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HISTORY  
From Projet Aladin

From biblical slavery, to prosperity, to expulsion in the 1950's, Egyptian Jews have survived throughout a vivid and event-filled history, unparalleled by their fate in any other nation.

One of the highest points of Jewish existence in Egypt occurred early in history, including the centuries following the invasion of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BCE. Combined cultural influences between the Jews and Greeks led to the development of a Hellenistic Judaism, much as the Jews later became integrated into Egyptian society and created a type of Arabic-Jewish culture. The Egyptian Jews pursued and excelled in the fine arts, philosophy and literature: Hellenistic culture and religious virtues, and during this period, the Jews prospered, building many synagogues and temples.

Unfortunately, this period did not last long; the onset of the Roman and later Christian influences in Egypt would bring with them a rising anti-Semitic sentiment throughout the second and third centuries CE. The Jews tried to resist, but were overwhelmed; at the same time, the Jewish community itself began to atrophy through emigration and intermarriage.

It was not until the Arab conquest (640 CE) that the Jews began to regain their social and cultural strength. From 640 to the late 900s, Jews owned and ran their own universities, served in the courts, and saw a period of relative economic prosperity. From 969, the Fatimid caliphs ruled Egypt as part of what was known as the Ayyubid empire (969-1250), and the Jews continued to flourish in cultural and political spheres, gaining recognition at court and the right to self-rule.

In 1301, however, the new Mameluke rulers, who formerly had been slaves, began a campaign to identify and exterminate non-Muslims. The Jews, along with others including the Christians and Samaritans, began to flee or were executed until their numbers were diminished to less than 900, a far cry from the estimated 12-20 000 who flourished in the mid- twelfth century.

After 1492, as a result of their forced expulsion from Spain and Portugal, the Sephardim of the Iberian Peninsula began a mass emigration to Egypt. In the ensuing years, many Jews gained high posts in the Ottoman (Turkish) courts which ruled at that time, and the Jewish finance minister was officially regarded as the political leader of the Jews. At the same time, the Jews of North- West Africa began to move into Egypt, and the Jewish community gradually became more complex.

In the meantime, the Turks grew less tolerant of the Jews, and when Egypt tried to break free of Turkish rule, the Jews suffered. Nevertheless, the Jews continued to resist pogroms, persecution and economic containment's, including the heavy taxation enforced by governor Ali Bey during the emancipation, in his attempt to re-establish the old Ayyubid empire in 1768.

Napoleon's influence in Egypt, between 1798 and 1801, led to yet another difficult time for the Jews. While he appeared to support the Jews, much of his activity was, in fact, deleterious to the Jewish community. Once again, heavy taxes and violence emerged, and in particular, Napoleon was responsible for destroying an Alexandrian synagogue. But the retreat of the French brought upon a sudden surge in the overall European population in Egypt, and Jewish numbers began to rise once more. New legislation protected the Jews and gave them new privileged status, tax exemptions, and legal protection as foreign nationals. With these reforms came a new growth in the economic and cultural roles of the Egyptian Jew. Among the most noted Jews of this period was Ya'qub Sanu' (Sanua) , a satirist playwright who achieved prominence until his expulsion in 1878.

The year 1881 brought the British to Egypt and, with them, came an increased tolerance, which helped to raise the Jews to a new level of prosperity. A form of economic and cultural renaissance followed, during which time many elegant homes and temples were built, schools were established, and ultimately, the Jews in Egypt began to surpass the native Egyptian in both education and cultural integrity. By 1917, the numbers of Jews in Egypt had risen to 60 000, most of whom had been deeply affected by European influences. Most had been educated in foreign schools and spoke Arabic only as a second language, and the Jewish community was understood to be entirely distinct from Egyptian or Arabic cultures.

Individual Jews played an important role in Egyptian nationalism. Jewish scholar Murad Beh Farag (1866-1956) was an Egyptian nationalist. His poem, 'My Homeland Egypt, Place of my Birth', expresses loyalty to Egypt, while his book, al-Qudsiyyat (Jerusalemica, 1923), defends the right of the Jews to a State. Farag was also one of the co-authors of Egypt's first Constitution in 1923.

Another famous Egyptian Jew of this period was Yaqub Sanu, who became a patriotic Egyptian nationalist advocating the removal of the British. He edited the nationalist publication Abu Naddara 'Azra from exile. This was one of the first magazines written in Egyptian Arabic, and mostly consisted of satire, poking fun at the British as well as the Monarchy which was a puppet of the British. Another was Henri Curiel, who founded 'The Egyptian Movement for National Liberation' in 1943, an organization that was to form the core of the Egyptian Communist party.

