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The Lebanese Jews are traditionally a Mizrahi community living in the present-day country of Lebanon, mostly in and around the city of Beirut. Almost all of the community has emigrated to Israel, France, and North America. There are between 50 and 1,000 Jews now living in the country,[1] compared to 24,000 in 1948.[2] Emigration was not great even after Lebanon's first civil war 1958, as Lebanese Jews were tightly integrated into society and felt no need to abandon their homeland. But emigration increased after Lebanon's 1975 civil war, and increased further after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982.[1]


Early history

In pre-Biblical times, the region between Gaza and Anatolia (essentially modern day Lebanon and Israel) was a single cultural unit. Despite the lack of any central political authority, the region shared a common language (various dialects of the Canaanite language, including Phoenician and Ancient Hebrew), religion and way of life. This included some of the world's first permanent settlements arranged around early agricultural communities and independent city states, many of which maintained a wide network of trade relations throughout the Mediterranean and beyond.

By the time of the Israelite Kingdoms, Lebanon and Israel (including now days Jordan) could be recognized as distinct entities, although they remained close allies, experiencing the same fates with changing regional developments. During this period, parts of modern Lebanon were under the control of Jerusalem, and Jews lived as far north as Baal-Hermon on the slopes of Mount Hermon (sometimes identified with Hasbaya, which once again became an important center of Jewish life in the first half of the 20th century [3]). According to biblical accounts, these Jews were members of the tribe of Manashe, one of the Jewish twelve tribes. The Christian Bible also includes accounts of Jesus' sojourn around Mount Hermon which appear to take for granted Jewish presence in this local. Some people also add the locality of Qana (near Tyre in Lebanon) but the Bible clearly avoid confusion by referring to it as "Qana of Galilee" (Israel).

Following the Bar Kokhba Revolt, in or around 132 BCE several Jewish communities were established in Lebanon. Caliph Muawiya (642-680) established a Jewish community in Tripoli, Lebanon. Another was founded in 922 in Sidon. The Jewish Academy was established in Tyre in 1071. In the 19th century hostilities between the Druze and the Maronites led many Jews to the depart Deir al-Qamar, with most moving to Hasbaya by the end of the century.

Early 20th century

In 1911, Jews from Greece, Syria, Iraq, and Turkey moved to Beirut, expanding the community there to nearly 5,000. The Jewish community prospered under the French mandate and Greater Lebanon, exerting considerable influence throughout Lebanon and beyond. They allied themselves with Pierre Gemayel's Phalangist party (a right wing, Maronite group modelled after similar movements in Italy and Germany) and played an instrumental role in the establishment of Lebanon as an independent state.

During the Greater Lebanon period, two Jewish newspapers were founded, the Arabic language Al-Alam al-Israili (the Israelite World) and the French Le Commerce du Levant, an economic periodical which still publishes (though it is now owned by non-Jews).

1948 to present

The Jewish community was traditionally centered in Wadi Abu Jmil and Ras Beirut, with smaller numbers in the Chouf, Deir al-Qamar, Aley, Bhamdoun, Saida and Hasbaya.[4]

Lebanons Jews had previously rejected approaches by the Yishuv   , sending fund raisers away empty handed. In 1948 Lebanon's Jews donated to the fight against the establishment of Israel. [5]

Lebanon was the only Arab country whose Jewish population actually increased after the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948.[6] However, after the 1958 Civil War, many Lebanese Jews left the country, largely for Europe, the United States. In 1971, Albert Elia, the 69-year-old Secretary-General of the Lebanese Jewish community was kidnapped in Beirut by Syrian agents and imprisoned under torture in Damascus along with Syrian Jews who had attempted to flee the country. A personal appeal by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan to the late President Hafez al-Assad failed to secure Elia's release. The Lebanese Civil War, beginning in 1975, proved worse for the Jews. In 1982, during the Israeli invasion, 11 Jewish leaders were captured and killed by Islamist radicals. [7][8]

Beth Elamen (בית עלמין), the known Jewish cemetery; in Beirut, Lebanon (2008).

