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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Libya 05: cultural life

Conditions - prominent rabbis - professions - poverty and illnesses - racist anti-Muslim Zionist activities - defense in 1948 - illegal immigration

from: Libya; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 11

presented by Michael Palomino (2010)



<Social, Economic, and Religious-Cultural Conditions.

the wide dispersal of Libyan Jewry into dozens of communities, many comprising only a few families, sometimes affected their economic and educational circumstances. The Alliance Israélite Universelle opened a school only in Tripoli, although hundreds more Jews preferred to send their children to Italian schools in Tripoli and Benghazi; in small towns they made do with study at a ḥeder [[little Jewish school]]. for this reason a large proportion of Jewish children outside the main towns received no modern education, and sometimes no education whatsoever. However, in comparison to the beginning of the century, the younger generation contained far fewer illiterates. The Jews also opened a private high school in Tripoli in 1936, when they were expelled from Italian high schools; they were forced to close it in 1939. In 1947 a Hebrew teachers' seminary was opened in Tripoli, but it was closed after the large-scale emigration.

[Prominent rabbis]

Libya's most prominent rabbis included:

-- R. Mas'ud Hai *Rakaḥ, author of the work Ma'aseh Roke'aḥ on Maimonides;

-- R. Abraham Ḥayyim Adadi, author of Va-Yikra Avraham; and

-- R. Isaac Hai Bukhbaza (d. 1930).


Apart from the Tripoli community which contained a number of important merchants and officials, most Libyan Jews were occupied as artisans; a few were peddlers and farmers and thus worked hard for their living. the statements of 6,080 breadwinners who emigrated to Israel from Libya between 1948 and 1951 show that 15.4% were merchants, 7.5% were clerks and administrators, 3.0% were members of the liberal professions (including teachers and rabbis), 6.1% were farmers, 47% were artisans, and 7.1% were construction and transport workers. The remainder (13.9%) worked in personal services or were unskilled laborers.

[Poverty and illnesses - inspection before immigration to Palestine]

As a result of their poverty, disease was widespread among Libyan Jewry; they suffered mainly from trachoma, tuberculosis, and eczema, so much so that children in school had to be classified according to illness. O.S.E. began work in Tripoli to care for schoolchildren and convalescents were sent to a talmud torah [[Talmud and Torah school TTS, Jewish religious school]] in the town, where healthy children were kept. However, in April 1950 only 30% of the 2,000 Jewish schoolchildren were healthy; thus, the Israel immigration authorities had to screen potential immigrants for illness and provide them with medical care before permitting them to immigrate.>

[[Racist anti-Muslim]] Zionist Activity.

A short time after Libya was conquered by Italy, contact was made between Libyan Jewry and the [[racist]] Italian Zionist Organization, mainly due to the newspapers that reached Tripoli and Libya. In 1913 some of the readers of these newspapers, led by Elijah Neḥaisi, tried to found a Zionist organization. At first only an evening talmud torah [[religious school]] was founded (1914) in order to spread the Hebrew language, and then the [[racist anti-Muslim]] Zion Society was established (May 1916), and the committee of this [[racist anti-Muslim]] Zionist associations succeeded in entering the Tripoli community committee, gaining 11 of the 31 places as members of their association (June 1916). The [[racist anti-Muslim]] Zion Society published the first [[racist anti-Muslim]] Zionist newspaper in Libya, Degel Ẓiyyon (1920-24). In 1923 the [col. 204]

association changed its name to the Tripolitanian [[racist anti-Muslim]] Zionist Federation. The Ben Yehuda Association, established in 1931, was very active in spreading the Hebrew language. In 1933 it published a weekly entitled Limdu Ivrit! ("Learn Hebrew!"). The association also opened a Hebrew school in Tripoli in 1931, which was attended by 512 pupils (1933); their numbers rose to 1,200 in 1938 / 39. In 1939 the school was closed and the association disbanded on government orders.

When Libya was conquered by the British (1943) and Jewish Palestinian soldiers came to the country, [[racist anti-Muslim]] Zionist work was able to continue. A number of [[racist anti-Muslim]] Zionist youth organizations were established and several Hebrew newspapers were published:

-- Ḥayyeinu, a Hebrew monthly, 1944;

-- Niẓẓanim, Hebrew monthly, 1945-48;

-- Hayyeinu, Hebrew, Italian, and Arabic weekly, 1949-50.

In 1943 the He-Ḥalutz organization was set up, and an agricultural training farm was established; it was abandoned in November 1945 when the pogroms against the Jews broke out; the ten trainees emigrated to [[racist Zionist anti-Muslim governed]] Israel (1946). Subsequently, agricultural training was renewed, until the 23 trainees were forced to abandon the farm during the June 1948 pogroms.

[The defense organization with home made bombs defending the Jewish quarter in 1948]

In May 1946 an emissary from Erez Israel founded a defense organization, which was trained in the use of weapons and manufactured homemade "bombs"; it defended the Jewish quarter in Tripoli during the June 1948 pogroms.

[Illegal immigration to Palestine]

In 1946 illegal emigration to Erez Israel also began, achieved by illegally crossing the frontier into Tunisia, and from there to Marseilles. In 1948 illegal immigration to Erez Israel was organized through Italy. Hundreds emigrated in this way, until legal immigration became possible (1949).

Since Libyan Jews were observant, most of the [[racist anti-Muslim]] Zionist organizations were religious, including the youth groups founded after 1943. These were affiliated to Ha-Poel ha-Mizraḥi. [H.J.C.]>

Encyclopaedia Judaica: Libya, vol. 11, col.
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Libya, vol. 11, col. 198
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Libya, vol. 11, col.
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Libya, vol. 11, col. 199-200
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Libya, vol. 11, col.
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Libya, vol. 11, col. 201-202
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Libya, vol. 11, col.
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Libya, vol. 11, col. 203-204
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Libya, vol. 11, col.
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Libya, vol. 11, col. 205-206

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