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(738 words)

Author(s): Reeva Spector Simon
During the nineteenth century, whether as ṣarrāfs (financial advisers) in the Middle East or tujjār al-sulṭān (royal merchants) in Morocco, members of the Jewish commercial elite used assets accumulated from money-changing, moneylending, and trade to open banks and to invest abroad. Middle Eastern Jewish bankers, in partnership with the European merchant bankers who were penetrating the region economically, provided the capital for factories, railroad construction, and real estate development in the Middle East. The European financiers were ma…

Zilkha Family

(389 words)

Author(s): Reeva Spector Simon
As Baghdad reemerged into prominence during the OttomanTanzimat period in the nineteenth century, the Zilkha family developed business interests that eventually extended to Europe, the United States, and Asia. In addition, they contributed to the reinvigoration of the city’s Jewish religious life with the establishment of the Midrash Bet Zilkha , a rabbinical seminary, and a synagogue named for Ezra ha-Cohen Zilkha.Khedouri Zilkha (1884–1956), the only son of the textile merchant Aboudi Zilkha, was the founder the Zilkha Bankin Baghdad. After a brief period in Turkey, w…


(666 words)

Author(s): Reeva Spector Simon
In the aftermath of World War I, the League of Nations created Iraq as a constitutional monarchy tied to Britain by a treaty that allowed the British to maintain air bases in the country and move troops through it in time of war. A series of military coups, beginning in 1936, placed pan-Arab governments in power that were anti-British, supported the Arab cause in Palestine, and provided a refuge to the mufti of Jerusalem, al-Ḥājj Amīn al-Ḥusaynī. Attacks on Jews and Jewish clubs, the dismissal of Jews from the civil service, and the serialization of Mein Kampf in the Arabic press increased…

Heskel, Sassoon (Sasson Hesqail)

(388 words)

Author(s): Reeva Spector Simon
Born in 1860, Sir Sassoon Heskel (Sasson Hesqail [Eskell]) was the son of Ḥakham Heskel Shlomo David, a student of the renowned Baghdadi rabbi ʿAbd Allāh Somekh. Heskel studied at the Alliance Israélite Universelle School in Baghdad and went on for higher education to Vienna, Berlin, and London, receiving a law degree at the Ottoman law school in Istanbul. He returned to Baghdad in 1885, where he was appointed foreign secretary to the Ottoman governor.When the Young Turks came to power in 1908, Heskel became a deputy in the Ottoman Parliament, serving there for ten years. In 1909 h…

Iraqi Constitution (1924)

(249 words)

Author(s): Reeva Spector Simon
Iraq, a country created by the British and the League of Nations after World War I, incorporated the three former Ottoman provinces of Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul.  Acceding both to the League of Nations mandate and promises made to the Hashemite Arabs during World War I, the British supervised the institution of a constitutional monarchy under Sunni Arab authority that accommodated the ethnic and religious mosaic of Sunni and Shi’i Muslims, Muslim Kurds, Christians, and Jews that became Iraq.  Passed by Iraq’s parliament in 1924, the constitution mandated freedom of religion, pr…


(10,683 words)

Author(s): Marina Rustow | Reeva Spector Simon
1. Medieval PeriodAs a geographic and administrative designation, Iraq (Ar. al-ʿIrāq) dates to the Arab conquests of the 630s. Strictly speaking, the name referred to the district around Baghdad, but in common usage, it came to include both Iraq proper and the area north of it, the Jazīra—more or less the modern country of the same name. In Judeo-Arabic documents from the Cairo Geniza, the congregations loyal to the geonim of Baghdad called themselves kanīsat al-ʿirāqiyyīn (the synagogue of the Iraqis). In Hebrew, Jews called Iraq by its biblical name, Bavel, conventio…

Trading Network

(1,062 words)

Author(s): Maurits H. van den Boogert | Reeva Spector Simon
1. AleppanThe Jewish community in Aleppo consisted of Jews native to Syria (Mustaʿrabim), Sephardi Jews from the Iberian Peninsula, and Italian Jews, often referred to as “Francos,” who predominantly came from Livorno and Venice, and even when permanently settled in Syria generally retained their status as foreigners. The Francos engaged in trade with their cities of origin and also developed trading networks within Bilād al-Shām (Greater Syria). Members of prominent Aleppan mercantile families (such as the Picciotto family) also settled in Damascus, Jerusalem, and alon…