Aspects of Babylonian Jewish life - by Sara Manasseh - contd.
Reproduced from the Jewish Babylonian™, The Midrash BEN ISH HAI™ Newsletter

children (mainly boys, but girls could attend as well) from the ages of four to twelve attended the class, often held at the home of the teacher (al-istad). In 1832 the first Talmud Torah school was built, run by a public committee acting for the Jewish community. The school provided mainly religious education, exclusively for boys. The Alliance Israélite Universelle brought a European education— including secular studies—to Jewish communities in the Middle East and North Africa. Its first school, for boys, opened in Baghdad in December 1864, and was later known as the Albert Sassoon School. The language of instruction was French. The curriculum included  biblical Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish and English,  history, geography, arithmetic, physics and chemistry. The Alliance also opened a school for girls—the Laura Kadoorie School (1895), in a building donated by a former Baghdad Alliance graduate, Sir Eliezer Kadoorie, a philanthropist living in Shanghai and Hong Kong. By 1913, the Alliance opened schools in other Jewish centres in Iraq. The Jewish community also established their own schools, including the Silas Kadoorie school for the blind, in Baghdad.

 Under the British occupation of Iraq (1917-1920) and the British Mandate (1921-1932), the Jews were the largest single group in the city; they were also the best educated, probably the wealthiest, and with a network of commercial connections with fellow Baghdadians who had settled in India, the Far East and England. Under the new British administration, educated Jews were among the first to apply for posts of clerks and senior officers requiring a knowledge of both Arabic and English. Thousands of Jews were employed in the postal service, railroads, ports, customs, banking, courts and elsewhere; Jews also joined the police force and Indian units of the British army, some stationed in Iraq (Shohet 1982:26). Jewish delegates were elected to the Iraqi parliament. 

 Under the British Mandate, in 1921, one month before his coronation, King Faysal I emphasised the equality of all Iraqis: 

There is no meaning in the words Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the terminology of patriotism, there is simply a country called Iraq, and all are Iraqis.

… we all belong to one stock, the stock of our ancestor Shem; we all belong to that noble race… 

 (Ireland 1937:466, quoted Stillman 1991:260) 

Faysal’s insistence on equality was welcomed by the Jews, but opposed by the strong Arab nationalist movement, who as early as 1921 objected to the employment of foreigners and non-Muslims (Stillman 1991:56). 

  A Jewish social club and cultural society were founded. Newspapers were launched—the Hebrew-Arabic weekly, Yeshurun, in November 1920, and the Arabic al-Misbah in 1924. Jewish writers fluent in Arabic began publishing in that language, becoming pioneers of Arabic literature and journalism. European dress gradually replaced the traditional “oriental” costume, mainly in the large cities of Baghdad and Basra, and “emancipated” Jewish women no longer covered their faces in the street (Shohet 1982:27).

 The Zionist Movement acquired legal status in Iraq. Links were established with the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem and a branch of the Palestine Foundation Fund, (Keren Hayesod) was established in 1923 in Baghdad. Free evening classes in Hebrew were organised, and a public library with Hebrew books was opened. Hebrew teachers from Palestine were invited to teach Hebrew and Jewish history (Ben-Yaacob and Cohen 1996:1450). At the time, Zionism was not considered by many to be an anti-Arab movement. However, Zionist activities were not supported by prominent members of the Jewish community, who warned against openly identifying with the Zionist cause. From the end of 1929 Zionism was officially banned and the government began to persecute Zionists for their beliefs.

 King Faysal died in September 1933, succeeded by his eighteen year old son, Ghazi, who was inexperienced, and gave a free hand to the country’s extremists. During Hitler’s rise to power, there was much Nazi activity in Baghdad, which together with Arab nationalism culminated in extreme anti-Jewish feeling, and during the festival of shabu’oth, in 1941, the farhud, the horrific anti-Jewish pogrom in Baghdad.     (See  on the internet http://www.midrash.org/articles/farhud.html)
 
 

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