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History of the Jews in Lebanon

The history of the Jews in Lebanon deals with the presence of Jews in Lebanon, which stretches back to Biblical times.


  • Jews in Lebanon today 1
  • Early history 2
  • Early 20th century 3
  • 1947 onward 4
  • Jewish Lebanese Surnames 5
  • Jewish Community Presidents 6
  • Jewish Community Vice Presidents 7
  • Chief rabbis 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

Jews in Lebanon today

The Lebanese Jews are traditionally a Sephardi (particularly Mizrahi) community living mostly in and around Beirut[1][2] but also in Sidon and Baalbek. About 40 to 100 Jews live in Lebanon today.[1][2] Emigration was not great even after Lebanon's first civil war in 1958, as Lebanese Jews were tightly integrated into society and felt no need to abandon their homeland. But emigration began to increase after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, when Jews began to fear "perpetual instability" in their country.[3] Israel's 1982 invasion and its subsequent occupation of parts of Lebanon, and Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war severely exacerbated emigration.[1] In Beirut, the Jewish quarter of Wadi Abu Jamil suffered devastation as it was situated along the dividing line between the warring Christian and Muslim districts.[1][3]

Almost all of the Jewish community emigrated to Israel or to countries with already well established Lebanese or Lebanese Jewish diaspora, such as France, Switzerland, USA, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Australia and Central and Eastern Europe (particularly Russia and Bulgaria). Paris, New York, and Geneva, Switzerland are cities where many in the Jewish Lebanese Diaspora have settled.[1] Some of the Lebanese Jews who emigrated to Israel would later return as occupying troops during the 1982-2000 Israeli occupation of parts of the country.[4]

Early history

In pre-Biblical times, the region between Gaza and Anatolia (essentially modern day Lebanon, Israel, Palestinian Territories, Jordan and Syria) was a single cultural unit. Despite the lack of any central political authority, the region shared a common language family (Northwest Semitic languages, including Phoenician, Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic), 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 present-day 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[5]).

According to the Hebrew Bible, the territory of the Israelite tribes of Asher and Naphtali extended into present-day Lebanon as far as Sidon in the north. These tribes formed part of the united Kingdom of Israel and then the northern kingdom of the same name. However, Assyria captured Naphtali in c. 732 BCE and deported its population, a fate which befell the rest of the northern kingdom in c. 723 BCE. The New Testament also refers to Jesus's sojourn around Mount Hermon which appears to take for granted Jewish presence in this locality. Some people also add the locality of Qana (near Tyre in Lebanon) but the Bible clearly avoids confusion by referring to it as "Qana of Galilee".

Following the Bar Kokhba Revolt against Rome in 132 CE, 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, hostility between the Druze and Maronites communities led many Jews to leave Deir al Qamar, with most moving to Hasbaya by the end of the century.

Early 20th century

In 1911, Jews from Italy, Greece, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt and Iran moved to Beirut, expanding the community there with more than 5,000 additional members. Articles 9 and 10 of the 1926 Constitution of Lebanon guaranteed the freedom of religion and provided each religious community, including the Jewish community, the right to manage its own civil matters, including education, and thus the Jewish community was constitutionally protected, a fact that did not apply to other Jewish communities in the region.[6] 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 fascist right wing, Maronite group modelled after similar movements in Italy and Germany, and Franco's Phalangist movement in Spain.) 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).

The Jewish community of Beirut evolved in three distinct phases.[7] Until 1908, the Jewish population in Beirut grew by migration from the Syrian interior and from other Zaki Cohen in 1874. The school attracted Jewish students from prosperous families like Shloush (Jaffa), Moyal (Jaffa), and Sassoon (Baghdad). Its founder, influenced by the Ottoman reforms and by local cultural trends, aspired to create a modern yet Jewish school. It offered both secular and strictly Jewish subjects as well as seven languages. It also offered commercial subjects. The school was closed at the beginning of the 20th century due to financial hardships.

In the center of the photo, synagogue of Deir al-Qamar, dating from the seventeenth century, abandoned but still intact.
Beth Elamen, the Jewish Cemetery in Beirut (2008).

