Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Iraq - After Millennia, Baghdad Jews Dwindle To Less Than A ‘Minyan’
The tomb of the Prophet Ezekiel in Kifl, south of Baghdad, used to be a pilgrimage site for Jews. It is one of few traces that remain of a once-vibrant Jewish community in Iraq. A pogrom in 1941 and other traumas led to a sharp decline in the Jewish population.
Baghdad, Iraq - “I have no future here to stay.” Written in broken English but with perfect clarity, the message is a stark and plaintive assessment from one of the last Jews of Babylon.
The community of Jews in Baghdad is now all but vanished in a land where their heritage recedes back to Abraham of Ur, to Jonah’s prophesying to Nineveh, and to Nebuchadnezzar’s sending Jews into exile here more than 2,500 years ago.
Just over half a century ago, Iraq’s Jews numbered more than 130,000. But now, in the city that was once the community’s heart, they cannot muster even a minyan, the 10 Jewish men required to perform some of the most important rituals of their faith. They are scared even to publicize their exact number, which was recently estimated at seven by the Jewish Agency for Israel, and at eight by one Christian cleric. That is not enough to read the Torah in public, if there were anywhere in public they would dare to read it, and too few to recite a proper Kaddish for the dead.
Among those who remain is a former car salesman who describes himself as the “rabbi, slaughterer and one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Iraq.”
Most traces of Jews are now gone beside the Prat and the Hidekel rivers, the Hebrew names for the Euphrates and Tigris. Baghdad’s Jewish quarter, in Taht al-Takia, is no more. And about 80 miles south of Baghdad lies the Hebrew-inscribed tomb of the Prophet Ezekiel, “son of Buzi.” During a visit there on Saturday, dozens of Muslim pilgrims filed through the well-tended shrine, its interior blackened by centuries of lamp smoke, to honor Ezekiel as a respected prophet.