ALEPPO (Ar. Ḥalab; called by the Jews Aram-Ẓoba (Aram Ẓova)), second-largest city in Syria and the center of northern Syria. The Hebrew form of Aleppo (Ḥaleb) is, according to a legend quoted by the 12th-century traveler, *Pethahiah of Regensburg, derived from the tradition that Abraham pastured his sheep on the mountain of Aleppo and distributed their milk (ḥalav) to the poor on its slopes. According to Jewish tradition, mentioned by Rabbi Abraham Dayyan, the beginning of the community was in the era of Joab ben Ẓeruiah, the conqueror of the city in the time of King David, who also built the great synagogue. There are also other non-Jewish traditions which confirm the existence of the community in the Greek period. It would seem that the establishment of the Jewish community was in this period. Jewish settlement there has continued uninterruptedly since Roman times. The ancient section of the great synagogue was built in the form of a basilica with three stoae during the Byzantine period; an inscription on it dates from 834. The Jews lived in a separate quarter before the Muslim conquest in 636. They lived separately during the Muslim period in the northeastern area of the city. The most ancient synagogue, named Kanisat Mutakal, was built in the fourth century and was located in the Parafara quarter in the northeastern region of the city. It is the oldest Jewish building in the city. During the Muslim period the Jewish quarter was named Mahal al-Yahud. In the Seljuk period the Jewish quarter was spread over a large area of the walled city. On the south it bordered on the market street, on the west the castle, on the east the Dār Al-Bbatih food merchandise area, and on the north the wall and the Jewish gate (Bab al-Yahud). This latter gate was named from the end of the 12th century Bab al-Naṣr (Victory Gate). In the anarchic period (1023–79) it seems that there were also Jews who lived outside the Jewish quarter. A document from the 12th century deals with a Jewish building in the market street. There was also a synagogue located in a new suburb outside the walls.
*Saadiah Gaon was in Aleppo in 921 and it is said that he found Jewish scholars there. In the 11th century learned rabbis led a well-ordered community. R. Baruch b. Isaac was its leader at the end of the 11th century: fragments of his commentary on the Gemara as well as responsa have been found in the genizah. Apparently the rosh kehillot ("head of communities"), i.e., a leader common to the various communities of Jews (such as Babylonians, Palestinians, etc.), represented all Jews before the Muslim authorities. The leader of the community of Aleppo during the years 1015–29 was Jacob ben Joseph, who came to Aleppo from Fustat and served there as dayyan. He was also the dayyan responsible for the other communities in the region and received the title rosh kala from the Babylonian academy. He also had in Aleppo a bet midrash and had students from various countries. His successor in the 1030s was Jacob ben Isaac, who served as the dayyan of the Aleppo community. He died c. 1036. His successor as dayyan was Tamim ben Toviah. His grandson Tamim ben Toviah is known from another document dated 1189. A famous rabbi of the community, Barukh ben Isaac, served as dayyan in Aleppo from the 1180s. In the 1190s he headed a bet midrash and students gathered there around his son Joseph. Rabbi Barukh gave the proselyte Obadiah, who came to his bet midrash, a recommendation to the Jewish communities. Rabbi Barukh was known also as a significant halakhic posek, and as a Talmud parshan, too, and his commentaries were cited by scholars from Aleppo. He was busy also in public affairs.
