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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Beirut

Crusades - Jews since 1492 and since 1881 - Christians and the government protect the Jews during crisis

from: Beirut; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 4

presented by Michael Palomino (2007)

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<BEIRUT,


capital city and chief port of Lebanon. From the second century B.C.E. Jews lived in its vicinity, and probably in the city itself. The Chronicle of Joshua the Stylite mentions the existence of a synagogue in Beirut at the beginning of the sixth century. *Abiathar b. Elijah (late 11th century) includes Beirut and Gebal (Byblos) among the cities subject to the gaonate of Palestine.

[Crusades - killings during the Muslim capture]

At the time of the Crusader conquest (1100) Beirut contained 35 Jewish families and *Benjamin of Tudela (c. 1170) found 50 households there. According to Isaac of Acre many Jews were killed during the Muslim capture of the city in 1291. Jews frequently visited Beirut on their way to Erez Israel, but a pupil of *Nahmanieds who stopped there at the beginning of the 14th century did not note the presence of Jews in the city. An anonymous pupil of Obadiah *Bertinoro wrote in a letter (1495) "At Baroto (Beirut) there are no Jews, and I do not know the reason, because the Ishmaelites at Baroto are better than all the other people of the Kingdom and are very well-disposed toward the Jews."

[since 1492: Jews in Beirut since the expulsion from Spain]

However Jews settled again in Beirut after the expulsion from Spain in 1492. Moses *Basola, who visited the city in 1521, found 12 Jewish families from Sicily. Abraham *Castro was in charge of customs. During Basola's stay in the city, the activity of David *Reuveni, whom a Jewish merchant encountered at Gaza, excited the Jews. *David d'Beth Hillel, who visited Syria in 1824, relates "There are [in Beirut] some 15 families [of] Jewish merchants, natives of the country [i.e., the place] who speak Arabic and have a small synagogue, their customs resembling those of the Jews of Palestine."

In 1856 Ludwig August *Frankl stated that he found in Beirut 500 Sephardi Jews, mostly merchants and porters. In course of time other Jews went to Beirut from Damascus, Smyrna, Aleppo, Constantinople, and ultimately also from Russia.

In 1878 the *Alliance Israélite opened a girls' school and the following year, one for boys. In 1901, 271 pupils were studying at the latter, and 218 at the former. In 1897 the Alliance opened a crafts school for girls. (col. 402)

In 1862 and in 1890, blood libels resulted in Christian attacks on the Jewish quarter. In 1890 order was restored by the Turkish authorities and the rioters were arrested. At that time Beirut contained a synagogue and 12 batei midrash [[Torah study center]].

[since 1918: Principal synagogue with schools, B'nai B'rith Lodge and Maccabi Club]

After World War I the Jewish population grew in Beirut, the newly established capital of *Lebanon. The community was regarded as the most highly organized in Lebanon and Syria. The principal synagogue Magen Avraham was the center of the communal institutions, which included the schools of the Alliance and of the congregation, the B'nai B'rith Lodge and the Maccabi Club.

The Jews of the city belonged mostly to the middle class. They were not concentrated in special quarters, but the poorer Jews resided in streets formerly part of the Jewish quarter.

[May 1948: Christians protect the Jews - contribution to the Arab League]

When the State of Israel was established [[Herzl Israel without borders]], an anti-Jewish demonstration was held and infuriated mobs advanced on the Jewish quarter, but the Christian community dispersed the demonstrators. The Jewish paper al-'Alam al-Israili ("The Israelite World") changed its name to Et al-Salam ("Peace"). The Jewish community was compelled to contribute a sum of money to the fund of the Arab League but in general the Jews were not molested.

In 1880 there were about 1,000 Jews in Beirut; in 1889 1,500; between 1892 and 1906 there were 3,000; between 1907 and 1910 their number reached 5,000.

[S.MAR.]


From 1948.

[Influx of Jews from Syria - Jews protected during the crisis - closed Jewish youth organizations]

The number of Jews rose from 5,000 in 1948 to 9,000 in 1958, as a result of the emigration of Syrian Jews to Lebanon. However, the numbers were subsequently depleted, especially as from 1967; and in 1969 only about 2,500 were left. (col. 403)

During the Israel War of Independence (1948), [[during]] the internal unrest in Lebanon (1958), and [[during]] the Six-Day War (1967), the Lebanese authorities ordered the police to protect the Jewish quarter in Wadi Abu Jamil. The wealthy Jews living in new suburbs among members of other faiths were unharmed, in contrast to other Arab countries, Jewish life in Lebanon continued almost normally.

In 1950 a bomb was planted by extremist Muslim nationalists underneath the *Alliance Israélite Universelle school building, causing the building to collapse. The Alliance administered three other institutions, in which 950 pupils studied in 1965. In addition 250 pupils attended the talmud torah and 80 studied at the Ozar ha-Torah religious school.

The Jewish scouts and Maccabi sports organization were closed by the government in 1953. The community council, which had nine members, was elected biennially. The Bikkur Holim committee of the council was responsible for medical treatment of the poor, and their hospitalization if they were not Lebanese citizens. Its income derived from the Arikha (assessment) tax, paid by all males, as well as from endowments and from synagogues. Most Beirut Jews were merchants or employees of trading and financial enterprises.

[[The reasons for the Jewish exodus because of working limitations and because of the economy crisis since 1967 are not mentioned]].

[H.J.C.]


Bibliography
-- D. Goetein, in: Eretz Israel, 4 (1956), 152
-- G. SCholem, in: KS, 2 (1925/26), 103
-- I. Ben-Zvi: Masot Erez Yisrael le-Moshe Basola (1938), 38-40
-- A. Yaari: Masot Erez Yisrael (1946), 135f. 525f. , index
-- Ashtor, Toledot, 2 (1951), 121f.
-- S. Landshut: Jewish Communities in the Muslim Countries of the Middle East (1950), 54-56> (col. 404)






Sources
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Beirut, vol. 4,
                        col. 402
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Beirut, vol. 4, col. 402
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Beirut, vol. 4,
                        col. 403-404
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Beirut, vol. 4, col. 403-404




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