Friday, February 04, 2005

Jewish Baghdad

With today's seething tensions in the Middle East it is easy to forget that before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 there were large Jewish communities spread across the Muslim world. One particularly prominent example was Baghdad.
It has often been said that New York is a Jewish city. I think one can safely say the same about Baghdad of the first half of the twentieth century.

To have an idea of the city’s demography and the position of the Jews in those five decades, it is enough to glance at these few facts of statistics:

In 1904, the French vice-consul in Baghdad gave the number of Jews in the then Ottoman Baghdad vilayet as 40,000, out of a total population of 160,000.

In 1910, a British consular report estimated the number of Jews in Baghdad as ranging from 45,000 to 50,000.

In October 1921, a British publication quoted these population figures for the city as given in the last official yearbook of the Baghdad vilayet: total number of inhabitants, 202,200, of whom: 80,000 were Jews; 12,000 Christians; 8,000 Kurds, 800 Persians; and 101,400 Arabs, Turks and other Muslims.

A proclamation issued by the British military Governor in the early 1919’s fixed the number of sheep to be slaughtered daily in Baghdad East (al-Risafa, the more populous half of the city) at 220 for Jewish butchers and 160 for Muslim and other butchers.

In the Baghdad Chamber of Commerce most of the members were Jews and the administrative council consisted of 8 Jews and 8 Moslems.

It's worth having a look at the whole site, which bills itself as the "Journal of Babylonian Jewry". Two other articles I've read recently on the subject that I think are quite interesting are "Memories of Iraq" and "The Jewish Community of Baghdad".

In other news I've just posted an old essay of mine entitled 'Religious Practice and Change in 19th Century Catholic Europe", in case any of you are interested in that sort of thing.


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