Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Jews in Islamic Countries: Libya

Jewish Population
1948: 38,000    |    2023: 01

Jews had a presence in Libya at least since the time of Hellenistic rule under Ptolemy Lagos in 323 B.C.E. in Cyrene.2 Once home to a large and thriving Jewish community, Libya is now empty of Jews due to anti-Jewish pogroms and immigration to Israel.

A savage pogrom in Tripoli on November 5, 1945, killed more than 140 Jews and wounded hundreds more. Almost every synagogue was looted. On June 12, 1948, rioters murdered another 12 Jews and destroyed 280 Jewish homes.3

Thousands of Jews fled the country after Libya was granted independence and membership in the Arab League in 1951. After the Six-Day War, the Jewish population of 7,000 was again subjected to pogroms in which 18 were killed and many more injured, sparking a near-total exodus that left fewer than 100 Jews in Libya.

When Muammar Gaddafi came to power in 1969, all Jewish property was confiscated, and all debts to Jews were canceled. In 1999, the synagogue in Tripoli was renovated; however, it was not reopened.4

The last Jew living in Libya, Esmeralda Meghnagi, died in February 2002. This marked the end of one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities, which traced its origins to the 3rd century B.C.E.5

1Sergio DellaPergola, “World Jewish Population, 2021,” in Arnold Dashefsky and Ira M. Sheskin (eds.), The American Jewish Year Book, 2022, (Cham: Springer Nature, 2023).
2Encyclopedia Judaica, CD-Rom edition, 1997.
3 Howard Sachar, A History of Israel, (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 400; Norman Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times, (NY: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), p. 145.
4 U.S. Department of State, 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Washington, DC, September 5, 2000.
5 Jerusalem Report, (March 11, 2002).