Protect the Iraqi Jewish Archive, or it Will Face a Terrible Fate

December 27, 2013 4:28 pm 0 comments

During treatment by the National Archives and Records Administration, a Babylonian Talmud from Vienna, dating back to 1793. The Talmud is part of what has become known as the Iraqi Jewish Archive. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration.

The 2,000-year-old Jobar Synagogue in Damascus is said to be the site where the prophet Elijah concealed himself from persecution and anointed his successor, Elisha. It was a UNESCO World Heritage Site until last March when someone appeared to have blown it up. The Syrian government and the rebels blamed one another and most of the world — including UNESCO — yawned. Given the scale of human destruction in Syria, it may be understandable that the synagogue wasn’t on anyone’s priority list, except the world’s Jewish community, for which it is patrimony.

Recently, a story emerged that Al Qaeda rebels appear to be in possession of Torah scrolls and other Judaica, which they wish to barter to the Assad government for a prisoner release. Jewish artifacts from a country with no Jews, bartered between Sunni fanatics and Shiite mass murderers.

later report, as yet unverified, claims the Jobar Synagogue is being protected by the Syrian government with its contents intact. If so, what does it mean when a government that is implacably hostile to Israel and to Jewish people announces that it will protect Jewish things? When a government will protect things while it starves and drops barrel bombs on its people (barrels filled with nails, pointed shards of metal, and ball bearings dropped from airplanes causing horrific injuries)? Does Bashar Assad want to think of himself as “civilized” despite his barbarism? Should the world permit that?

No. So the story becomes a guidepost for handling the Iraqi Jewish archive, discovered in the basement of Saddam Hussein’s Mukhabarat by Harold Rhode, an American Jew, in 2003. The archive is presently in the United States for restoration and display before it is scheduled to be handed over to the Iraqi government in 2014.

The 2,500-year-old Jewish community had long since been harassed out of Iraq. The home of the Babylonian Talmud has been debased in the modern era, with “The Farhud,” (a pogrom in 1942) and massive restrictions on Jews following the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel. Zionist activity was punishable by prison or execution; Jews were banned from work in banking, railroads, and mining, and from receiving import licenses; and all Jews were dismissed from government posts. A bomb in a synagogue in 1950 killed 3 to 5 people and injured many others. Between 1948 and 1951 an estimated 121,633 Jews left the country. Two Jews were publicly hanged in 1952 after being convicted on phony charges. Persecution increased in the 1960s with the advent of the Ba’ath Party and in 1969, fourteen men, including 11 Jews, were sentenced to death in show trials and publicly hanged. Forbidden to take money, property or possessions, all of which reverted to the State, the Jewish community left more than $200 million behind by 1970 (the equivalent of about $800 million today) and went out as penniless refugees. The few remaining Jews cached their holy books and religious artifacts in a single synagogue, which was itself raided by Saddam in 1984.

In 2003, Rhode, a civilian DOD employee working for the Coalition Provisional Authority, was led to the damaged, flooded basement. He found, among other items:

A 400-year-old Hebrew Bible; a 200-year-old Talmud from Vienna; a copy of the book of Numbers in Hebrew published in Jerusalem in 1972; a Megillat Esther of uncertain date; a Haggadah published in Baghdad and edited by the chief rabbi of Baghdad; the Writings of Ketuvim containing books likePsalmsProverbsJobLamentationsEzraNehemiah and Chronicles published in Venice in 1568; a copy of Pirkei Avot, or Ethics of the Fathers, published in Livorno, Italy in 1928 with commentary written with Hebrew letters but in Baghdadi-Judeo Arabic; a luach (a calendar with lists of duties and prayers for each holy day printed in Baghdad in 1972); a printed collection of sermons by a rabbi made in Germany in 1692; thousands of books printed in Vienna, Livorno, Jerusalem, Izmir, and Vilna; miscellaneous communal records from 1920-1953; lists of male Jewish residents, school records, financial records, applications for university admissions.

There was a truly heroic effort to collect the material, dry, and preserve it. The Pentagon provided emergency assistance (including, according to Rhode in a terrific article in PJ Media, American WMD teams who waded into the flooded basement to rescue paper, books and artifacts), private donors, the State Department, and the National Archives provided longer-term financing and professional skills for the restoration effort. The results can be seen at an exhibition on display at the National Archives.

The Iraqi government wants what it calls “its” property back. It promises to take better care of Jewish objects than it did of its Jewish citizens who were abused, tortured, and terrorized before being allowed to escape with their lives and little else. The government of Iraq should not have the privilege of being the curator of the history of people it despised — and who return the sentiment with cause. The United States and other governments work to ensure that property taken from European Jews at the moment of their greatest peril is restored to them, to their families or to their communities. Being the last hand to touch something does not confer ownership.

