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May 8, 2016 10:20 am

Aleppo Truce Extended as 13 Iranian Soldiers Killed in Fight Against Islamist Militants

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Russia said a truce in Aleppo, Syria, pictured, has been extended since Monday. Photo: wiki commons.

Aleppo, Syria. Photo: wiki commons.

Thirteen Iranian soldiers were killed in a battle with Islamist militants over a village near the Syrian city of Aleppo, Tehran said on Saturday, in one of Iran’s biggest single-day losses since it sent forces to support President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia meanwhile said that a truce in Aleppo itself had been extended until Monday.

Read full story at Reuters.

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  • Jewish communities in Alleppo dates back over 3,000 years

    Few cities can match the glory of Aleppo, Syria, a city that spans Jewish history from the days of King David over 3,000 years ago. Aristocratic and noble, Aleppo was the crown of Jewish splendor in the Sephardic world.

    The Jewish presence in Syria dates back to Biblical times and is intertwined with the history and politics of Jerusalem. According to the book of Samuel and Psalm 60, Aram Soba, the Biblical name for Aleppo, was part of the extended area of Israel. Throughout the millennia, great Talmudic sages record Aleppo’s unbroken record of communal peace and spiritual productivity. Early Jewish travelers to the area included Benjamin of Tudela in 1173, Sadai Gaon in 921, and Rabbi Petachya of Germany in 1170-80.

    According to “the patriarchs Abraham and Isaac spent part of their lives in what is now Syria. During and after the late Biblical period, and until the late 19 th Century, Syria and Eretz Israel were often territories of the same superpower and were sometimes considered a single entity. The Talmudic Sages ruled that some of the religious laws that pertain only to the land of Israel (chiefly in the realm of agriculture) apply to Syria as well.”

    The foundation for the Great Synagogue in Aleppo is believed to have been constructed by King David’s General, Joab ben Seruya (circa 950 BCE), after his conquest of the city (2 Sam 8:3-8); it is still sometimes referred to as Joab’s Synagogue. The architecture of the synagogue was heavily influenced by the designs of Muslim mosques. For example, the ark of the synagogue is an exact copy of a mosque’s mihrab.

    Walter Zenner dates the building of the Great Synagogue to the fifth Century of the Common Era. The synagogue was destroyed during the rule of Tamerlane in 1400 and was rebuilt in 1418. In 1947 anti-Zionist groups burned the synagogue, which was in an abandoned state by 1995.

    The politics of the region depended on the rulers. With the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of Rome, the Romans placed restrictions on Jews. These were lifted with the Arab conquest in 636 CE, when Islamic caliphates began ruling the region. From the seventh Century until the end of Ottoman rule, the Jewish community was self-governed. Self-government entitled the Jews to freedom of religion, a separate court system ruled by local rabbis to handle internal disputes, and military protection. In return for political and military protection, the Jews were given dhimmi status, meaning they had to adhere to certain rules and pay a poll tax, which was based on the number of men in the community, and did not have to serve in the military. Dhimmi status did not entitle Jews to the same or equal rights as Muslim citizens, however. They, along with their Christian counterparts, were of a lower status than Muslims and disputes between a Christian or Jew and a Muslim were settled in the government court, which was ruled by Islamic law.

    By the tenth Century, many Jews emigrated from Iraq to Syria, due to political unrest. This brought about a boom in commerce, banking and crafts in Syria. During the reign of the Islamic Fatimids, the Jew Ibrahim El Kazzazz ran the Syrian administration and granted Jews positions in government. For many years, the Jews lived comfortably under Muslim rule, secure in their place as dhimmi , a protected people. Living in a non-democratic state, both Jews and Muslims remained apolitical.

    “One aspect of this low profile was that new synagogues could not be built. Furthermore, Jews had to justify the existence of older houses of worship by stressing their antiquity, such as the Great Synagogue of Aleppo to Joab the son of Seruya. Ceremonies such as blowing the shofar and celebrating Purim had to be conducted so as not to disturb their Muslim neighbors.”

    The Jewish community that evolved in this setting developed a different kind of politics to govern their people. The community was governed by the hakham bashi , or chief rabbi. Paying and collecting taxes and obtaining patronage were forms of political participation. Yet the treatment of Jews was also based on the current Muslim ruler and the economics of the time. If things got worse economically, the treatment of Jews deteriorated. When times were good and the economy was booming, Jews were treated well, so long as they stayed in their place and did not upset the balance between the two religious groups.

    Various historians confirm that “the situation for the Jews varied under successive conquerors, as rulers imposed and removed restrictive laws. At times, Jews reached great heights…”

    Aleppo was the center of Jewish life for many centuries. Distinguished rabbis studied there and it was a center of significant Torah learning. Among the reasons for Aleppo’s importance in Jewish learning is a document known as the Aleppo Codex. It is believed that a member of the famous Ben-Asher family wrote the Aleppo Codex over 1000 years ago. The text shows the final vocalization and punctuation of the Biblical text. Some believe it is the Biblical text, which Rambam refers to in his Hilchot Sefer Torah .

    “The Aleppo Codex is the earliest known manuscript containing the entire text of the Bible.

    “T he Aleppo Codex is the earliest known manuscript containing the entire text of the Bible. Tradition states that Maimonides consulted the Aleppo Codex when he set down the exact rules for writing Torah scrolls. Recent research indicates that it is possible that Maimonides sanctified and codified everything he found in the Aleppo Codex.
    The Codex was copied by the scribe Shlomo Ben-Buya’a in the land of Israel over 1,000 years ago. It was deposited with the Aleppo community at the end of the 14 th Century and kept in a small vault in the Cave of Elijah under the Joab Ben Zeruiah Synagogue of Aleppo. The community talisman guarded it for over 600 years.”

    For the most part, conditions remained good for Jews in Syria under the Fatimids and later under Ottoman rule. The Ottoman rulers favored the Jews, understanding that the Jews would contribute to a good economy and that they facilitated commerce.

    There were two classes of Jews in Aleppo. The wealthier members of the community were bankers or merchants, while lower class members included brokers, grocers or peddlers. Aleppo-born Jewish author, Joseph Sutton, said, “Most Jews were either lower middle-class or very poor. They were craftsman, stall-keepers, cobblers, clerks, peddlers, porters, or others without skills.” Besides life cycle events, recreation activities favored “gambling, particularly backgammon, dice, and cardplaying.”

    Walter Zenner describes how the social structure of the community was controlled.

    “In Aleppo, women generally did not work outside the home, although some girls and women were domestics in Jewish homes.”

    The occupations of the Aleppo Jews determined their social class standing and their wealth. There was a social class structure that determined marriages.

    “The movement of young girls was carefully controlled…Marriages were generally arranged by parents…Cousin marriage of all four kinds was practiced.

    Aleppo is the second largest city in Syria. In the center of town there is an ancient fortress, or citadel, and a bazaar. The city lies in a semi-desert region in the northwest area of the country. When the Jews lived there, there was a market for grains, fruit, as well as wool and hides. Silk and cotton textiles were also manufactured in the town. Dried fruits and nuts, especially pistachios, were widely sold and eaten. Aleppo was a flourishing trade center during the 16 th Century, but its popularity declined when sea routes to India became more popular and efficient. The city was almost destroyed by earthquakes in 1822 and in 1830.

    The Jews in Spain Come to Syria