Friday, August 14, 2015

When Iraq Was Loaded With Jews

Nadene Goldfoot                                                             
Nebuchadnezzar 605-562 BCE who conquered the Assyrian-Egyptian alliance at Carchemish in 605 BCE  and then all lands from the Euphrates to the Egyptian border including Judah.  In Judah he replaced young king Jehoiachin with his own choice of Zedekiah. Judah had been in existence since Moses had led the 12 tribes into Canaan and established their land areas back in 1271 BCE- for the past 685 years!

The capital of Iraq has always been Babylon.  Babylon, Iraq long ago was simply called Babylonia and included not only this main city but the surrounding land extensively as well.
 It was a country.  In 597 BCE, which is about 2,600 years ago, these people attacked Jerusalem, which was the capital of Judah, and totally destroyed it.  Their king was Nebuchadnezzar, and he wanted fresh minds.  In those days, people were as valuable as gold and silver, so 11 years later they carted away into exile in 586 BCE all the Jewish officers and fighting men of Judah's army, all the craftsmen and all the artisans amounting to 8,000 of this local aristocracy to Babylon. They must have occupied Judah during those 11 years.   They left only the poorest people. 8 years later, Zedekiah rebelled.  In 586 the Babylonians exiled masses of the population and the king was killed after being taken to Riblah.    This is all recorded in 2 Kings 24:10-14.  They had managed to steal away the flower of Judah's aristocracy and intellectuals as Max Dimont put it.   The leadership of Judah was taken away.

In school, there is always a leader in a classroom.  If that leader is taken away, you can count on another springing up.  This had to happen out of the poor left for the Judeans, though they didn't do very well.
The exiled Jews, on the other hand, became highly successful in Babylon.  The intellectuals among them found in the libraries of Babylon a new world of new ideas.  It only took 50 years and these exiled Jews produced people who rose to the top echelons of Babylonian society in business enterprises, in the scholastic world, and in court circles.  They had become leaders in commerce, rose to the top as men of learning and became advisors to the king as well.

Nebuchadnezzar II (604-561) had inherited the Assyrian Empire and it was the Assyrians who had attacked Israel in 722-721 BCE and taken away the best of the people there from 10 of the 12 Israelite tribes.  That's when Judah had escaped harm and was left with some of the Benjaminites.
By 538 BCE, which is about 50 years later, the Persian king Cyrus II the Great was top dog in the land and had taken over from Nebuchadnezzar, gaining his lands which included Judah.    He pursued an enlightened policy towards his subject peoples and granted permission to the Jewish exiles of Babylon to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple.  They had been gone for almost 50 years.  So here we have an Iranian freeing the kidnapped Iraqi Jews to return to Judah.  
Judeans leaving Babylon to return home to Judah
Those strong young men so coveted from the army were now old men, and it was their children and grandchildren who hadn't lived there that faced going back to the unknown destroyed land left to the poorest of their civilization.  They had to leave a most enjoyable of living conditions because a wise and liberal enemy of Assyria had taken over their new country of exile.

So the wealthy Jews of Babylon, who had established successful trade routes and businesses in Babylon, financed zealous returnees who wanted to re-settle Judah. It must have been the more nationalistic and religious of the people who chose to return.   First groups leaving failed, but finally, 1,760 settlers, led by the prophet Ezra and the governor Nehemiah, rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem and rebuilt their nation.

They found out that those left in Judah 50 years earlier had become assimilated Jews, either forced or chose to marry into the surrounding people, and seemed to vanish into pagan creeds of their neighbors. The religious leadership had been taken away and no leadership had arisen from this group of remaining people.
The returnees, far more than all the rest of course were from the religious people and they instituted 2 customs to protect their future.  They had a ban on intermarriage with the Gentiles.  Also, the first 5 books of Moses were canonized as the Torah.  This happened in about 536 BCE.  It's when they rebuilt the Temple.

