one of the ten rabbinical academies of Baghdad, and his brothers "know how to sing the hymns according to the manner of the singers of the Temple." Another traveler of the same period,
Pethahiah of Regensburg
, gives a most picturesque description of the simultaneous talmudic chanting of the 2,000 pupils
of Samuel b. Ali's Yeshivah at Baghdad. He also reports that the Jews there "know a certain number of traditional melodies for each psalm," and on intermediate days (ḥol hamo'ed) "the psalms are performed with instrumental accompaniment." The instrumental skill went side by side with the creation of a rich repertoire of folk and para-liturgical song in Judeo-Arabic by Babylonian poets. A great number of talented instrumentalists and singers rose to prominent positions in the musical life of the surrounding culture. The best known of these, in the 19th and 20th centuries, were the kamān player Biddūn, the singers Reuben Michael Rajwān and Salmān Moshi, the santour player Ṣaliḥ Raḥmūn Fataw and his son, and the composer and 'ud player
. All of them were highly proficient in the performance of the prestigious classical genre known as the Iraki maqam. Ezra Aharon led the official group of such distinguished specialist performers who represented Iraq in the first International Congress on Arab music held in Cairo in 1932. This group comprised six Jewish instrumentalists and an Arab vocalist. Not long after this congress, in 1936, composer and violinist
and his brother ('ud player) founded the first official musical ensemble, that of the Iraq Broadcasting service. Among the finest executants of S. Kuwaiti's works was the famous Umm Kulthum who sang his compositions.
Folk music was an inseparable part of all events including two main categories: (1) Events connected with the annual cycle (especially those concerning the general religious life affairs of the community); (2) Those connected with life cycle (events chiefly concerning the life of the individual). The rich repertory of folk music comprises men's songs and women's songs whose texts are in Hebrew and in Judeo-Arabic dialect and they are performed either by amateurs or by professionals accompanied by various musical instruments. A special genre held in great favor among Jews is the group of Station's songs in Judeo-Arabic called Kunag sung at the pilgrimage to the Ezekiel and Ezra graves. Jews from many parts of the country were accustomed to spend several days there, during which time music and dance played a prominent role. Since the Kunags are religious in content they were accepted into the category of piyyutim and were accorded the status of sacred songs.
Another two popular Hebrew pilgrimage songs to the mentioned graves and another one for Lag ba′Omer were composed by the venerable religious authority R. Yoseph Hayyim (1839–1909). His Lag ba'Omer song (we-amartem ko leḥay) and two songs for Simḥat Torah were introduced into the repertory of Israeli songs and published by Idelsohn.
Until 1950 there existed in Baghdad a famous group of four or five woman singers and players on various drums called Daqaqāt (Drummers), who performed at Jewish and non-Jewish family rejoicings and festivities. There were also the woman wailers, both professional and private. Their most notable appearances were at the mourning ceremonies for young people not yet married: two groups of women chanted antiphonally, first wedding songs and then lamentations, beating their breasts and scratching their faces.
Many folk songs were written down and are to be found in manuscripts with musical indications, such as the
or the name of the song to the melody of which the poem has to be sung (see especially
485). Sometimes the poets composed according to the rhythm, rhyme, and even used the first verse of a given song with slight changes. A number of the songs in Judeo-Arabic have an introduction in Hebrew in the form of a prayer or of a laudatory nature. The public as a refrain usually sings this introduction after each verse sung by a soloist. Almost all the folk songs are performed in this sort of responsorial style.
For the musical traditions of Iraqi Kurdistan, see
, musical tradition.
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ve-Yehudei Irak (1994); idem, " Ha-Sikhsukh al Ereẓ Yisrael ve-Yaḥasei Yehudim-Muslemim be-Irak, " in: Pe'amim, 62 (1995), 111–131; Y. Meir, Me'ever la-Midbar (1973); idem, Hitpatteḥut Hevratit-Tarbutit shel Yehudei Irak (1989); idem, Be-Ikar ba-Mahteret (1993); A. Sha'ul, Qiṣṣssat Ḥayātīi fī Wādī al-Rāfidain (1980); M. Sawdayee, All Waiting To Be Hanged (1974); A. Shiblak, The Lure of Zion (1986); M. Shohet, Benei Adat Moshe (1979); G. Strasman, Ba-Ḥazarah min ha-Gardom (1992); R. Shnir, " Yaḥasei Yehudim-Muslemim ba-Sifrut u-va-Ittonut shel Yehudei Irak," in: Pe'amim 63 (1995), 5–40; S. G. Haim, "Aspects of Jewish Life in Baghdad under the Monarchy," in: MES, 12 (1976), 188–208; Z. Yehuda (ed.), Mi-Bavel le-Yerushalayim (1980). IRAQ AND ISRAEL: E. Berger, The Covenant and the Sword, 1948 – 56 (1965). MUSICAL TRADITION: A. Idelsohn, Thesaurus of Oriental Hebrew Melodies, 2 (1923); J. al-Ḥanafi, al-Mughanūn al-Baghdadiyūn (1964), a directory of Baghdad – including Jewish – musicians; A. Shiloah, The Musical Tradition of Iraqi Jews (1983); Avishur, Shirat ha-Nashim shel Yehudei Iraq (1987); S. Manasseh, "Daqqaqat: Jewish Women Musicians from Iraq," in: International Council for Traditional Music (UK Chapter), 25 (1990), 7–15; idem, "A Song To Heal Your Wounds. Traditional Lullabies in the Repertoire of the Jews of Iraq," in: Musica Judaica, 10 (1991/2), 1–29.