After 1937, anti- Semitic activities in Egypt increased. Suddenly, anti-Semitic violence was no longer considered to be simply a political manoeuvre for the personal gain of the rising political power, but instead was regarded as a symbolic act of retribution. An increase in legislated forms of oppression made it illegal for non- nationals to hold high political, economic or educational posts (geared toward the largely foreign Jewish population) and contributions were "solicited" for the Egyptian army.

In 1947, there were 65 639 Jews in Egypt, who could be categorized into four distinct components by 1951: Arabic- speaking Jews of old Egyptian ancestry, Berber Jews, the Sephardim of Spanish- Portuguese stock, and Ashkenazim, or central and eastern European Jews. At the same time, Egypt was home to the largest body of Karaites, descendants of eighth century Jews who split from the main body of Judaism. These groups varied from each other because of their different cultural and historical pasts, and yet the Jews of Egypt, as a whole, held together as a distinct people.

The many foreign influences, including Jewish immigrants who had come from abroad, resulted naturally in some internal conflicts based on cultural differences and a wide range of religious convictions. Furthermore, the integration of the Jewish people into the commercial and cultural fabric of Egypt took its toll. This resulted in a decrease in the intensity of religious beliefs among the later generations.

From the early - twentieth century until the expulsion of the Jews in 1956, Thousands of Jews had their possessions confiscated and thousands more were arrested. Between November 1956 and September 1957, 21 000 Jews were expelled from Egypt, and by 1960, only 8500 remained. By the end of the Six-Day War in 1967, only 800 Jews were left in Egypt, and in 1980 less than 300 were known to exist in the country which had been the home of generations of Jews for over thirty-two centuries.

JEWS IN NORTH AFRICA AND EGYPT   

New, more fanatical Muslim rulers caused the quality of Jewish life in North Africa and Egypt to deteriorate during the 12th and 13th centuries.

By Menachem Ben-Sasson, (Professor of History at Hebrew University’s Institute of Jewish Studies)
(From My Jewish Learning)

The golden age of the Jewish communities in Muslim lands ended between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries—first in North Africa and later in the Levant. Their situations deteriorated as a result of major political upheavals in these regions: new regimes, which valued Islam well above other beliefs inherited from Greek antiquity, came into being. Intolerance towards religious minorities, Jewish and Christian, was one of the more bitter consequences.

Taliban-like Dynasty Took Over North Africa and Spain

In the Maghreb (which in contemporary Arab geography included Spain as well as North Africa), a new dynasty, the Almohad, came to power in the mid-twelfth century. Originating in the High Atlas mountains among the Berbers, adhering to a fundamentalist and fanatic form of Islam, the Almohads imposed their puritanical religious concepts on all Muslims who came under their rule. The protection traditionally accorded to the “Peoples of the Book” was severely restricted. Muhammad had given these nations, the Almohads claimed, five hundred years for their Messiah to come forth; since the period of grace had elapsed, the whole world was now obliged to embrace Islam.

Numerous Jews in Morocco refused to convert and chose martyrdom instead; others found refuge in Ayyubid Egypt; but the majority stayed on, hoping that the persecution would soon subside. The Almohads, however, remained in power until 1269. North African Jewry was crushed under this brutal rule, and survived only by virtue of religious dissimulation [insincere conversion]. This crypto-Judaism, however, could preserve none of the creative energies which had characterized the Jewish community prior to the Almohad conquest.

Many of those who converted to Islam did not return to Judaism even when the persecutions abated. Yet the converts did not fare very much better than those who maintained the religion of their ancestors. Suspected of “Judaizing,” they were humiliated, spied upon, marked by distinctive clothes, prohibited from trading, and restricted to base occupations. Often their children were taken away by order of the authorities to be brought up in an orthodox Muslim environment. It was during this period that Maimon ben Joseph and his son Moses (the famous Maimonides), refugees themselves, wrote letters of advice and consolation from Egypt to the Maghreb Jews.

Mongols and Mamluks change Babylonia and Egypt

In the Orient, two major developments, both related to the Mongol invasion, transformed the conditions of Jewish existence. In Iraq, the Mongols put an end to the Abbasid caliphate (Baghdad was captured and sacked in 1258); and in Egypt the Mamluks, after defeating the Mongols, formed their own kingdom.