The community seems to have had close contacts with Palestine, and heads of Palestinian yeshivot visited Aleppo. In the second half of the 12th century the great yeshivah of Baghdad was in contact with Aleppo. R. Zechariah b. Barachel, a disciple of the gaon *Samuel b. Ali of Baghdad, was appointed to head Aleppo's bet din. The scholars of Aleppo also exchanged letters with *Maimonides; R. *Joseph b. Aknin, Maimonides' disciple, lived in Aleppo at that time. We identify this scholar with the leader of the community in the 12th century, Joseph b. Judah Ibn Simeon. This scholar was a merchant who traveled to India and other lands and later returned to Aleppo, bought a big estate outside the city, and founded on it a bet midrash. He was also the court physician of Al-Malik Al-Tahir. Maimonides wrote that the Jews of Aleppo were very sociable, sat in taverns, and listened to music. In the castle of the city, ancient Jewish tombstones from the years 1148 and 1217–31 survived. With the inclusion of the town in Nūr al-Dīn's (Noureddin) kingdom in 1146, security improved. *Benjamin of Tudela estimated in 1173 the number of Jews in Aleppo as 5,000 (according to the best-preserved manuscript versions, but according to another manuscript the number was only 1,500). Community leaders such as R. Moses Alcostandini, R. Israel, and R. Shet appear in the letters of the Gaon *Samuel ben Ali. After *Saladin's death, Aleppo became the capital of an independent kingdom and until the middle of the 13th century the city enjoyed security and prosperity which the Jews shared. In 1217, Judah *Al-Ḥarizi visited Aleppo and reported that there were several Jewish scholars, physicians, and government officials active there at the time. He noted the names of R. Samuel, who was a scribe in the court, and the physician Eleazar. Among other persons cited by him were R. Azaryahu, a descendant of the exilarch; R Samuel b. Nissim (ḥakham Nasnot), who was the head of the local academy; R. Yeshuah; R. Yachun; Shemarya and his sons Muvkhar and Obadiah; R. Joseph, the son of Ḥisdai; R. Samuel, who was the king's scribe; and the physician Hananiah b. Bezalel. AlḤarizi
The Mongol conquest (1260) led to the slaughter of Jews, but the central synagogue, untouched by the invaders, offered asylum to many. The same year, the Mamluks defeated the Mongols and ruled over Syria until the beginning of the 16th century. Aleppo, their stronghold in northern Syria, contained a large garrison which brought further prosperity to the community. There were several wealthy merchants, officials, craftsmen, and outstanding scholars among the Aleppo Jews. The rich community maintained educational institutions and scholars. The growth of Muslim intolerance under rulers from Cairo and Damascus and the periodical publication of discriminatory laws against non-Muslims had their effect on the life of the community. In 1327, the synagogue was turned into a mosque with the approval of the sultan of Cairo and its name became the Al-Hayyat ("Snake") mosque. In the 13th century a group of *Karaites lived in Aleppo, but they disappeared in the following centuries. The end of the 14th century saw a power struggle between opposing factions of the leaders of the Mamluks and heavy taxes were imposed on the civilian population. In 1400, Tamerlane captured Aleppo with much bloodshed and destruction. Many Jews were killed and enslaved. The community gradually overcame this disaster and in the second half of the 15th century Aleppo Jews again traded with India and scholars resumed their learned activities. In the Mamluk period (1260–1517) the Jews lived in the old quarter and were active as merchants. Between 1375 and 1399 R. David, the son of Joshua, the nagid of Egypt, settled in Aleppo. The nasi of the community c. 1471 was Joseph b. Zadka b. Yishai b. Yoshiyahu. R. Obadiah of *Bertinoro pointed out in 1488 that the Jews of Aleppo had a good income. According to a census, 233 Jewish families lived there during 1570–90, but the real number was probably higher.
