Wednesday, July 21, 2021

I'm continuing on with my reading of the journey of Israel Joseph Benjamin in the middle of the 19th century.

Here is what he encountered in Erbil, in what is now the Kurdistan portion of Iraq:

Erbil is divided into two parts ; of which the one lying on the mountain is the city, the other, in the vast plain is the seat of trade and industry. One hundred and fifty Jewish families dwell here whose Nassi is Mailum Mordecai; they are however mueh oppressed by the fanatic, rude and half civilized sects of Allah, of which I will relate some examples.

A short time before my arrival a Jewish girl emptying some dirty water into the street, accidentally besprinkled with it a Mussulman who happened to be passing by. Im- mediately a crowd assembled before the house, broke open the door, seized the girl, and heaped upon her all kinds of threatening abuse; asking her how she, the daughter of an accursed race, dare presume to insult a true believer. The girl defended herself to the best of her ability, but the leader of the uproar cried out to her: "There is only one way for thy escape, embrace our faith, and thou shalt marry one of our people, who is young, handsome, rich, and of a good family." But the girl refused and answered: "I am a Jewess, born so, and as such I will die; never will I deny my God, my people and my faith. If you kill me, God will demand of you my blood, and the Lord will avenge me." — After that they seized her, killed her before the eyes of her parents by stabbing her with their knives, and in tore her in pieces. —

 The community desired at first prefer a complaint before the Pacha of Baghdad and afterwards at Constantinople, but they refrained from doing so for fear of other persecutions and of a general massacre.

In the same year Rabbi Perachia, a deputy of the Portuguese Jews at Jerusalem, who was commissioned to receive the charitable alms for the poor Jews of Jerusalem, died at Erbil, and was buried with all the honours belonging to his sacred office. The night following the burial the Musselmans tore the body out of the grave, cut off a hand, and threw the remains into an open ditch, without even a covering. The Jews repaired to the burial ground, and filled up the empty grave; that was all they ventured to do. The daily occurrence of such oppression has crushed them to such a degree, and the fear of still greater misfortune is so great, that they submit to anything without a murmur...

Another proof of religious oppression causes especial astonishment, because the intolerance of the Mussulmans does not otherwise cross the threshold of the house of God. The Jews of the lower part of the town had erected a new Synagogue and wished to convey solemnly into it according to custom, the manuscripts of the Law. On the road they were attacked by Musselmans, several of them killed, others wounded and the new Synagogue pulled down. Since then a second Temple has been built; but at the solemn conveyance of the Pentateuch into it the same scenes have been repeated.

I myself was a witness to the last disturbance, and can with justice proclaim the State of my brethren in Erbil to be a most unbearable one.


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