The Maghen Abraham Synagogue (1926), and the renewed Talmud-Torah Selim Tarrab community school (1927). The community also maintained welfare services like the Biqur-Holim, Ozer-Dalim, and Mattan-Basseter societies. The funding for all these institutions came from contributions of able community members, who contributed on Jewish holidays and celebrations, through subscription of prominent members, fund-raising events and lotteries the community organized. In fact, the community was financially independent and did not rely on European Jewish philanthropy.

The development of the Jewish was also disappointed with the lack of more active support, and the community did not send a delegation to the World Zionist Congress.

A young Lebanese Jew named Joseph Azar, who took it upon himself to advance the Zionist cause with other individuals in October 1930, said in a report for the Jewish Agency that: "Before the disturbance of August 1929 the Jews...of Lebanon manifested much sympathy for the Zionist cause and worked actively for the sake of Palestine. They had established associations which collected money for (sic) Keren Kayemeth and (sic) Keren Heyesod." He said that after 1929, the Jews "started to fear from (sic) anything having any connection with Zionism and ceased to hold meetings and collect money." He also said that the Jewish Communal Council in Beirut "endeavored to prevent anything having a Jewish national aspect because they feared that this might wound the feelings of the Muslims." Other sources suggested that such charity work was not so much motivated by Zionism as it was by an interest to help Jews in need.

The Maccabi organization was recognized officially by Lebanese authorities and was an active center for Jewish cultural affairs in Beirut and Saida. The Maccabi taught Hebrew language and Jewish history, and was the focus point of the small Zionist movement in the country. There was also a pro-Zionist element within the Maronite community in Lebanon.

After the 1929 riots in Jerusalem, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was expelled from Palestine and he chose to settle in Lebanon, where continued inflammatory rhetoric against the British and the Zionists. During the riots, some Muslim nationalists and editors of a major Greek-Orthodox newspaper (both of whom saw the fate of the emerging Lebanese state as one within a broader Arab context) sought to incite the disturbances in Lebanon, where until that point most ethno-religious groups were aloof to the forecoming conflict in Palestine. It also seemed to have an effect on the cryptic response given by Interior Minister Habib Abi Chahla to Joseph Farhi when, on behalf of the Jewish community, he requested that they receive a seat in the newly expanded Lebanese Parliament.

Outside of Beirut, the attitudes toward Jews were usually more hostile. In November 1945, fourteen Jews were killed in anti-Jewish riots in Tripoli. Further anti-Jewish events occurred in 1948 following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The ongoing insecurity combined with the greater opportunities that Beirut offered prompted most of the remaining Jews of Tripoli to relocate to Beirut.[8]

1947 onward

Anti-Zionist demonstrations began in 1947 and 1948 but initially showed no harm to the Jewish community. As the Arab-Israeli conflict continued, hostility toward the Jews intensified, especially from the Muslim population. The main synagogue in Beirut was bombed in the early 1950s. and the Lebanese Chamber of Deputies witnessed heated debates on the status of Lebanese Jewish army officers. The discussions culminated in a unanimous resolution to expel and exclude them from the Lebanese Army.[9] The two Jewish army officers were discharged, but a few Jews continued to work for the government.

Most Lebanese Jews had Zionist views and looked favorably at the creation of Israel, but they nevertheless were reluctant to get involved in politics or speak about Israel, lest their Arab neighbors accuse them of treason.[3]

In 2010, work began to restore an old synagogue in Beirut, the Maghen Abraham Synagogue. The synagogue had fallen into disrepair after being bombed by Israel several years earlier. The roof had collapsed and trees and bushes had grown under it. Anti-Semitic graffiti covered the walls of the synagogue, and it reeked of urine.[10] Although Solidere agreed to provide funds for the renovation because political officials believed it would portray Lebanon as an open society tolerant of Judaism,[11] none of the Jews involved in the project agreed to be identified, nor were the non-Jewish construction workers willing to show their faces or be photographed. The international media and even some members of the Jewish community (in and out of Lebanon) questioned who would pray there.[12] The self-declared head of the Jewish Community Council, Isaac Arazi, who left Lebanon in 1983,[1][13] eventually came forward but refused to show his face on camera in a television interview, fearing that his business would suffer if clients knew they had been dealing with a Jew.[14]

