THE JEWS OF ALEPPO AND THE JEWS OF MESOPOTAMIA
After much preparation jointly with the World Aleppo Heritage Center, a study day
was held at the Center on Sunday 20 December 1998 on "The Jews of Aleppo and the
Jews of Mesopotamia: A Conference on the Common Heritage of the Jews of
Babylonia and the Jews of Aleppo".
At the conference Prof. Moshe Orfali of Bar-Ilan University lectured on "An
Inter-religious Polemic among the Jews of Aleppo and the Jews of Babylonia"; Prof.
Yitzhak Avishur, Academic Director of the Center, spoke on "The sharh to the Bible
in Babylonia and Aleppo", and Prof. Amnon Shiloah of the Hebrew University lectured
on "Bakkashot and Piyyutim among the Jews of Syria and Iraq". The lecture by Dr.
Zvi Yehuda, Director of the Babylonian Jewry Research Institute, was on "Ties
between the Jews of Aleppo and of Iraq in the 18th Century" (see separate article); the
lecture by Dr. Shaul Regev of Bar-Ilan University was entitled "Rabbis from Aleppo
Who Officiated in Babylonia", and Dr. Yaron Harel of Bar-Ilan University spoke on
"Jewish Solicitation on Behalf of the Jews of Aleppo in Baghdad". There was also a
writers' discussion on the question "Is the Literary Creation of the Jews of the East in
Israel Founded on the Community?" The panel consisted of the writers Amnon
Shamosh, Haym Sabatu, and Eli Amir, with the moderation of Prof. Shmuel Moreh,
Chairman of the Academic Council of the Center. The study day was opened by Mr.
Mordechai Ben-Porat, Chairman of the Center, and Mr. Menahem Yadid, President of
the Aleppo Heritage Center. Other speakers on the common heritage of the Jews of
Babylonia and the Jews of Aleppo were Prof. Yaakov Shwaica, Chairman of the
Research Committee of the World Aleppo Heritage Center, and Prof Yitzhak Avishur,
Academic Director of the Center. Below we cite excerpts from the speech by Mr.
I am honored to greet the participants in this study day on behalf of the Aleppo
Heritage Center, whose "bar-mitzvah" we celebrate this year. True, we still do not
have a home of our own in which we can display the items and objects that we have
collected so far, but we are striving for this. We are also trying in, in cooperation with
the former Damascenes, to reach a position in which we will be able to establish a
world center for Syrian Jewry in Israel. The creation of a heritage center, of both
Babylonia and Syria, as well as other communities, does not aim to perpetuate
communalism within the Jewish people. For close on two thousand years we were
dispersed in the Diaspora, and each and every community accumulated a legacy and
retained its Jewish hue. When we came to Israel, each of us brought a weighty load,
with a glorious past. This past we wish to crystallize in order to pass it on to all Jewry.
The special link between Syria and Baylonia is very strong in the long history
of exile of the Jewish people. As far as we know, there was a robust tie between the Jewry of
Babylonia and the Jewry of Aleppo, which among other things was expressed in the exchange of
rabbis from Aleppo to Babylonia, and the reverse. When there was an epidemic in Babylonia, and
many rabbis succumbed to it and passed away, and the need arose for a spiritual leader, Rabbi Sadka
Bekhor Hussin, of sacred memory, was sent to Babylonia to revive Jewry there. It is related of the
Kabbalist, Rabbi Abraham Adas, of sacred memory, who was born in Aleppo and went up to
Jerusalem over a century ago, that he sat with his body of scholars and they engaged in the Zohar and
kabbala. By the nature of things there were disputes among the rabbis: one said one thing, one
another. But it was sensed that R. Adas was utterly detached from the discourse. Then he turned to
them and said, "At this instant the Ben Ish Hai has died in Babylonia". Later it was learned that this
indeed was the case.
Honored participants, we see our task as the mission of creating something ab
nihilo, but also to create out of the fruitful past in order to hand down to the people of
Israel, and its ingathered exiles in the Land of Israel, those beautiful things that our
communities can contribute to the consolidation of the Jewish people in our land. This
is the opportunity to congratulate all the initiators and organizers of this study day, and
our host, the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center, and all those who have labored for
this. We hope and believe that indeed we will succeed in integrating the heritage of the
Jews of the East into the Jewish people, which is gathering its exiles, and building its
land. May you go from strength to strength, and be blessed with great success.