The Iraqi Jewish community is one of the oldest in the world and has a great history of learning and scholarship. Abraham, the first Jew and the father of the Jewish people, was born in Ur of the Chaldees, in southern Iraq, around 2,000 b.c.e. The community traces its history back to 6th century b.c.e., when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judea and sent most of the population into exile in Babylonia.
The community also maintained strong ties with the Land of Israel and, with the aid of rabbis from Israel, succeeded in establishing many prominent rabbinical academies. By the 3rd century, Babylonia became the center of Jewish scholarship, as is attested to by the community’s most influential creation, the Babylonian Talmud.
Under Muslim rule, beginning in the 7th century, the situation of the community fluctuated. Many Jews held high positions in government or prospered in commerce and trade. At the same time, Jews were subjected to special taxes, restrictions on their professional activity, and anti-Jewish incitement among the masses.
Under British rule, which began in 1917, Jews fared well economically, and many were elected to government posts. This traditionally observant community was also allowed to found Zionist organizations and to pursue Hebrew studies. All of this progress ended when Iraq gained independence in 1932.
Although emigration was prohibited, many Jews made their way to Israel during this period with the aid of an underground movement. In 1950 the Iraqi parliament finally legalized emigration to Israel, and between May 1950 and August 1951, the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government succeeded in airlifting approximately 110,000 Jews to Israel in Operations Ezra and Nehemiah. This figure includes 18,000 Kurdish Jews, who have many distinct traditions. Thus a community that had reached a peak of 150,000 in 1947 dwindled to a mere 6,000 after 1951.
Persecutions continued, especially after the Six-Day War in 1967, when many of the remaining 3,000 Jews were arrested and dismissed from their jobs.
One synagogue still functions in Baghdad. The synagogue committee is the only organization serving the community. Contacts with Jews in other countries are sporadic.
Aliya: Since 1948, 129,539 Jews from Iraq have emigrated to Israel; 123,371 of these between 1948 and 1951.
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