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History of Iraqi Jews

In 722 B.C.E., the northern tribes of Israel were defeated by Assyria and some Jews were taken to what is now known as Iraq. A larger community was established in 586 B.C.E., when the Babylonians conquered the southern tribes of Israel and enslaved the Jews. These Jews distinguished themselves from Sephardim, referring to themselves as Baylim (Babylonions). In later centuries, the region became more hospitable to Jews and it became the home to some of the world's most prominent scholars who produced the Babylonian Talmud between 500 and 700 C.E.

Iraq became an independent state in 1932. Throughout this period, the authorities drew heavily on the talents of a small well-educated group of Jews for their ties outside the country and proficiency in foreign languages. Iraq’s first minister of finance, Yehezkel Sasson, was a Jew. Jewish communities, especially in Baghdad, were able to flourish in multiple avenues of society. “At the end of the 19th century, Baghdad’s atmosphere could have been compared to a city like New York in terms of construction, economy, natural beauty, and cultural and literary diversity,’’ explains Saad Salloum, founder of the Institute for the Study of Religious Diversity in Iraq. “Jews played a notably prominent role in building this diversity, and their influence was clearly visible in the cities,”.

Yet, following the end of the British mandate, the 2,700-year-old Iraqi Jewish community suffered horrible persecution. In June 1941, the Mufti-inspired, pro-Nazi coup of Rashid Ali sparked rioting and a pogrom in Baghdad during the Jewish Feast of Shavuot. Armed Iraqi mobs, with the complicity of the police and the army, murdered 180 Jews and wounded almost 1,000 in what became known as the Farhud pogrom

In 1950, Iraqi Jews were permitted to leave the country within a year provided they forfeited their citizenship. A year later, however, the property of Jews who emigrated was frozen and economic restrictions were placed on Jews who chose to remain in the country. From 1949 to 1951, 104,000 Jews were evacuated from Iraq in Operations Ezra & Nechemia and brought to Israel.

Excerpt taken from My Jewish Learning. Learn more about the Iraqi Jewish history here.


Jewish Iraqi Music


During the 1920's and 1930s, two Jewish brothers began to gain prominence in Iraqi music: the Al-Kuwaiti brothers (Saleh, a violin player, and Daoud, an oud player). Almost at the same time, Jewish Iraqi singer Salima Pasha (then Salima Murad) began to achieve fame. The brothers, Saleh and Daoud Al-Kuwaiti, began to perform and to compose new songs for Salima. Saleh became the most prominent musician in Iraq, and Salima became the most famous singer. Following the opening of the Iraqi Broadcast Station in 1936, Saleh was asked to form the official music ensemble for the radio station. It was due to him that two instruments, the cello and nay (flute), were introduced for the first time into the instrumental music ensemble.  


Even Umm Kulthum, who had a rule of only singing songs that were written for her, made an exception to sing the Al Kuwaiti Brother's song “Galbak Sachar Jalmud” because she loved it so much. Saleh taught her how to sing it and even persuaded her to play the oud while performing in Iraq (this was the first time she played an instrument to accompany her singing).

Read more about the Jewish role in Iraqi music here.

Iraqi Jewish Music

Belly dance and Iraqi
Jewish Music

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