The Jobar Synagogue was (or is) another set of Jewish artifacts, another Jewish place without Jews, displayed for years as evidence of what once was — and now ransom in a war between people who are not Jews. The Iraqi Jewish archive belongs to the Jews for practical as well as legal and moral reasons — lest it happen again.

This article by Shoshana Bryen was originally published by the American Thinker.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Music US & Canada Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Pop superstar Lady Gaga on Thursday accepted an award from Jewish human rights group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on behalf of her Born This Way Foundation, which strives to combat bullying among young people. “Your philosophies are so in line with ours,” she said of the ADL upon accepting the Making a Difference Award in a videotaped message, which was shown at a ceremony in New York City. “We want to help young people know that their feelings and who they are on [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    JNS.org – Eighty years young, Leonard Cohen fits many descriptions—singer, songwriter, poet, novelist, monk. From his Jewish upbringing in Canada to the present day, Cohen has always explored his spiritual side. This month, the singer-songwriter released the CD (May 12) and iTunes (on May 8 of this year) formats of his latest album, Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour, which features live recordings from his world tours in 2012 and 2013. Last year, Cohen’s Popular Problems was voted by Rolling Stone [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    JNS.org – Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) head Sepp Blatter said during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that contrary to Palestinian complaints, Israel has not violated any FIFA statutes and should not be suspended from international soccer’s governing body. “We should not come to one federation saying we will exclude them,” said Blatter, the Jerusalem Post reported. “If the national association is fulfilling its obligations then there is no need to intervene,” he said. “I’m on a [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Middle East Sports Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) said on Tuesday it was “appalled” by a Palestinian Football Association initiative to suspend Israel from FIFA, calling it another “front waged in the context of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign.” “We are appalled at the temerity of the Palestinan Football Association (PFA) demand that FIFA suspend Israel at your forthcoming Congress in Zurich,” wrote the group’s international relations director, Dr. Shimon Samuels, in a letter to FIFA President Joseph [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Star of Auschwitz Thriller Says ‘God Was Holding the Hand of Every Jew in the Gas Chamber’ (VIDEO)

    Star of Auschwitz Thriller Says ‘God Was Holding the Hand of Every Jew in the Gas Chamber’ (VIDEO)

    The lead actor in Son of Saul, an Auschwitz thriller featured at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, told the UK’s The Guardian that he believes God was “holding the hand” of each Jew who died in the Nazi gas chambers during the Holocaust. “I do not for one nanosecond like to pretend that God is off the hook. He could and should have stopped it at a much earlier stage,” Géza Röhrig, 48, said. ”But I would not be able to get [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Backstreet Boys Singer Howie D Gushes Over Masada During Israel Trip

    Backstreet Boys Singer Howie D Gushes Over Masada During Israel Trip

    Backstreet Boys singer Howie Dorough took to Instagram on Tuesday to marvel about climbing the famed Masada fortress with his band during their visit to Israel, where they will perform this week for the first time. The group’s second day of sightseeing in the Jewish state included the Masada hike, and taking a mud bath at the Dead Sea. A picture from the band’s official Twitter page shows the five singers covered in mud. While relaxing in the Dead Sea, [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews US & Canada ‘Arms and the Dudes:’ New Book, Film Detail How Ex-Orthodox Yeshiva Guys Became Top Suppliers for Afghan Army

    ‘Arms and the Dudes:’ New Book, Film Detail How Ex-Orthodox Yeshiva Guys Became Top Suppliers for Afghan Army

    A new book and its upcoming film adaptation tell the true story of how three former yeshiva students who habitually smoked marijuana scored a $300 million contract from the U.S. government to supply weapons for the Afghan Army, the New York Daily News reported on Sunday. Arms and the Dudes details how the Miami Beach potheads became “the most unlikely gunrunners in history,” according to the book’s author, investigative reporter Guy Lawson. The tale begins with Efraim Diveroli, nephew of [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater Natalie Portman: Israel-Themed ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ Not Political

    Natalie Portman: Israel-Themed ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ Not Political

    JNS.org – Natalie Portman, who directs and stars in the new Hebrew-language film adaptation of author Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness, says that despite Oz’s record as a vocal left-wing critic of Israel, her film is not political. Like the book on which it is based, Portman’s film is about a young boy at the time of the founding of the state of Israel. “I think the movie is very much about this very particular, specific family story. Of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.