At the beginning of the 16th century exiles from Spain started to arrive in Aleppo, among them outstanding rabbis. They established a separate community although sharing the general institutions with the musta'arbim (Orientals). The Jewish population increased markedly; the great synagogue (called, "the Yellow") could no longer accommodate all the congregation and in the second half of the 15th century an additional (eastern) wing was added where the Sephardim prayed. The leaders of the Musta'arab congregation were members of the Dayyan family until the 19th century – in the 16th century: Moses and Saadiah Dayyan; in the 17th: Mordecai, Nathan, and Joseph Dayyan; in the 18th: Nathan, Mordecai (d. 1733), Samuel (d. 1722), Joseph, and Mordecai (d. 1774) Dayyan. The communal leader of the Musta'arab congregation during the 16th century was the sheikh al-yahud. The spiritual and intellectual leadership of the community gradually passed to the Sephardim, and important rabbis include R. Solomon Atartoros in the middle of the 16th century and after him R. Abraham b. Asher of Safed, R. Moses Chalaz, R. Eliezer b. Yoḥai, and R. Moses Halevi Ibn Alkabaz, R. Samuel b. Abraham *Laniado, his son, R. Abraham (who officiated until 1623), and his grandson, R. Solomon. In the 16th century disputes broke out between the Musta'arab and the Sephardi congregations, but later the relations between them improved and they lived peacefully. The leader of the community in the beginning of the 18th century was Samuel Rigwan. Other famous rabbis in the 18th century were Joseph Abadi, Samuel Deweik Hacohen (d. 1732), Samuel Pinto (d. 1714), Mordecai Asban, Judah Kazin, Zadka Hutzin, Gabriel Hacohen, Yeshayah Dabah, Michael Harari, David Laniado, Ḥayyim Ataya, Elijah Laniado, Isaac Antibi, Yeshayah Ataya, Ezrz Zaig, and Isaac Beracha. Famous scholars in the city in the same time period were the brothers Joseph (d. 1736) and Yom Tov Safsaya. From the end of the 17th century an academy (yeshivah) operated in Aleppo. In 1730 R. Eliya Silvera founded a Midrash Silvera and the first head of this institution was R. Yeshayah Dabah (d. 1772). R. Samuel Pinto was head of a bet midrash in the first half of the 18th century. Many of the above scholars wrote books on rabbinic subjects, most of them printed in Italy. In the 17th century significant Jewish manuscripts from Aleppo were bought in France and Britain. After the Ottoman conquest in 1517, constant contacts were established with the great communities in Constantinople and the other towns in Turkey, as were trade links with them and with Persia and India. Contacts with the Jews of Palestine were also close, and the influence of the Safed kabbalists was marked. Shabbateanism found many adherents in Aleppo, especially R. Solomon Laniado and R. Nathan Dayyan, R. Moses Galante and Daniel Pinto, and after *Shabbetai's apostasy, *Nathan of Gaza went to Aleppo and continued his activities there. In 1684 R. Solomon Laniado wrote a letter as the rabbi of the two congregations.
The traveler Texieira estimated c. 1600 the Jewish population of the city at about 1,000 families, many of them wealthy. According to the census of 1672 there lived in the city 380 Jews who paid the jizya, most of them musta'arabs and 73 of Spanish origin. In 1695 there were 875 Jewish families. The Jews numbered about 5% of the city's population in the Ottoman period. In 1803 the traveler Taylor estimated that there were only 3,000 Jews in the city.
In 1700, R. Moses b. Raphael Harari of Salonika was rabbi of Aleppo. He died in 1729. At that time, European Jews from France and Italy also settled in Aleppo; they participated in the extensive trade between Persia and southern Europe in which Aleppo served as an important station. These merchants,
From the 1520s until the mid-17th century, Jews as well as Christians filled the post of emini gümrük, that is, the chief officer of the local customs house charged with the collection of receipts. Many Jews died in the plagues which occurred during the Ottoman period. Many scholars in the community created halakhic literature, especially responsa, codes, homiletics, exegesis of the Bible, and liturgy. There were also rabbis who created kabbalistic literature. Many of these scholars settled in Ereẓ Israel.
Between 1841 and 1860 three *blood libels occurred in Aleppo. In June 1853 the Greek-Catholic patriarch accused the Jews of Aleppo of kidnapping a Christian boy for ritual purposes. Despite the tension between Jews and Christians in the city, the Picciotto family helped the latter. Only a few Jewish students studied in the Christian schools. In 1854 the rabbis of Aleppo declared a ḥerem (boycott) on any relations with the Protestant missionaries who tried to proselytize Jews. From 1798 until the end of the 19th century several European states appointed European Jews who had settled in Aleppo as their consular representatives. The first was Raphael Picciotto, who was appointed in 1798 consul of Austria and Toscana, and other members of his family were later appointed consuls of other states. Another Raphael Picciotto was consul of Russia and Prussia between 1840 and 1880; the consul of Austria-Toscana was Elijah Picciotto and after his death in 1848 his son Moses inherited this office. The consul of Holland was Daniel Picciotto and of Belgium Hillel Picciotto. The consul of Persia was Joseph Picciotto and of Denmark Moses Picciotto, of Sweden and Norway Joseph Picciotto, and of the U.S. Hillel Picciotto. In the 18th century many local Jews acquired French or British citizenship. Until 1878 the French consul's attitude to Jews was negative, following the policy set by the consul Bertrand during his years in Aleppo (1862–78), but from 1878 the policy was changed by the consul Destree. British consuls protected the Jews of Aleppo throughout the century.
