New Baby­lo­ni­ans: A His­to­ry of Jews in Mod­ern Iraq

Orit Bashkin

  • Review
By – August 7, 2013

In New Baby­lo­ni­ans, Orit Bashkin explores the fas­ci­nat­ing world of Jews in twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry Iraq. Begin­ning with an exam­i­na­tion of that world pri­or to the cre­ation of the State of Israel, Bashkin demon­strates how the Jews of Iraq were uni­fied with a mix­ture of Iraqi iden­ti­ty and Arab Jew­ish­ness that made them not so very dif­fer­ent from their Moslem and Chris­t­ian com­pa­tri­ots. As Bashkin points out, Iraqi Jew­ish writ­ers came to con­sid­er Arab-Islam­ic his­to­ry and Ara­bic lit­er­a­ture their own. Indeed, the Jews were caught up in the pas­sions of nation­al­ism and patri­o­tism to such an extent that they per­mit­ted a cer­tain degree of sec­u­lar­ism to creep into their soci­ety. They came to believe in a sep­a­ra­tion of church and state where Reli­gion is a mat­ter for God and the home­land is for the com­mu­ni­ty” and they con­struct­ed a nation­al nar­ra­tive where they saw them­selves as far bet­ter off than their less for­tu­nate Euro­pean coun­ter­parts. This peace­ful world was shat­tered as nation­al­ism, Fas­cism, and anti-Semi­tism came to grip the nation dur­ing World War II — espe­cial­ly dur­ing the anti-Jew­ish riots that con­sti­tut­ed the Farhud (pogrom) of 1941. Hard as the Jews tried, they were unable to recov­er that which was lost. Many felt oblig­ed to turn to com­mu­nism and a very small num­ber embraced Zion­ism. With the cre­ation of the State of Israel, the Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion was dri­ven from Iraq. Yet even then, Bashkin notes, rad­i­cal Iraqi Jews strove to keep Arab Jew­ish cul­ture alive and a cul­tur­al con­ver­sa­tion between Arabs and Jews per­sist­ed long after the removal of Jews from Iraq.

Ran­dall Belin­fante has served as the Librar­i­an of the Amer­i­can Sephar­di Fed­er­a­tion for more than 13 years. He has tak­en a tiny col­lec­tion of 200 books and built an assem­blage of over 10,000 items. Mr. Belin­fante holds degrees in var­i­ous aspects of Jew­ish stud­ies, and dur­ing his tenure at ASF, he has inves­ti­gat­ed a vari­ety of top­ics, pre­sent­ing papers on such diverse top­ics as the Mizrahi Jews dri­ven from their homes in Islam­ic coun­tries and the cryp­to-Jew­ish Mash­hadis of Iran. He has also writ­ten many book reviews on books of Sephar­di / Mizrahi interest.

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