Jewish infrastructure suffered as well. During the advance of the Israeli Defense Force into Beirut, Yasir Arafat assigned Palestinian gunmen to stand guard at the Maghen Abraham Synagogue, an important symbol of the Jewish community, located within sight of the Parliament. The synagogue was then heavily damaged by Israeli Air Force bombing, as Israel claimed that it was used as a Palestinian weapons storehouse [9][10]. Wadi Abu Jamil, Beirut's Jewish quarter, lies inside the Beirut Central District, reconstructed after the war. Long ago, late former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, decided to restore the synagogue and surround it with a garden. However the restoration never took place. The neighboring Talmudic school was demolished so that other new buildings would keep the view of the beach nearby.[11]

Regardless, by the spring of 2008, the Jewish expatriates expressed their desire to renovate the synagogue. They wished to proceed once stability within Lebanon improved.[12] Long afterwards, the expatriates stated that the synagogue, along with the Jewish cementry in Sodeco, would be renovated from October 2008. According to Bloomberg, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora was quoted as saying:

This is a religious place of worship and its restoration is welcome.

Also, Hussain Rahal, a spokesman for Hezbollah, said his group also supported the restoration of Maghen Abraham:

We respect the Jewish religion just like we do Christianity. The Jews have always lived among us. We have an issue with Israel's occupation of land.[13]

Fundings had already been received by the 65-year-old leader of the minute Jewish community, Isaac Arazi. Arazi estimated that the synagogue would require up to $1 million for renovation. He managed to raise up to $40,000 for the project, promising more to come. Solidere SAL, civil-engineering company owned by the Hariri family, had also given $150,000 to each of 14 religious organizations that are restoring places of worship in Lebanon, about $2.1 million in all. "We help all the communities," said Solidere chairman Nasser Chammaa.[13][14] Also, in Switzerland, a couple of banks, whose owners were of Lebanese-Jewish roots, had agreed to provide financing. One offered a sum of $100,000, but Arazi declined to mention its name. The restoration of the synagogue started in summer 2009, but plans have been delayed over concerns of lack of funds.[1]

Lacking a rabbi, Lebanon's Jews find it difficult to continue their religious traditions and tend to keep a low profile. Deir el Qamar is home to one of the few remaining synagogues in Lebanon. This synagogue, although still in good condition, is not in use due to security concerns. Dory Chamoun, mayor of Deir el Qamar and son of former Lebanese president Camille Chamoun has offered occasional support to members of the Jewish community.


Lebanese Jewish dispora

Lebanese synagogues in the diaspora include Congregation Maghen Abraham (Montreal), Har HaLebanon and Sephardic Lebanese Congregation in New York.

Jewish Community Presidents

The Jewish Community Presidents include:[7]

Chief rabbis

Between the years of 1908 and 1978, a series of Chief Rabbis led the Lebanese Jewish community.[15]

See also


  1. ^ a b "The Jews of Lebanon". Time. February 27, 2007. Retrieved 2009-01-21. 
  2. ^ Hendler, Sefi (August 19, 2006). "Beirut’s last Jews". Ynet.,7340,L-3292543,00.html. Retrieved 2007-05-22. 
  3. ^ Bienvenue à : un mouvement pour la coexistence » 2006» October
  4. ^ Bienvenue à : un mouvement pour la coexistence » 2007» May
  5. ^ The Jews of Lebanon: Between Coexistence and Conflict, by Kirsten E Schulze
  6. ^ The Jews of Lebanon, Time - The Middle East Blog
  7. ^ a b Lebanese Jewish Community Council
  8. ^ Lament Lebanon's lost tribe,
  9. ^ The Jews of Lebanon
  10. ^ Pity the Nation, by Robert Fisk
  11. ^ Martina, Toti (October 27, 2006). "When Arafat protected the Jews". Dialogues on Civilizations. Retrieved 2006-12-28. 
  12. ^ "Beirut's Jewish heritage under threat - 20 Apr 2008". April 20, 2008. 
  13. ^ a b Derhally, Massoud (September 18, 2008). "Lebanon Jews Tap Diaspora to Rebuild Beirut's Shelled Synagogue". 
  14. ^ Derhally, Massoud (September 18, 2008). "Lebanon Jews Tap Diaspora to Rebuild Beirut's Shelled Synagogue". 
  15. ^ History of the Jewish Community, The Jews of Lebanon

External links


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