The ḥakham bashi in Aleppo was the supreme spiritual authority and from the 1870s there were two chief rabbis. The chief rabbi in 1858–69 was Hayyim Lebton, and after his death Saul Duwek (d. 1874), Mennaseh Sithon (1874–76), and Aaron Sheweika in the year 1880. The later rabbis were Moses Hacohen and Moses Sewid. The Francos established in the 18th century two schools for orphans and poor children. A great yeshivah was active. In 1862 the vali imprisoned R. Raphael Kazin, and freed him only under the order not to establish a Reform community in Aleppo. In 1865 a book by R. Elijah b. Amozeg of Leghorn, Am le-Mikra, was burned in Aleppo. In 1868 the first Jew was appointed to the meclis (city council) of Aleppo. From 1858 on Jews officiated in the mercantile court of law in Aleppo. In 1847, 3,500 Jews lived in the city, and in 1881, 10,200. During most of the Ottoman period Aleppo had the largest Jewish community in Syria. The majority of its Jews belonged to the middle class and were known as diligent merchants and agents. The local government, the European consuls who lived in the city, and the European agents of the trading companies recognized the economic power of Aleppo's Jews. A few Jews also had roles in the administration of the Vilayet of Aleppo, for the most part as tax collectors, custom officers, and *sarrafs, some earning vast amounts from these positions in addition to their own businesses.
In the first half of the 19th century, the status of the community declined both economically and culturally. At the same time hostilities erupted between the various religious communities in Syria. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 greatly affected the international trade of the Jewish merchants of Aleppo. In 1875, a blood libel was spread about the Jews of Aleppo; however, the missing Armenian boy, whose absence had provided the charge, was found in a nearby village. In 1869 the *Alliance Israélite Universelle established a school for boys with 68 students from the wealthy families and 15 children from needy families, but most of the latter left the school. In 1873 the school was closed and in 1874 it was reopened. In 1872 the Alliance established a school for girls, with 20–30 students, utilizing European teaching methods. It was closed and reopened a few times and only in the 1890s did it operate at full capacity. In 1865 Abraham Sasson and his sons set up a printing house in Aleppo, one of the sons having learned the craft in Leghorn. In 1887 Isaiah Dayyan established another printing press with the help of H.P. Kohen from Jerusalem. Two years later they had to cease operation, not being able to obtain a government license. The license was obtained in 1896 and printing resumed and continued until World War I. Having learned the craft with Eliezer *Ben-Yehuda in Jerusalem,
There are descriptions from the years 1931 and 1934 of the impoverishment of Aleppo Jewry. Most of the immigrants to Ereẓ Israel were needy. In the 1940s many Jews immigrated through *"illegal" immigration (Aliyah Bet). In the year 1944, in the wake of the deteriorating political and economic situation of the community, 510 emigrated from Aleppo to Ereẓ Israel. In 1945 many children and young men immigrated to Ereẓ Israel. The police accused the leader of the community of Aleppo, Rachmo Nechmad, of aiding the secret immigration to Ereẓ Israel. Among the scholars of the first half of the 20th century were R. Ezra Abadi, R. Abraham Salem, R. David Moses Sithon, R. Elijah Lopez, R. Judah Ataya, R. Abraham Isaac Dewik, and R. Isaac Shehibar.
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Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.