It's easy to understand why these poor and less studious Jews hadn't kept up Judaism.  They couldn't  The first 5 books and Talmud are intellectually complex and sophisticated.  Jewish students are required to learn and study "extensive, mentally rigorous laws.  The writings are not simplistic or literal.  They are designed for the comprehension on multiple, abstract and  metaphorical levels."  It was probably all the Jews left in those 50 years could do in remembering the holidays and celebrating them.  As for Shabbat, they possibly never even met to read from the Torah.  They could have been those who hadn't attended in the Temple very much, and with the Temple destroyed, they gave up with the excuse of having no high Priest.  It's possible that no one left knew how to read.

Worship in the ancient monotheism demanded literacy skills due to the cognitive demands of the texts.  Tradition maintains that understanding the Talmud requires study of 7 hours a day for 7 years.  No other religion demands so much of a person.  Judaism evolved in such a way that to be a good Jew meant that a man had to be smart enough to understand it besides just saying that there was only one G-d.  They had to understand the reasoning of WHY.  All the rest of the world was believing in Polytheism, after all.  Why did they maintain something so different?

With such a religion that intelligence was a huge virtue, Judah was again populated with the brainy ones.  They were the ones sought after as husbands so they procreated and spread their good genes.  By marrying the children of scholars and the children of successful merchants, Jews were joining those selected for abstract reasoning ability with those selected for practical intelligence.

They were set to increase and produce intelligent people in their own land for another 600 years which lasted until 70 CE when Rome came along and burned down their 2nd Temple in 70 CE that they had built on their return to Judah in 536 BCE.  600 years.  That's a long time for a nation to exist considering that the United States is only 239 years old.   Altogether, Judah had been in existence with Jews for the past 1,341 years by the time the Romans ended their record.
King Faisal of Iraq-2nd from left with beard- with Jewish dignitaries between 1921-1933
Jews in Iraq in early 1900s
No nation can understand the Jewish feelings of sadness to lose their land, except maybe the Egyptians who had been a nation for so long, but their nation did not ever include a religion that had kept the people together.                                                                
The Iraqi Jewish Fathi Family, 1940.  Mother is expecting another child.  
In June 1941 during WWII, the Mufi-inspired (Grand Mufti of Jerusalem-Haj Amin al-Husseini,  caused riots against Jews all over Middle East )  pro-Nazi coup of Rashid Ali sparked rioting and a pogrom in Baghdad.  Armed Iraqi mobs with the police and army murdered 180 Jews and wounded almost 1,000.

 More outbreaks of anti-Semitic rioting happened after the war ended between 1946 to 1949.
In 1948 the Jewish population was 150,000  By 1991 it was 150.  The 2,700 year old Iraqi Jewish community had suffered horrible persecution in modern-day Iraq.

A movie about Jewish Iraqis leaving Baghdad is THE DOVE FLYER, aka Farewell Baghdad shown at film festival in 2014.
It wasn't until 1950 that Iraqi Jews were permitted to leave the country within a year, provided they gave up their Iraqi citizenship.  A year later, the property of Jews who had emigrated was frozen and economic restritions were placed on Jews who remained in Iraq.  In May 1950, 113,000 Iraq Jews fled to Israel in OPERATION ALI BABA.
Operation Ezra and Nehemia when 120,000 Jews were airlifted from Iraq between 1951-1952.  They were being expelled.   
In 1952, Iraq's government barred Jews from emigrating and publicly hanged 2 Jews after falsely charging
them with throwing a bomb at the Baghdad office of the USA Information Agency.  2 were hung for being spies for Israel.
More restrictions were put on Jews by 1963 when the Ba'ath factions rose.  The sale of property was forbidden and all Jews were forced to carry yellow identity cards-oh shades of Nazi Germany!

