Lebanon Jewish History and Culture
By: Jimena – New York Jewish Guide.com
The history of the Jews in Lebanon is different from the story of Jews in other Middle East and North African countries in that in ancient times, territory in what is today Lebanon was part of the Jewish Kingdom.
Beginning in biblical times, Jewish communities established themselves in Lebanon, primarily near what is today Beirut. According to the Torah, two tribes of King David settled in Lebanon as far north as Sidon. There are passages from the torah which also state that wood from cedar trees in southern Lebanon was used for construction of King Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem.
According to the Lebanese Jewish Community Council a historian has traced Jewish settlement in Baalbeck back to 922 AD, Tyr to 1170 and Saida to 1522.
By 1911, the Jewish community had expanded and exerted a significant amount of influence in Lebanon and later played an instrumental role in the successful movement for Lebanese Independence. Lebanon gained independence from France on November 22, 1943. The Lebanese Jews who participated in the struggle for independence strongly identified with their Lebanese identity.
During both the French Mandate and the aftermath of Lebanese independence there were two Jewish Community newspapers “Al-Alam Israeli” (The Israelite World) and “Le Commerce du Levant” (Business News of the Levantine region).
After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the population of the Lebanese Jewish Community increased due to the immigration of Iraqi and Syrian Jews to Lebanon. By 1958 the community that was 5,000 strong in 1948 had increased to 6,000. However that same year, Lebanon’s first civil war broke out beginning the first exodus of Jews from the country.
The community endured until 1975 when conditions in Lebanon significantly deteriorated with the outbreak of the Muslim-Christian Civil War which would last 15 years. Jewish infrastructure in Beirut was destroyed and Syria’s growing presence and influence in the country, compelled most of Lebanon’s remaining 1,800 Jews to flee.
In 1982, following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, eleven Jewish leaders were captured and killed by Islamist radicals. In the 1990’s the political climate changed making it more difficult for Jews to practice their religion freely many Lebanese Jews hid their identity of left the country. Despite this, a few Lebanese Jews remain in the country today and as of late 2010 a construction project to restore Beirut’s Maghen Avraham Synagoge is nearing completion.
The Jews of Lebanon contributed heavily to the cultural patchwork of people that make up the country. Many Lebanese Jews whose ancestors came from around the region brought a rich culture with them while others more native to the country developed their culture and traditions that dated back to the Ancient Jewish Kingdom that settled in parts of Lebanon during the times of King David.
After the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975, a large percentage of Lebanese Jews have had little choice but to settle into the periphery of mainstream Jewish life in host countries around the world, forgoing their ancient cultural heritage for the sake of assimilation. Few, like Rabbi Elie Abadie in the videos below, developed their own communities in the Lebanese diaspora.
Mh- New York Jewish Guide.com