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Bidding Information
Lot #    29000
Auction End Date    1/25/2011 10:37:30 AM (mm/dd/yyyy)
Title Information
Title (English)    Letter by R. Heskel Sassoon, Chief Rabbi of Basra
Title (Hebrew)    כתב מה'ר יחזקאל ששון, רב הראשי בצרה
Author    [Ms.]
City    Basra, Iraq
Publication Date    1932
Collection Information
Independent Item    This listing is an independent item not part of any collection
Description Information
   [1] p., 275:210 mm., light age staining, creased, ink on stationary, signed, dated, and stamped.
   Letter by R. Heskel Sassoon, Chief Rabbi of Basra, port in southern Iraq, on the Shaṭṭ al-Arab, the outlet into the Persian Gulf of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. Jews settled there under the Umayyad regime and one of the nine canals near the town is called Nahr al-Yahūd ("River of the Jews"). Jews also settled in Ubulla, then the port of the town of Basra and now the site of Basra. Toward the end of the Umayyad caliphate, Māsarjawayh, a Jewish physician from Basra, gained fame for his Arabic translations of Greek medical books. In the first generation of Abbasid rule, the court astrologer was the Jew Misha b. Abra, called Māshāallah. Besides many artisans and merchants, the Basra Jewish community comprised many religious scholars, including Simeon Kayyara of Sabkha (suburb of Basra), who wrote Halakhot Gedolot about 825 C.E. The sages of Basra were in close contact with the academy of Sura , to which the community sent an annual contribution of 300 dinars. In the tenth century, when the academy closed, the last Gaon, Joseph b. Jacob, settled in Basra. But until about 1150 the Jews of Basra continued to direct their questions on religious matters to the heads of the yeshiva in Baghdad, and especially to R. Sherira Gaon and his son R. Hai Gaon . From these questions, it appears that the Jews of Basra had close commercial ties with the Jews of Baghdad. In the 11th century, Basra was gradually abandoned as a result of civil wars in Mesopotamia; and many of its Jews emigrated. R. Solomon b. Judah (d. 1051), head of the Jerusalem yeshiva, mentions religious scholars and physicians from Basra in Palestine and Egypt.

However, throughout the Middle Ages there remained an important community in Basra. Benjamin of Tudela (c. 1170) reports that approximately 10,000 Jews, including many wealthy men and religious scholars, lived in the town. He also mentions the grave north of the town, believed to be that of Ezra and also venerated by the Muslims. According to an early 13th century letter by Daniel b. Eleazar b. Nethanel Hibat Allah, head of the Baghdad yeshiva, there was also a synagogue in the town named for Ezra. When the Mongols conquered Iraq in the mid-13th century, Basra surrendered and was not severely damaged. However, when Tamerlane conquered Mesopotamia in 1393, many Jews were killed and all the synagogues in the town were destroyed. Nevertheless, a small community continued to exist.

The community regained its importance during the 18th century. Its wealth increased; rich landowners in the community liberally distributed alms and even sent contributions to Ereẓ Israel. The liturgical poem Megillat Paras ("Persian Scroll") by the emissary from Hebron, Jacob Elyashar, describes the siege of Basra by the Persians and the town's deliverance in 1775, when the Jewish minister of finance, Jacob b. Aaron, who had been captured, was released. Afterward, Nisan 2nd – the day on which the siege was lifted – was celebrated in Basra as the "Day of the Miracle." Jews played such a vital role in the commercial life of Basra that in 1793 the representative of the East India Company was forced to live in Kuwait for nearly two years, because he had quarreled with the Jewish merchants. In 1824 David d'Beth Hillel reported 300 Jewish households belonging to merchants and artisans in Basra and a Jewish finance minister. During the persecutions of Jews which took place under the rule of Daʾūd Pasha in the early 19th century, several wealthy members of the Basra community emigrated to India. The traveler, Benjamin II, mentions that in 1848, he found about 300 Jewish families in Basra. But in 1860 Jehiel Fischel, an emissary of the rabbis of Safed, reports 40 Jewish families in the town out of a population of 12,000. After the British occupation in 1914, the number of Jews increased from 1,500 to 9,921 in 1947, when Jews constituted 9.8% of the total population. Most of the Jews were traders and many worked in the administration service of the railroads, the airport, and the seaport. The legal status of the community was regulated by a 1931 law, according to which a president and a chief rabbi were assigned to head it. A boys' school was founded by the Alliance Israélite Universelle in 1903, and later became a high school. In 1950 it had 450 pupils. In 1913 an Alliance Israélite Universelle girls' school was founded, and attended in 1930 by 303 pupils. All schools were under the supervision of the community committee. In the 1930s, a theosophical group was formed and headed by the Jew Kadduri Elijah 'Aani (who went to Palestine in 1945 and died in Jerusalem). The community excommunicated this group, and its Jewish members were forced to establish their own synagogue, cemetery, and slaughter-house.

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Listing Classification
20th Century:    Checked
Other:    Iraq
History:    Checked
Language:    Hebrew
Manuscript Type
Letters:    Checked
Kind of Judaica