Urban Life is Ruined in Mesopotamia

The Mongol wave destroyed the texture of urban life in Mesopotamia and ruined its trade. Although Jews attained important positions in the administration at the beginning of the conquest, their situation was gravely affected when the Mongols adopted Islam. Delivered in to the hands of the vindictive mob, the Jewish communities paid dearly for their ephemeral success.

Mamluks Harass Near Eastern Merchants and Minorities

The Near East—Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon—was under Mamluk domination for almost three centuries. A military aristocracy of slave origin, the Mamluks--mostly Turks or Balkan Christians taken from their families at a young age--were all the more devoutly Muslim since they were foreigners and recent converts. They formed an extremely centralized state. Its cadres were raised in religious schools (madrasa), and they made every effort to curry favor with the Muslim theologians.

The Mamluk order was particularly resented by two strata of Muslim society: the urban middle classes which were excluded from government, and the city merchants who suffered from state intervention in the economy. Naturally, frustrations were vented against minority groups, mostly against Christians and the Coptic rite, still numerous in the high echelons of government and in commerce. However, in a period when the Covenant of Omar was increasingly interpreted in a narrower sense, and when the confrontation with the Crusaders intensified suspicion of non-Muslims, the Jews too had their share of tribulations.

Thus, it was a new era for the Jews throughout the Muslim world. They found themselves economically restricted, ill at ease in a civilization which had adopted a new spiritual direction, and ill-treated by the rulers who had once been their main source of security, but were now intent on alienating the minorities.

EGYPT'S JEWISH POPULATION     
From Al Jazeera Last updated: 12 Mar 2014 12:00

Cairo, Egypt - Over the past 90 years, the population of Jewish Egyptians has fallen from 80,000 to less than 40. Today, just 11 Egyptian Jews remain in Cairo.

Now, with the sudden death of deputy community head Nadia Haroun, Cairo's dwindling Jewish population faces a daunting struggle to survive.

In the past, Egypt was seen as a safe haven for Jews, absorbing many who were fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe and Russia in the late 19th century. In the early 1920s, Cairo developed a thriving Jewish population in the Darb al-Barabira district, with many Jewish businesses, houses of worship and even schools.

"The Jews were once an important part of society, even as a minority. They were very well-integrated into different sides of society - economically, politically, and artistically," said Amir Ramses, director of the 2013 documentary The Jews of Egypt. The film traces the complex story of Egyptian Jewish identity, from the beginning of the 20th century to the present.

After the 1948 war with the newly formed state of Israel - and Egypt's subsequent wars with Israel - the population of Egyptian Jews dropped dramatically. Many were ousted from the country. Those who left by choice, went to Europe, and a few ended up in Israel. A small group remained steadfastly in Egypt, knowing the persecution they would face.

During the rule of Gamal Abdel Nasser, many Egyptian Jews were expelled from the country for being perceived enemies of the state. Even today, as Egypt continues to stumble through interlocking political, social and economic crises, Israel and Zionism are often tied to conspiracies to subvert and weaken the state. At rallies, some protesters torch the Israeli flag alongside the US flag, and suspicious foreigners are labelled as "Jewish spies".

"For 50 years, the word Jew was combined with the word Israel, or said in the same context," said Ramses. "That was somehow played by the Egyptian media, educational system, and the 50s and 60s regime propaganda. Those two words are really stuck together."

In anticipation of Tuesday's funeral service for Nadia Haroun, police in black uniforms with automatic weapons slung over their shoulders lined the perimeter of the building. Pick-up trucks with young conscripts holding tear-gas shotguns were stationed along the street leading to the synagogue.

Set back from the street, the Sha'ar Hashamayim ("Gate of Heaven") synagogue in Cairo is a tall, grey temple with palm trees engraved on all four sides. Completed in 1899, the synagogue was built in a style meant to replicate the grandness of ancient Pharaonic temples scattered throughout the country. The design is also meant to highlight Judaism's unity with a shared Egyptian past, from early civilisation to the modern era.

The last time the synagogue was full was during the 1960s. Today, it stands as a lone symbol to a forgotten element of the story of Egypt.

Nadia Haroun was the youngest of the remaining community members. A lawyer and architect, she passed away suddenly from a heart attack at age 59. She and her sister Magda Haroun, the president of Cairo's Jewish community, worked together to manage the affairs of the dwindling group. At her service, family members described her as a voice for the Jews.

