ABSTRACT

While this chapter focusses on developments affecting the Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa in the period since the struggle for the creation of the State of Israel, it should always be kept in mind that we are dealing with some of the most ancient and historically significant centers of Jewish life. Indeed, the birthplace of Abraham, and thus the cradle of Jewish history, was in Aram-Naharayim (Aramea between the rivers), later called Mesopotamia by the Greeks, because it was the fertile crescent of land between the two great river valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates. This area is divided today among Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Significant Jewish settlements date back to the biblical period. King David extended his rule to much of Syria, including Damascus. Following the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE, the Jewish exiles made Babylonia the leading Jewish center of life and learning so that even after the restoration of the Jewish Commonwealth in Eretz Israel, the majority of the Jews continued to live in the Middle 356Eastern diaspora. Alexandria in Egypt also became a major Jewish center. Scholars now believe that when Obadiah prophesied of the redemption of the “captivity of Jerusalem that is in Sepharad” [verse 20], he was referring not to the Jews of Spain but rather to those of Sardis, a prominent Jewish center in Western Anatolia (Turkey). At Sardis, called Sfard in Lydian and Persian, archaeologists have discovered remnants of a very large synagogue dating to the second century CE.