Author Topic: Syrian Jewish History  (Read 1475 times)

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Syrian Jewish History
« on: September 17, 2007, 11:58:40 PM »
Prior to 1947, there were some 30,000 Jews made up of three distinct communities, each with its own traditions. The three distinct communities are the Kurdish speaking Jews of Kamishli, the Jews of Aleppo with roots in Spain, and the original Eastern Jews of Damascus, called Must'arab. The last Jews who wanted to leave Syria departed with The Chief Rabbi in October, 1994. Only a tiny remnant of these communities remains today. Since 1948, 10,250 Syrian Jews have emigrated to Israel.

The Jewish presence in Syria dates back to Biblical times and is intertwined with the history of Jews in neighboring Eretz Yisrael. With the advent of Christianity, restrictions were imposed on the community. The plot of The Jews was greatly improved however, by the Arab conquest in 636 C.E.. Unrest in neighboring Iraq in The 10th Century resulted in Jewish migration to Syria and brought about a boom in commerce, banking, and crafts. During the reign of The Fatimids, the Jew Menashe Ibrahim El-Kazzaz ran the Syrian administration, and he granted Jews positions in the government.

The infamous Damascus Blood Libel of 1840 was the first of its kind in the Muslim Arab world. The Jews were accused of killing a Catholic priest who had disappeared and of using his blood for the Passover matzot. Only foreign political intervention and international Jewish advocacy liberated the Jews arrested on the false accusation.

Syrian Jewry supported the aspirations of both the Arab nationalists and Zionism. Syrian Jews believed that the two parties could be reconciled and that the conflict in Eretz Yisrael could be resolved. However, following Syrian independence from France in 1946, attacks against Jews and their property increased, culminating in the pogroms of 1947, which left all shops and synagogues in Aleppo in ruins. Thousands of Jews fled the country, and their homes and property were taken over by the local Muslims.

For the next decades Syrian Jews were hostages of a hostile regime. They could leave Syria only on the condition that they leave members of their family behind. Thus the community lived under siege, constantly under fearful surveillance of the secret police. The conditions of The Jews somewhat improved due to an international effort to secure the human rights of The Jews, the changing World order, and the Syrian need for Western support.

Prior to the initiation of The Middle East Peace Process, The Syrian Jewish Community was deprived of many basic human and civil rights. Those who attempted to flee across the borders illegally were usually caught, arrested, and cruelly tortured in the dungeons of the secret police. The plight of Syrian Jewry became an international human rights issue in The Mid 1970's. The United States, Canada, and France played leading roles in the efforts to bring justice to the community. The 1991 Madrid Peace Conference was the turning point for The Jewish Community. American and Israeli pressure succeeded in convincing The Syrian government to declare that Jews could leave freely.

Despite the small gestures towards Syrian Jewry, ever since 1948, Syria has continuously led extreme Arab opposition to the existence of The State of Israel. Syria promotes and supports terrorist organizations concentrated in Lebanon, as well as PLO/Hamas Arab Muslim Nazi terrorist organizations. Syria has commited war crime attrocities against Israel and has compared Israel to The Nazis. Syria is still listed by The United States State Department as a terrorist sponsoring country.

Syria is home to The Yoav Ben Zeruiah Synagogue of Aleppo, also known as The Yellow Synagogue, which has a history spanning 1,500 years. The synagogue was built on the site of the holy cave of Elijah The Prophet and it is one of the few synagogues that has seven arks and a permanent outdoor bima (Called a tevah.) that was used for prayers in the courtyard. Although the synagogue was built by The Musta'arab Jews, when the refugees from Spain joined the community in The 16th Century, a separate, adjacent wing was constructed. Over the years, as the two communities integrated, the wings were combined. In the pogrom of 1947, the interior of the synagogue was severely damaged by fire. In The Mid 1970's, the Syrian Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York, was permitted to fund its restoration. However, in The Mid 1980's, as the community dwindled, the synagogue was closed down, and it remains locked to the present day.

Syria was home to The Aleppo Codex which is called Keter Aram Zobah in Hebrew. It is the earliest known manuscript comprising the full text of The Bible. The text was then verified and vocalized by Aharon Ben Asher. According to tradition, this was the manuscript consulted by Rambam when he set down the exact rules for writing Torah scrolls. According to recent research, it might very well be that he sanctified and codified everything he found in the Aleppo Codex. The Codex was copied by the scribe Shlomo Ben Buya'a in The Land of Israel over 1,000 years ago. Soon after, it was moved to Egypt and was finally deposited with The Aleppo Community at the end of The 14th Century. The Codex was kept in a vault in The Cave of Elijah, under The Yellow Synagogue of Aleppo, and closely guarded as the talisman of the community for over 600 years. When the synagogue was put to the torch in 1947, The Codex was saved and hidden for 10 years. In 1957, it was entrusted to Mordechai Faham who smuggled the remains out of Syria. In 1958, it was brought to Jerusalem and was presented to President Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi. Today it is housed in The Ben-Tzvi Institute. Of the original 487 leaves of The Codex, only about 295 remain. They are a priceless heirloom of The Jewish People. Probably it is the most authoritative, accurate, and sacred source document, both for the Biblical text and for its vocalization and cantillation. It has greater religious and scholarly import than any other manuscript of The Bible.