"We are all in shock right now," said Nevine Amin, a close friend of the Haroun sisters.

The remaining 11 members of the community are all women, and the youngest is now in her 60s. Many of the group have converted over time due to marriage restrictions. A Jewish man cannot marry a Muslim woman, but a Muslim man may marry a Jewish woman, so the community has lost many male members who are no longer Jewish on official documents.

In the Bassatine cemetery, among the palm fronds and crumbling tomb markers, Nadia Haroun was laid to rest. Slum-like brick apartments and heaps of trash surround the grounds. It is one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the world, second only to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Once dotted with ornate tomb coverings, locals ransacked the cemetery for marble during a construction boom in the 1960s. Despite efforts by the past Jewish community president, Carmen Weinstein, the cemetery continues to be a dumping ground for garbage.

In order to protect the mourners and the burial, local residents were pushed out of the cemetery area until the grave was sealed. Traffic was blocked on the dusty roads running alongside the cemetery. "They do this for Jews, but not for Muslims?" complained one driver to another as horns blare and cars were backed up for blocks.

On days when nobody visits the cemetery, a state security officer posing as a groundskeeper watches over the graves. While this deters overt acts of vandalism, last year the grave of Carmen Weinstein was desecrated by local youth only hours after family members had left the cemetery and laid flowers on her grave.

Although more than 100 mourners turned up for Haroun's funeral, the Egyptian Jewish community rarely enters the public consciousness.

"Perceptions aren't just going to change in the next five years. The day this is going to happen, maybe there will no longer be Egyptian Jews living here," said Ramses.

As Magda Haroun struggles to preserve the rich history of a fading community, there is now one fewer member to help her protect Jews' place in Egyptian history.

Due to security concerns amid the ongoing detention of Al Jazeera journalists, we are not naming our correspondents in Egypt at this time.

EGYPT AND ISRAEL

See Israel and Maps

LINKS

Historical Society of Jews From Egypt
Jewish Virtual Library

Jewish Encyclopedia
History of the Jews in Egypt   Wikipedia
The Jewish Diaspora in the Hellenistic Period   (This clearly explains early Jewish settlement In Egypt)


THE JEWS OF EGYPT

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From biblical slavery, to prosperity, to expulsion in the 1950's, Egyptian Jews have survived throughout a vivid and event-filled history, unparalleled by their fate in any other nation. Their original connection started with Joseph and finished with their Exodus probably between 1570 and 1550BCE (see above).  Until their expulsion in the 1950's, they survived throughout a vivid and event-filled history, unparalleled by their fate elsewhere.

The golden age of the Jewish communities in Muslim lands ended between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries—first in North Africa and later in the Levant. Their situations deteriorated as a result of major political upheavals in these regions: new regimes, which valued Islam well above other beliefs inherited from Greek antiquity, came into being. Intolerance towards religious minorities, Jewish and Christian, was one of the more bitter consequences.

Jewish expulsion from Spain in 1492 and then from the Portuguese Inquisition  led to a mass emigration to Egypt.  Many went to the Ottoman (Turkish) empire while some went to North-West Africa and then to Egypt.

Jewish status depended upon who was in control of the country

In 1881 the British came to Egypt bringing increased tolerance and more prosperity. A form of economic and cultural renaissance followed, Many spoke Arabic as a second language and the Jewish community was understood to be distinct from Egyptian or Arabic cultures.

By 1947, there were 65,639 Jews in Egypt.  Between November 1956 and September 1957, 21,000 Jews were expelled. By 1960, only 8500 remained which was reduced to 800 by the end of the 1967 Six-Day War.  

In 2014 the remaining 11 members of the community are women with the youngest in her 60’s. Many converted due to marriage restrictions. A male Jew cannot marry a female Muslim, while a male Muslim can marry a Jewess. The community lost many male members as they are no longer shown as Jewish on official documents.

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EGYPT’S LAST JEWS ‘WE ARE DYING’
BBC  (2.34)

CLOSING THE DOOR:
THE LAST JEWS OF CAIRO

The British Museum  (9.05)

JEWS OF EGYPT
Bahaa Mohamad  (14.26)


EGYPTIAN ISRAELIS:
WOULD YOU RETURN TO EGYPT?

Corey Gil-Shuster (4.52)

THE

INCREDIBLE

STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE


JEWS OF EGYPT
Theodore Adams  2017 (2.02.24)