After the 6 Day War when Israel was attacked by multiple surrounding nations including Iraq, more repressive measures were taken.  Jewish property was expropriated;  Jewish bank accounts were frozen;  Jews were dismissed from public posts;  businesses were shut down;  trading permits were cancelled;  telephones were disconnected.  Jews were even placed under house arrest for long periods of time or restricted to the cities.

At the end of 1968, the persecution of Jews was at the worst.  Many were jailed when a spy ring was discovered made up of Jewish businessmen.  14 men-11 or them Jews, were sentenced to death in staged trials and hanged in the public squares of Baghdad.  This happened to the uncle of a teacher I taught with in Safed, Israel  who told me about it.  He was the jr. high Torah instructor.  Other Jewish Iraqis that weren't hanged were tortured to death.

On January 27, 1969, Baghdad Radio called upon Israqis to come and enjoy the feast.  Some 500,000 men, women and children paraded and danced past the scaffolds where the bodies of the hanged Jews swung.  The mob chanted "DEATH TO ISRAEL and DEATH TO ALL TRAITORS."  The mentality of this mob was that of people brain-washed who never had to think deeply about anything.  They were just rote-learners.  this desplay brought a world-wide public outcry that Radio Baghdad shrugged off by declaring, "We hanged spies, but the Jews crucified Christ."

Jews stayed under surveillance at all times by the Iraqi government.  A lucky Iraqi Jew who later escaped wrote in his diary in February 1970 about the Jews coming down with ulcers, heart attacks and nervous breakdowns from their treatment and being spied on.  They were being dehumanized by constant humiliation and torment.
Because of international pressure, the Baghdad government finally allowed most of the remaining Jews to leave in the early 1970s.  They left the restrictions against Jews in force.  Those too old just couldn't leave.  They were forced to turn over their title without any compensation to more than $200 million worth of Jewish community property.  Only one synagogue is functioning in Iraq and in 1992 was crumbling.  There were a few children bar-mitzvahed or couples getting married.  They were allowed to practice Judaism but were not allowed to hold jobs with the state or join the army.  Before the Gulf War in 1991, the State Department of the USA said there is no evidence of overt persecution of the few Jews left but their travel is restricted and they were not allowed to go to Israel or have any contacts with Jewish groups abroad.  The same was reported in 1992.
M1A1 Abrams tanks at Baghdad's Ceremony Square
"In the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Jewish Agency launched an effort to track down all of the remaining Iraqi Jews to present them with an opportunity to emigrate to Israel, and found a total of 34 Jews. Present estimates of the Jewish population in Baghdad are eight (2007), seven (2008) and five (2013)."  I wonder what will become of the last synagogue left in an alley?  Update:  Here we had 8,000 Jews stolen away by Babylonia and 1,760 returned with Persia's blessing.  It looks like about 6,000 and their descendants had stayed in Babylonia to create the present century's Jewish population that has many back in Israel once again.  

Today the old Babylonia,  Iraq,  has had a population of 31,234,000 and 97% are Muslims of both Shi'a and Sunnis. They have lost much of this population to death and destruction in present day warring.   They have had the worst of leaders in Saddam Hussein and now have actually almost lost their nation with much going to the new conquerors, the Islamic State or IS, the harshest religious Muslims of all who chop off heads who don't  believe as they do, which demands only  blind faith in their creed and  slavish devotion without any mental understanding.  They are a people who really don't have to read and their intellectual level is not complex or sophisticated.  They just want action and blood to be kept happy with the promise of much sex in the afterlife.  That to their simple minds keeps them going.
Today we see Iraqi Jews that opted for the USA instead of Israel as well.  Efraym Elliott YaminPopcontemporary R&B singer, has a Jewish Iraqi father.  Efraym was born in Virginia in 1978. He is known for his "hit single "Wait for You" and placing third on the fifth season of American Idol.

In Israel "Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, was of Iraqi descent.
Update: 3:54pm 8/14/15
Resource: on intelligence
 Myths and Facts-a concise record of the Arab-Israeli conflict by Mitchell G. Bard, Joel Himelfarb

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