Jewish Lebanese Surnames

  • Abadie
  • Abboud or Aboud
  • Abulafia
  • Ades
  • Ajami
  • Akchoti
  • Akkad
  • Alalou
  • Albamnes
  • Alfieh
  • Alfandari
  • Almohsen
  • AlTabbakh
  • Alwan
  • Al-Zarur HaDavidi
  • Amranian
  • Antaki
  • Antebi
  • Anzarouth
  • Araman
  • Arazi
  • Argalgi
  • Aramouth
  • Askenazi
  • Atri or Katri
  • Attar
  • Attieh
  • Ayoub
  • Al-Baghdadi
  • Bahbout
  • Balayla
  • Baleciano
  • Baruch
  • Bassal
  • Bassal Levy
  • Bassoul
  • Battat
  • Bazbaz
  • Behar
  • Benisti
  • Blanco
  • Btesh
  • Boubli
  • Carrio
  • Cattan or Kattan
  • Cazes
  • Chacho
  • Chaki
  • Chalhon
  • Cham’a
  • Chamma
  • Chammah
  • Chams
  • Chattah
  • Chayo
  • Chekoury
  • Choua
  • Cohen
  • Chreim
  • D'Jamus
  • Dabbah
  • Dahan
  • Dana
  • Dayan
  • Darwiche
  • Darwish
  • Dia
  • Dichy
  • Diwan
  • Douek
  • Durzieh
  • El-Azar
  • Elia
  • Elbaz
  • ElFarran
  • Elgadeh
  • Elmaleh
  • Elmann
  • Eskenazi
  • Esses or Assis
  • Eyov or Iyov
  • Fakes
  • Faham
  • Farache or Farashe
  • Farah
  • Farhi
  • Farran
  • Fattal
  • Fawaz
  • Finan
  • Fnounou
  • Gabbay
  • Grego
  • Gindi
  • Haber; Habre
  • Haddad
  • Hadid
  • Halabi
  • Al-Halabi
  • Hallak
  • Hammoud
  • Hammud
  • Hara
  • Harari
  • Hanan
  • Hanono
  • Hassan
  • Hasbani
  • Hassoun
  • Hazan
  • Hafez
  • Hefetz
  • Helouani
  • Herrera; Harari
  • Jamousi
  • Jajati
  • Jammali
  • Juda or Judi
  • Kachi
  • Kalache
  • Kameo or Cameo
  • Kamhine
  • Kamkhaji
  • Kassar
  • Katri or Atri
  • Kattan or Cattan
  • Khafif
  • Kbabieh
  • Khabbaz
  • Khaski
  • Khayat
  • Khamri
  • Khouri or Khoury
  • Kishk
  • Kishk-Cohen
  • Kredi
  • Laham
  • Liniado; Lagnado; Lañado
  • Lati
  • Laoui or Lawi
  • Lazarus; Lazar; Elazar
  • Levi
  • Levy
  • Lisbona
  • Lizmi
  • Mhanna
  • El-Mann
  • Manas
  • Mann
  • Mansour
  • Marcus (Martinez)
  • Mawas
  • Menassa
  • Mizrahi
  • Moghrabi
  • Morelli
  • Moreno
  • Moshe
  • Mouaddeb
  • Moussa or Musa
  • Moussalli
  • Moze or Moza
  • Mozahem
  • Nahmoub
  • Najjar
  • Nahon
  • Nassim
  • Nmer
  • Nigri
  • Obersi
  • Ozon
  • Pariente
  • Picciotto
  • Pinto
  • Rabih
  • Rahme
  • Reuben
  • Romano
  • Saab
  • Saad;
  • Sabra
  • Sacal or Sakkal
  • Safra
  • Sakka or Saka
  • Salem
  • Sankari
  • Sananes
  • Sassoun
  • Sayegh
  • Serur
  • Srougo
  • Srour
  • Srur
  • Stambouli
  • Sutton
  • Shamah
  • Shams
  • Shattah
  • Shrem or Chrem
  • Solomon
  • Soued
  • Tabet
  • Timani
  • Tarrab
  • Tawil
  • Tarazi
  • Totah
  • Toubiana
  • Turkieh
  • Uzun or Ozon
  • Yedid
  • Zakaria
  • Zakki
  • Zaafarani
  • Zardook
  • Zaroukh
  • Zaroor
  • Zarour
  • Zarur
  • Zeitouni


