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IRBIL (or Erbil; formerly Arbil), one of the four important towns of Assyria and now situated in Iraq to the E. of *Mosul, in the fertile plain between the Great Zab and the Small Zab. A Jewish community existed in Irbil continuously from the end of the Second Temple period when it was the capital of the *Adiabene kingdom until the 1950s. At the end of the 12th century and during the first half of the 13th century, Irbil was the capital of an independent principality. During that period there was a large community there; it was considered as one of the most important in northern *Babylonia. In the dispute between the exilarch Samuel and the famous rosh yeshivah *Samuel b. Ali at the end of the 12th century the community of Irbil supported the exilarch. At that time there was no lack of intellectuals in the community. Judah *al-Ḥarizi, who visited Iraq at the beginning of the 13th century, mentions poets among the Jews of the town, as well as the "noblemen of Irbil." During the middle of the century the Gaon Eli b. Zechariah, the Irbilite, lived in the town. In 1275 *Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed was copied from its Arabic original by Joseph ha-Kohen b. Eli b. Aaron in Irbil (Neubauer, 1237).

There was also an important community in Irbil under the Turkish rule. During the second half of the 16th century Irbil was mentioned by the author-traveler Zakariyyā al-Ẓāhirī, in his Sefer ha-Musar ("Book of Ethics"); information on the community during subsequent generations has been preserved in the letters of the Ereẓ Israel emissaries who frequently visited the town. In 1767 the emissary of Tiberias, R. Solomon Aznati, stayed in Irbil. In 1848 the Jerusalemite emissary, R. Pethahiah, died in Irbil, and the Kurds who resented the respect shown to him by the Jews exhumed his body and abused it. However, the Jews also suffered numerous times at the hands of Turkish soldiers. After one such case in 1895 the matter was taken up by R. Isaac Abraham Solomon, the ḥakham bashi, with the commander of the army in *Baghdad, where due justice was executed in favor of the Jews of Irbil. The Jews of the town were engaged in commerce and crafts: dyeing, shoemaking, building, and porterage. According to an official estimate made in 1919 some 4,800 Jews lived in the district of Irbil of whom about 250 spoke *Aramaic. This number dwindled to 3,109 in the first census of population taken in 1947. Out of this last number 1,300 lived in the city of Irbil and in 1951 all the Jews of the town emigrated to Israel, in the great exodus of Iraqi Jewry.


S. Schechter, Saadyana (1903), 134; Mann, in: REJ, 73 (1921), 106f.; Yaari, Sheluḥei, index; A. Ben-Jacob, Yehudei Bavel (1965), index; Z. Al-Ẓāhirī, Sefer ha-Musar, ed. by Y. Ratzaby (1965), 29, 77.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.