Jewish Community Presidents

The Jewish Community Presidents include:[15]

  • Ezra Anzarouth Prior to 1910
  • Joseph. D. Farhi 1910–1924
  • Joseph Dichy Bey 1925–1927
  • Joseph D. Farhi 1928–1930
  • Selim Harari 1931–1934
  • Joseph D. Farhi 1935–1938
  • Deab Saadia & Joseph Dichy Bey- 1939–1950
  • Joseph Attiyeh 1950–1976
  • Isaac Sasson 1977–1985
  • Raoul Mizrahi 1985
  • Joseph Mizrahi 1986-2003[16]
  • Isaac Arazi 2005 – present

Jewish Community Vice Presidents

  • Joseph Balayla 1926-1931. (was also the treasurer of the community)
  • Yaakov (Jackes) Balayla 1931-1934. (Jackes and Joseph Balayla were brothers)
  • Semo Bechar 2005-present

Chief rabbis

Between the years of 1799 and 1978, a series of Chief Rabbis led the Lebanese Jewish community.[17]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Beirut's hidden Jewish community". Deutsche Welle. November 15, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Sefi Hendler (19 August 2006). "Beirut’s last Jews". Ynetnews. Retrieved 1 March 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c "Lebanese Jews in New York: Longing for Home". Al-Akhbar English. April 16, 2012. 
  4. ^ Magda Abu-Fadil (26 September 2010). "Lebanon's Jews: Loyalty to Whom? BBC Documentary Tracks Vanished Community". Retrieved 1 March 2015. 
  5. ^ "Lebanese Jews were Pioneers in Promoting Nations Independence". 22 October 2006. Archived from the original on 2006-11-30. 
  6. ^ Schulze, Kirsten. The Jews of Lebanon: Between Coexistence and Conflict, page 33
  7. ^ Tomer Levi, "The Formation of a Levantine Community: The Jews of Beirut, 1860-1939", Ph.D. diss. (Brandeis University, 2010), pp.78-133
  8. ^ Kirsten Schulze. "Lebanon." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online, 2013.
  9. ^ "Lebanon". Library of Congress Studies. December 1987. Retrieved 1 March 2015. 
  10. ^ Natalia Antelava (2 February 2010). "Who will pray at Lebanon's rebuilt synagogue?". Retrieved 1 March 2015. 
  11. ^ "Beirut synagogue restored to glory, despite tensions with Israel". Haaretz. 17 August 2010. Retrieved 1 March 2015. 
  12. ^ Natalia Antelava (31 January 2010). "New synagogue opens religious debate in Lebanon". Retrieved 1 March 2015. 
  13. ^ Lebanon Jews Tap Diaspora to Rebuild Beirut's Shelled Synagogue
  14. ^ Habib Battah (15 December 2010). "Return to the Valley of Jews". Retrieved 1 March 2010. 
  15. ^ "Lebanese Jewish Community Council". 
  16. ^ "The 18th sect". 7 March 2008. 
  17. ^ History of the Jewish Community, The Jews of Lebanon

External links

  • The official site of the Lebanese Jewish Community Council
  • Jewish Lebanese community in Canada
  • Lebanon Jews Tap Diaspora to Rebuild Beirut's Shelled Synagogue By Massoud A. Derhally of Bloomberg News-Sept. 18, 2008
  • Restoration of Beirut’s Synagogue Begins With Help of Diaspora By Massoud A. Derhally of Bloomberg News-Aug. 5, 2009
  • Lament Lebanon's lost tribe, The Daily Star (Lebanon).
  • Time Blog:The Jews of Lebanon
  • Jewish Virtual Library: The Jews of Lebanon
  • Review of the book, "The Jews of Lebanon" by Kirsten E. Schulze
  • A Biobliogrpahy on Lebanese Jewry (In Hebrew and English)
  • Lebanon – Jews Library of Congress Country Studies
  • Beirut's Jewish community faces slow decline AFP Jul 20, 2008
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